Stanford's one-two punch a knockout | December 23, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 23, 2011

Stanford's one-two punch a knockout

Ogwumike and Kokenis help KO Tennessee as the Cardinal preps for Pac-12 opener

by Rick Eymer

Stanford sophomore guard Toni Kokenis played Tuesday night's game in the rather large shadow of her better known teammate, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, one of the top players in the nation.

There will be days, though, in which Kokenis will need to step out of that shadow and produce at key moments. Against Tennessee she showed she was ready for such moments.

While Ogwumike netted a career-high 42 points in No. 4 Stanford's convincing 97-80 victory over No. 6 Tennessee, Kokenis also produced a career night with 26 points.

With the Pac-12 season on the horizon next weekend, it was a good sign for the Cardinal, which was heavily favored to beat Cal State Bakersfield on Thursday afternoon and improve upon its 8-1 record.

"I think this was a breakout game for Toni," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "For her to knock down her 3s, to run the offense, we had two turnovers at halftime. That's says something about great point-guard play."

Stanford opens the conference season next Thursday with a trip to USC. The Cardinal is at UCLA next Saturday.

Kokenis, a regular in the starting lineup, upped her scoring average to 10.2 from 8.3 against the Lady Vols. The Pac-12 is a guard heavy conference and for Kokenis, who also leads the team in assists, to step forward means Stanford won't have to depend on its inside game quite so much.

"We need to be more aggressive from the guard spot to be able to knock down our shots, look for our shots more because we need to be threats from the outside," Kokenis said. "We learn from every game and it's just about improving every day as a team. It was a big step."

Ogwumike, who benefited from Kokenis' production, appreciates her take-charge attitude.

"Toni was telling me what to do, which I love because we need that leadership from the guard spot," said Ogwumike, who also had 17 rebounds. "She did an amazing job. I'm really proud of her."

Ogwumike scored more than 30 points for the third time this season. Her previous best was a 38-point outburst against Oklahoma in last season's NCAA tournament.

Ogwumike has reached double figures in scoring in all eight games she has played. She sat out the season opener at Texas with an injury.

She also scored 34 points against Xavier, 33 points against Gonzaga and at least 20 points against UC Davis, Princeton, Fresno State and Connecticut, all of whom played in last year's NCAA tournament.

The performance marked Stanford's first 40-point scorer since Jayne Appel went off for a school-record 46 in a win against Iowa State in the NCAA tournament regional finals at Berkeley in March of 2009.

Stanford All-American Candice Wiggins produced a 44-point game. Ogwumike could have tied Wiggins, but a final layin attempt missed before she left the game.

Nicole Powell's career high in scoring was 37 points, but she produced one of her several career triple doubles at Maples.

Not bad company for Ogwumike, who inserted herself into the national player-of-the-year picture with her effort against one of the most storied programs in history.

"It's just about our team effort," Ogwumike said. "We discussed how we need to be aggressive. People saw us in the UConn game and we played well but not the best we can. We want to be the aggressor. I had all my teammates in my ear and I even heard it from some of my former teammates. I felt it and I played hard for them."

Kokenis was 5-of-10 from 3-point land, for Stanford, which won its 68th consecutive home contest. Chiney Ogwumike added 14 points as Stanford shot just under 54 percent from the field.

With Ogwumike scoring from all over the court, and younger sister Chiney also a threat inside, Kokenis took advantage with one of her best shooting performances ever.

"I have been looking for my shot," Kokenis said. "It helps when my teammates are setting screens for me. I think everybody made big plays."

The big game by Kokenis came at a good time as Stanford lost freshman guard Jasmine Camp to a season-ending stress fracture in her left foot. Camp played in the first eight games of the season, starting four, until being sidelined following a 85-66 win over Princeton on Dec. 17.

Camp averaged 3.6 points and 2.13 assists over 14.1 minutes per game this season. She scored a season-high 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) at Connecticut back on Nov. 21.

Camp will undergo surgery in early January and aims to return for the 2012-13 season.

That leaves Kokenis, senior Lindy La Rocque and freshman Amber Orrange handling the guard duties.