By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Amber Orrange and Mikaela Ruef will be important contributors for the fourth-ranked Stanford women's basketball team this year for a number of reasons.
Orrange, who matched her career high with 18 points in a 92-57 nonconference victory over host Santa Clara on Sunday, looks more assertive and more confident than at any time last year.
Ruef, who sat out last season with an injury, has returned in the best shape of her college career and it's showing on the court. She scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds in a gratifying relief appearance.
Orrange, of course, will be expected to run the offense, a year after being force-fed into the starting lineup. She was 7 of 11 from the field, recorded six assists (as opposed to two turnovers) and committed one foul, in 25 minutes of playing time.
"I'm excited about the way Amber is playing," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She's worked hard and she's shooting well."
Cardinal junior Chiney Ogwumike, who led all scorers with 22 points and matched Ruef with seven rebounds, encourages Orrange to shoot more often.
"She has made such an improvement," Ogwumike said. "I think we saw a taste of that today. She needed to shake off the rust and now she's showing confidence."
Stanford's next opponent -- defending NCAA champion Baylor -- should test the Cardinal mettle when the teams meet this week.
"We're ready to play," said Stanford's Joslyn Tinkle, who added 19 points. "They are a great team, with great players, and we're excited about playing them. We have to come out and play well. We really have nothing to lose. No one expects us to beat them."
Which is where a player like Ruef may come in handy.
There's no question the Cardinal must mix up its defensive coverage of last year's NCAA Player of the Year Brittney Griner. Ruef will be in the mix.
Playing with much more agility and awareness, Ruef showed off a deft shooting touch against the Broncos and got into the middle of things under the glass.
"We've played Baylor before," VanDerveer said. "Brittney Griner is a fabulous talent and it should be a great game. We'll go in with confidence and we'll learn no matter what the outcome."
Stanford meets the Bears at the Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu on Friday. Baylor beat the Cardinal in last year's national semifinal.
Ogwumike scored her 1,000th career point midway through the first half against the Broncos and the junior now has 1,010.
"My goal is to touch every ball, to be active," Ogwumike said. "I like to anticipate things and bring energy."
The Cardinal shot 64 percent from the field and led by as many as 36 points in the closing minutes.
"We played 11 in the first half and that's a good thing," VanDerveer said. "We came out inspired against a good team coming off a win."
The Cardinal struggled beat Fresno State at home Friday, giving up 25 offensive rebounds and getting out-boarded.
That all changed against the Broncos, who grabbed eight offensive boards and lost the battle of the glass, 37-25.
"We had a lot to improve with one day of practice," Tinkle said. "We did a much better job today. Each of our roles continues to develop."
Stanford holds a 28-4 lead in the all-time series with Santa Clara and has not lost to the Broncos since 1998.