Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 7, 2014

Stanford wrap-up: Cardinal women set defend tourney title

Ogwumike brings Pac-12 honors into conference playoffs; Stanford men struggling down stretch with plenty at stake

by Rick Eymer

With the No. 1 seed in hand, the fourth-ranked Stanford women's basketball team heads to the scene of its only conference loss to open the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Cardinal (28-2) visits Seattle as the odds-on favorite to repeat as tournament champion. The Feb. 9 loss to Washington has either been forgotten or is being used as a reminder to pay attention.

Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike often takes time to remind herself and teammates, which also include all-Pac-12 selection Amber Orrange and all-freshmen pick Lili Thompson, that playing hard takes care of results.

"Honored to be named Pac-12 POY & DPOY for 2nd year in a row!" Ogwumike tweeted. "I have the best teammates & coaches! Excited for the best month of the year!"

Results are what drive Ogwumike, though it's more about the team winning than her own statistics, which are certainly impressive.

The senior leads the conference in scoring (27.0) and ranks third in the country. Her 12.1 rebounds per game are eighth in the nation, second in the Pac-12, and she is third in the country in field-goal percentage at 62.2. She is the only player in the country to rank in the top 10 in all three categories.

Ogwumike became the Pac-12's all-time leader in rebounds and is within 49 points of tying the all-time scoring record (currently held onto by former Stanford great Candice Wiggins).

Ogwumike, who also has 54 blocked shots, was voted Pac-12 Player of the Week for a record nine times this season. She scored at least 30 points in 13 games and 28 in 16, leading the Cardinal in scoring in all but two games.

"With regard to basketball, my defining moments have not come during my triumphs but rather my struggles," Ogwumike wrote in a blog for ESPNW. "No matter how hard you try to spruce it up, it doesn't matter: Losing sucks."

Orrange averages 10.1 points, 4.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds. She also carries an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.1-1.

"Her work ethic is really special," hall of fame coach Tara VanDerveer said. "A lot of it is just keeping her poised and keep playing hard every game."

Thompson averages 7.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game. She started 26 games this year, shooting 42.5 percent on 34 of 80 from long range.

VanDerveer recorded her 900th career victory earlier this season to become the fifth women's basketball coach in NCAA history to reach the milestone. She was also voted (by her fellow coaches) as the Pac-12 Coach of the Year for the 14th time.

Mikaela Ruef has developed into a potent inside threat, especially on the boards. She averages 9.5 rebounds and 6.9 points. She's also second on the team with 3.1 assists per game.

Eight other players have started at least one game, giving the feeling of depth along the Cardinal bench. Freshman Karlie Samuelson has logged the most minutes, while older sister Bonnie Samuelson, Taylor Greenfield, Erica McCall, Sara James, Kailee Johnson, Alex Green and Briana Roberson have all seen plenty of action.

The sixth-seeded Huskies (17-12) and Stanford, winner of six straight, can only meet in the championship game. Washington must win three games in three days to reach the final contest. Stanford has an extra day off.

Stanford opens play Friday at noon against No. 9 Colorado, which upended No. 8 UCLA, 76-65, on Thursday in the tournament's first game.

The top four seeds likely will advance to the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome in Seattle. USC and Washington will need to win a game or two for stronger consideration.

Men's basketball

Stanford continues to flirt with danger. Well, in the metaphorical sense at least. It's dangerous in the sense that the Cardinal entered the week as a solid choice for the NCAA tournament. Now? Not so much.

Stanford will need to put everything on the line Saturday morning for its 11:30 a.m. regular-season finale against visiting Utah.

That's because everything (read NCAA postseason) just might be on the line. The Cardinal is possibly looking at a must-win just to get back in good graces with the NCAA selection committee.

"I haven't even thought about it," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said after a 59-56 loss to visiting Colorado on Wednesday night. "All I can think about is a very disappointing loss on our home floor. I know we have to regroup for Saturday."

Things looked promising when Anthony Brown finished off a layup with 3:58 remaining to play in the game, giving Stanford a slight edge over the Buffaloes.

Less than two minutes later, things were a lot brighter for Colorado in a critical Pac-12 game for both teams.

"We need to slow down, have some poise and composure," Dawkins said. "We sped up for no reason and that resulted in some unforced turnovers. They certainly weren't speeding us up."

The Buffs (10-7, 21-9) grabbed the upper hand for the fourth seed, holding their own fate when they visit California on Saturday night.

Stanford (9-8, 18-11) likely cost itself a first-round bye in the conference tournament, to be held in Las Vegas beginning next Wednesday.

"It's very disappointing," Stanford junior guard Chasson Randle said. "Especially coning home and having the crowd here and having the chance to grab the opportunity for a first-round bye."

It's pretty straight forward when the Utes show up to play this weekend. Utah has a chance to move past Stanford and grab a higher seed for the conference tournament. The Cardinal would do well not to fall any further, not with the jam-packed Pac-12 snapping at its heels.

Entering the final week of the regular season only Washington State and USC know they will be one of the bottom two seeds.

A victory over Utah would give Stanford a chance at a higher seed while a loss could result in something as low as a ninth seed.

The Cardinal picked the wrong time to suffer through its worst shooting night at home. Stanford was 21 of 57 from the floor, 4 of 17 from 3-point range, for a 36.8 percent night from the field.

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