Ruef's return shows up big in upset of Baylor
Redshirt junior forward helps make Cardinal women No. 1 in nation after stunning victory over defending national champion
Mikaela Ruef didn't get to play much last year, losing all but three games to a foot injury. She didn't get a chance to guard Baylor's 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner during last year's Final Four loss.
Ruef returned to action this year like she had something to prove. In a sense, she does need to show she's healthy and capable of playing at a high level.
So far, so good for the 6-foot-3 redshirt junior from Beavercreek, Ohio, as top-ranked Stanford (5-0) prepares for Sunday's 2 p.m. nonconference meeting with visiting Long Beach State (2-2).
Ruef made her first collegiate start in Friday night's stunning 71-69 victory over the national defending champion Bears and made a difference. She was part of a defensive scheme that limited Griner and gave the Cardinal the chance to win.
"Last year, although I didn't guard her, I watched Nneka (Ogwumike) and what we did against her and we doubled her and were pretty successful at that," Ruef said. "I just focused on she's one of the best players in the nation, she's going to score on me, it's gonna happen. I don't have any false thinking that I was going to shut her down completely."
Ruef averaged seven minutes a game entering this season and with so many people returning, she knew something had to happen to see her playing time increase. So, what did happen?
"Mikaela, as a young player, struggled in that she didn't really understand how hard you have to work in college," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "A lot of our players are sensational high school players who think they don't have to work that hard because they're bigger, stronger or quicker, and then they go from being the big fish in the little pond to being the little fish in the big pond and psychologically I think that's hard for people."
Ruef also came into the season as healthy as she's been, a little more motivated and certainly more agile.
"To her credit, she worked very hard," VanDerveer said. "She did what we asked her to do, she guarded Brittney Griner. She knew what she had to do and she did a really good job."
In addition to her defense, Ruef also produced a career-high 12 rebounds in a career-best 30 minutes against one of the toughest front lines in the nation.
"It was hard not playing last year," said Ruef, who is second on the team in assists with 11. I think we prepared really hard for this year and I felt really prepared."
The Cardinal, playing Long Beach State for the first time in 19 years, is getting solid contributions from the post players. With reigning conference Player of the Week Chiney Ogwumike and Rainbow Wahine all-tournament pick Joslyn Tinkle (Ogwumike was named MVP), Ruef doesn't have to carry the load.
Sunday's game is just the second home game of the season for Stanford, which has an 80-game home winning streak to defend. The last time the Cardinal and 49ers met, Stanford set a single-game team scoring mark with 122 points.
After Sunday, the Cardinal doesn't play at home again until Pacific visits on Saturday, Dec. 15. Connecticut comes in two weeks later.
Junior guard Toni Kokenis also made her first three starts of the season in Hawaii, scoring 15 points against Baylor. She's made 12 of 13 free throws on the year.
Ogwumike averages a double-double with 11.9 rebounds and 20.6 points, both lead the team.
The shooting woes for Stanford guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright continued Sunday and this time the defense was not able to pick them up.
Randle and Bright combined to shoot .095 (2 of 21) from the floor and the Cardinal fell to visiting Belmont, 70-62, in a nonconference contest.
The good news is that Stanford's guards can't possibly get any worse and it's likely they will get a whole lot better as the season progresses.
Freshman guard Christian Sanders had the best game of his young college career and that's also promising. He was 5 of 7 from the floor and scored 11 points.
"Individual efforts for us are important," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We've got to get better. Defensively we weren't so bad but it's tough when you shoot 31 percent. You have to be able to reward yourself on offense."
The bad news is despite a talented roster, the Cardinal must rely on guard play and keeping the tandem of Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell in for the majority of the game.
Huestis set career highs with 14 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Powell missed both of his shot attempts and all but seven minutes of the contest because of foul trouble.
Huestis set a goal of becoming one of the top defensive players in the Pac-12 and he took a significant step toward that against the Bruins.
"He is starting to come into his own," Dawkins said. "He's figuring things out."
Powell's absence led to a void in the middle, of which the speedy Bruins took advantage.
"He's been playing so well too," Dawkins said of Powell. "He's a difference maker and he does so many things well. We learned a lot about ourselves with him out like that."
Nastic matched his career high for points and grabbed a career best nine rebounds.
"There were some mistakes at the beginning we don't normally make," Nastic said. "We needed to be a lot more focused on the little things and collectively."
Stanford traveled to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas this week and met Missouri in the first game Thursday.