A chance to pull away in the Pac-12 | January 24, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 24, 2014

A chance to pull away in the Pac-12

Stanford women host UCLA, USC and Cal in key games that could help determine conference title

by Rick Eymer

Stanford's next three games will go a long way in determining who will reign as the Pac-12 women's basketball champion this season.

Most observers would take the fourth-ranked Cardinal, and for good reason. Stanford has won or shared 22 regular-season titles in the 27-year history of the conference.

The Cardinal (6-0, 17-1) brings a 16-game winning streak into Friday's 8 p.m. game with visiting UCLA (4-3, 10-9), a game that will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Following Monday night's 80-56 victory over a nationally ranked Arizona State team in Tempe, Ariz., Stanford has outscored its Pac-12 opponents by an average of 26 points.

Chiney Ogwumike, who scored 30 points in the win over the Sun Devils, has failed to reach 20 points just three times in 18 games. She's reached double figures in rebounding in 13 of the 18 games.

The Bruins enter play with three wins in their past four games and will be seeking a third consecutive win for the first time this year.

UCLA, which has also been hit by the injury bug, has had an interesting season. Its four conference wins have been by six or fewer points and all three losses have been by two points.

The Bruins feature senior forward Atonye Nyingifa and sophomore guard Nirra Fields. Nyingifa leads the team with an 18.0 scoring average and 9.1 rebounding average. Fields averages 17.6 points.

Thea Lemberger, 12th in the Pac-12 in scoring, averages 15.8 points per game. She also leads the conference in minutes played, followed by Nyingifa. Fields is second. Stanford does not have a player among the top 10.

UCLA also has played six teams ranked among the top 25 this season, beating then No. 10 Oklahoma and coming within two points of the Buffaloes and Sun Devils.

USC (6-1, 13-6) comes in for a Monday night matchup at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. The Trojans, 1-3 versus the Top 25, play at California (5-1, 13-4) on Friday.

Stanford hosts the Golden Bears on Jan. 30 in a scheduled 8 p.m. tipoff, to be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Washington State (5-1, 11-7) plays at Oregon. The Cougars, 3-1 against nationally ranked opponents, lost their first conference game on Sunday at Utah.

Ogwumike ranks third in the nation in scoring with her 27.1 average, behind Baylor's Odyessy Sims (30.4) and Florida International's Jerica Coley (29.5). She's made more baskets and attempted more shots than anyone else in the country.

Sims and Coley have the advantage of their 3-point shooting abilities and getting to the foul line more often. Among the top 30 scorers in the nation, only Oregon freshman Chrishae Rowe has attempted fewer free throws.

Ogwumike is also second in field goal percentage at 64.1, behind North Carolina State's promising sophomore Markeisha Gatling at 69.1. Gatling has attempted 112 fewer shots, but would only need to shoot 55 percent to stay ahead of Ogwumike.

The Pac-12 career rebounding leader, Ogwumike ranks ninth nationally at 11.8. Oregon's Jillian Alleyne leads the country with 14.7 boards a game.

Junior point guard Amber Orrange ranks sixth in the nation with a 3.28 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Freshmen Karlie Samuelson and Lili Thompson are also showing signs they are shedding the skin of inconsistency. Samuelson has reached double figures in scoring the past three games and Thompson is looking to make it three in a row against UCLA. Thompson has five double-figure scoring games thus far.

Orrange, Bonnie Samuelson, Taylor Greenfield, Sara James, freshman Kailee Johnson and senior Mickaela Ruef also have recorded double-digit games.

"The best thing on this team is that they keep each other accountable," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "If there's someone not playing well there's someone right there who can come in and do well. We have a lot of different weapons and they stepped up and played well."

The effectiveness of Stanford's 3-point shooting (.413) and overall accuracy (.486, fifth in the nation) has reduced opposing coaches to make decisions whether to swamp Ogwumike with defenders or guard the perimeter. Stanford has shown you can't do both.

"A great player has a way to beat you no matter what you do," Thompson said.

Thompson is part of a strong freshmen class that is beginning to make its mark in the Pac-12.

"She's a basketball player," VanDerveer said. "She's really smart and excited about what she's doing. She plays with a lot of confidence."

Stanford leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 59.8 and field goal percentage defense while UCLA ranks 10th in scoring offense at 64.4 and is the worst shooting team in the conference.

The Cardinal has allowed the fourth-most 3-pointers (103) but also leads the conference with its .413 percentage from long range.


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