Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 11, 2014

It's time to say goodbye

Stanford bids farewell to Chiney Ogwumike after a remarkable career

by Rick Eymer

What Chiney Ogwumike accomplished in four years at Stanford quite possibly sets a bar so high that much time will pass until someone comes close to her career numbers.

In 35 previous years of Cardinal women's basketball, no one enjoyed a better year, or a better career. Ogwumike may well be remembered as the best to ever play on the Farm.

Jennifer Azzi will always be remembered as Stanford's best team captain and point guard, Kate Starbird as the school's best pure shooter and Jayne Appel as the best post player.

Val Whiting, Kristin Folkl, Nicole Powell, Candice Wiggins and Nnemkadi Ogwumike will always remain hot topics when the subject of Stanford women's basketball is raised.

Chiney Ogwumike, taken as a whole, did a lot of everything for the Cardinal, with the exception of hoisting a national championship trophy.

Then again, an NCAA title has eluded Stanford since 1992, when current assistant coach Kate Paye was a freshman guard for Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer.

Ogwumike made three appearances in the Final Four, not quite as many as her older sister, and she never got to play in the year's grand finale.

She did so many other things, though, including three All-America seasons, twice earning consensus first team All-America honors. She'll be remembered as much for her drive, her leadership and her personality as for her production.

Ogwumike is largely credited with creating Stanford's "Nerd Nation" culture, which swept the campus and internet, injecting the student body with a renewed enthusiasm for all sports.

Her videos will last as long as her basketball legacy.

Sixth-ranked Stanford saw its season come to an end in the national semifinal of the NCAA tournament Sunday in a 75-56 setback to top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut in Nashville, Tenn. The Huskies (40-0) went on to win their ninth NCAA title with a 79-58 win over previously unbeaten Notre Dame on Tuesday night.

Junior point guard Amber Orrange led Stanford with 16 points. Freshman Lili Thompson scored 10 of her 12 points in the first half for Stanford, which reached its sixth Final Four in the past seven years and 12th in 28 overall NCAA tournament appearances.

"Our team is really disappointed with how we played, especially in the second half," VanDerveer said. "We turned the ball over too much and we did not do a good enough job defensively. Connecticut played a really good game."

Ogwumike ended her All-America career as the Pac-12's all-time leading scorer (2,737) and its top rebounder (1,567). Senior Mikaela Ruef, who enjoyed her finest year, and Sara James also depart.

"I'm proud to have coached Chiney for four years," VanDerveer said, "and our future great player in Lili Thompson tonight."

Ogwumike blocked 202 shots, second only to Appel and also shattered single-season marks with 967 points, 669 field-goal attempts and 402 made baskets.

The single-game rebounding mark of 24 also belongs to Ogwumike, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the loss to the Huskies.

"It has been an amazing run," Ogwumike said. "I'm not even that emotional about it because I was just trying to have fun, enjoy the moment, play hard. And that's easy to do when you have a great coach and you have great teammates."

Orrange and Thompson represent what could be another run at the title next year. The two dynamic guards form a combination of stealth and aggression that will rival anything in the nation.

Juniors Bonnie Samuelson, Taylor Greenfield and Erica Payne showed enough to feel good about their potential.

Thompson is part of a freshman class that showed the promise of future stardom and also included Karlie Samuelson, Erica McCall (nicknamed "Bird," by Ogwumike), Briana Roberson and Kailee Johnson.

Alex Green, Jasmine Camp and Tess Picknell have been through it a couple of years now and will look to continue their development.

VanDerveer signed the nation's ninth-rated, by ESPNW, recruiting class.

Six-foot-three Kaylee Johnson, a three-time Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year, led the state in scoring and rebounding all four years at Natrona County High and led the Mustangs to a 92-16 record (85 percent) during her prep career.

Brittany McPhee, a 6-0 guard-forward out of Mount Rainier High, is also a three-time Washington Gatorade Player of the Year who has been favorably compared with Starbird, who also came out of Washington. She's been described as a game changer.

McPhee gave up a promising modeling career to concentrate on basketball and playing with her twin sister, Jordan.

New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year Taylor Rooks, a 6-1 small forward from Gill St. Bernard High, holds the school's scoring record with over 2,000 points. She also recorded more than 1,000 rebounds.

All three future Cardinal players were ranked among the top 30 prospects in the nation.

"This is a very talented, very exciting group of young women that will be coming to Stanford," VanDerveer said. "Brittany, Kaylee and Taylor bring a variety of talents as well as a lot of energy that will fit right into our program. I am very pleased to have them join the Stanford family."

They will be expected to contribute right away. Stanford has won or shared the past 14 consecutive conference titles, though the Cardinal fell in the Pac-12 tournament title game before going on its run to the Final Four.

Stanford and Connecticut met for the sixth time in NCAA tournament play and the fifth in the Final Four.

In the history of the Final Four (including title-game contests), the Stanford-Connecticut rivalry is the second-most recurring matchup behind only the Connecticut-Tennessee pairing, which has occurred six times.

A three-pointer from Thompson at the 12:32 mark of the first half gave Stanford its largest lead at 16-10.

Ruef banked in a jumper with just over five minutes to play before halftime, giving the Cardinal a 22-16 advantage.

Connecticut responded with a 12-2 scoring run to pull ahead, 28-24, by halftime.

"We did a great job the first half managing the game and taking timely shots," Ogwumike said. "Things got away from us in the second half. Maybe if two things went our way we could have swayed the momentum. But that's just the way the game goes sometimes."

Stanford shot just over 38 percent (21 of 55), while allowing UConn to hit 50 percent of its shots (27 of 54).

The Huskies also found a way to the foul line, sinking 17 of 24 free throws. Stanford attempted only 10 free throws, all in the second half.

"They have very skilled players that play very well together," VanDerveer said. "And they really pass and move the ball and they screen. One of the biggest problems was we didn't get a single free throw in the first half."

The Huskies continued to build on their lead opening the second half, hitting four of their first five shots while Stanford missed eight of its first nine.

NOTES: Stanford is 75-26 all-time in the NCAA tournament . . . The Cardinal is 6-10 all-time against Connecticut, with its most recent victory in the series on Dec. 30, 2010, a 71-59 win at Maples Pavilion that snapped the Huskies' NCAA record 90-game winning streak . . . Ogwumike recorded her 27th double-double of the season and the 84th of her career.

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