Driving force in NCAAs | March 19, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 19, 2010

Driving force in NCAAs

Stanford's Gold-Onwude will play key role in the postseason

by Rick Eymer

Rosalyn Gold-Onwude has her name etched into the Stanford record books twice, right there on page 133 of this year's media guide. She shares a special record with her fellow starters from the previous two years — games played in a season.

That may not appear to be much of an accomplishment on the surface, but those names who share the top spot confirms solidarity beyond the stat sheet. Gold-Onwude has stood with Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen and Candice Wiggins throughout her five years in the Cardinal program.

Jillian Harmon is not on the single-season games played list, but Gold-Onwude has certainly followed her example, as well. Harmon and Gold-Onwude share the distinction as Pac-10 All-Defensive team members.

"What's most important is the chemistry we've developed," Gold-Onwude said. "It's special to get to know the players and watching them develop. That goes beyond basketball. These are my good friends for the rest of my life."

This year, conference coaches deemed Gold-Onwude worthy of wearing the conference's Co-Defensive Player of the Year mantle. The fifth-year senior guard had a big say in Stanford's record-setting defense this season. The Cardinal allowed conference opponents to score a mere 53 points a contest, a school record. Stanford has allowed 54.0 points a game overall, which would also be a school record if the season ended today.

Gold-Onwude may not have received as much attention as her teammates, but her teammates know exactly how valuable she is to the second-ranked and top-seeded Cardinal (31-1) as the program shifts into a higher gear Saturday with a first-round NCAA tournament game against No. 16 seed UC Riverside (17-15) at 7:30 p.m.

No. 8 seed Iowa (19-13) and No. 9 seed Rutgers (19-14) are matched in the other first round game at 5 p.m. The two winners meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. with a berth in the Sacramento Regional at stake.

Gold-Onwude arrived at Stanford as a misplaced New Yorker (she was raised in Queens) her freshman year and has since found peace and happiness in California. She wouldn't completely call herself a born-again west coaster but she enjoys coastal living.

"I love California," she said. "I love the weather, the quality of life, everything about it. I'm cool either way."

She's also cool with her role on the team, since defense is more than shutting down the opponents' offense. A good defense can spark a thunderous offensive explosion and that is what happened this year. Stanford outscored its opponents by an average of over 23 points a game. Think points off turnovers and those can skyrocket during the course of a game.

Gold-Onwude has been an integral part of three of Stanford's top four defensive teams in terms of opponents' scoring average. Coincidence or conspiracy? Neither, as Gold-Onwude's reputation as a bulldog on defense has been carefully cultivated. OK, so it was not so careful. The woman just plays hard-nosed defense.

You can ask anybody on the Stanford coaching staff. Please enter into evidence, Menlo School grad Kate Paye's statement. Paye is an expert witness, having earned her own reputation as a competitor at Stanford between 1991 and 1995. Paye's senior year produced a 60.8 opponents' scoring average, still among the program's top 10.

"I know she was a hard worker and tough player," Gold-Onwude said of her coach. "But I could take her (one-on-one). Kate always gives me defensive secrets and steps, like the push step to make up the distance the offensive player tries to create with her first step. Defense is one of those things that takes effort and hard work and that's what Kate demands."

Paye appreciates Gold-Onwude's attitude.

"Roz probably thinks she can take Kobe Bryant one-on-one," she said. "She's fearless and one of a kind. When she sets her mind to something she'll get it done."

The last time Stanford earned a No. 1 seed was in 1998, when the Cardinal hosted No. 16 seed Harvard at Maples Pavilion, and lost. Stanford remains the only basketball team — men or women — to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament.

In fairness, there's a big difference between teams. Stanford lost two All-Americans and future WNBA players to injuries less than a week before the tournament. The team is much healthier, thank you, entering its game against the Highlanders. Still, it's a history lesson worth avoiding.

"That might be relevant to the coaching staff, but it's too far in the past for the players," Gold-Onwude said. "Harvard was an extreme example. What's more relevant to us is the loss to Florida State on our home court three years ago. That's something we do not want to experience again."

In 142 career games (another listing in the school record books upcoming), Gold-Onwude has score 725 points on 258-of-721 shooting, knocked down 118 3-pointers, made 91 free throws, grabbed 399 rebounds, recorded 356 assists, and made 110 steals.

This was, by far, her best offensive season as she averaged nearly seven points a game and shot 40 percent from the field and 75 percent from the foul line.

"She's also our best screener," Paye said. "If we need to set a screen to get someone open, we'll use Roz. She's our best post passer too, getting the ball to Jayne, Neka and Kayla. She's taken to studying the game, opposing players and tendencies. As coaches we tell her we depend on her and her teammates depend on her. She's brought it every single day to practice and games. Roz's foundation is as a defensive player and that has given her a lot of confidence."

Even more impressive is the ease by which she assumed a leadership role among a group of All-Americans, all-stars and all-conference players this year.

"Roz fills a lot of different roles since she's been here," Paye said. "She was the starting point guard as a freshman, and a small forward for us, believe it or not, two years ago. Now she's the off-guard and defensive stopper. It's neat to see her mature as a person and a player."

And Gold-Onwude has her own all-conference label to show for her efforts.


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