It might be a little early to give Stanford the national trophy, but that didn’t stop USC head coach Michael Cooper from making a firm prediction following his team’s 95-51 loss to No. 4 Stanford women’s basketball on Saturday afternoon.
“I think what you’re looking at here is the next NCAA champion,” Cooper said. “We played some of the best, and this is the best team we’ve played this year.”
The lopsided victory marks the 10th consecutive win for Stanford (16-2, 7-0 Pac-10), which took sole possession of the Pac-10 lead after trouncing No. 8 UCLA 64-38 on Thursday night.
Senior guard Jeanette Pohlen led her team past USC (12-6, 4-3) on Saturday with 21 points and 12 assists, helping Stanford shoot 52 percent overall and reach its highest point total of the conference season. Senior forward Kayla Pedersen added 16 points of her own, while sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike each put up 14.
After three straight Final Four appearances and no title to show for them, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer knows she can’t take anything for granted.
“I really want to play a more open game. This year with people, ‘Keep shooting until I strangle you’ is my motto,” she quipped. “We want to score more and run more.”
Those are high standards coming from a coach whose team put up 10 three-pointers, 54 rebounds and 27 assists against a USC squad that had just one conference loss entering the weekend.
But Stanford was less than stellar in the opening minutes. The Cardinal traded baskets with the light-footed Trojan offense early on, missing a few three-point attempts while letting USC drive into the paint and crash the glass. Almost four minutes in, USC and Stanford each had three rebounds and the Trojans were ahead in the scoring column, 8-7.
“After recognizing they’re getting a few boards, we had to counteract that and be more aggressive, and just make sure we take care of the ball,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “And to take care of the ball, we had to have the ball.”
As has often been the case for Stanford, the early back-and-forth soon gave way to an offensive blitz. A Pedersen layup sparked an offensive explosion for the Cardinal about four minutes in, as the co-captain combined with Pohlen and Chiney Ogwumike to jolt Stanford into a 17-2 run that put it up 24-10 at the game’s first media timeout. Just afterwards, Pedersen sunk an emphatic nothing-but-net three from the wing that gave her 11 total points less than 10 minutes into the game.
Junior guard Lindy LaRocque, now a usual member of Stanford’s versatile starting lineup, added to the onslaught with her own pair of crowd-electrifying threes in the half, including one from a full yard beyond the top of the key.
Pohlen capped off the half with a mid-range jumper, sending her team to the locker room with a 46-27 lead.
The point guard stepped up the pressure in the next frame, playing her way to a team-high 30 minutes and scoring 11 second-half points. Her 12 assists marked a career high.
Saturday’s performance was the latest in a great season for Pohlen, who averages 16.5 points and 4.9 assists per game, has 29 steals and is shooting 90 percent on free throws and 43 percent from beyond the arc. After shooting only 2-for-11 against UCLA on Thursday, her turnaround to Saturday’s game was quick.
“I think some of the shots against UCLA went in and out, and to me that’s just the little things to fix in your shot,” she said. “It’s not like I was way off.”
Pohlen’s dominance helped Stanford push the lead to 71-38 midway through the half, and that margin was enough for VanDerveer to start making substitutions from across her roster.
By the end of the contest, 12 Stanford players had seen at least four minutes of game time and accounted for 24 Stanford points. That included a 19-minute showing from redshirt sophomore Sarah Boothe, who had the highest point total, 11, of any non-starter. Redshirt senior Melanie Murphy got seven valuable minutes at guard, playing in her second game since a knee surgery that had kept her on the sidelines all season. Murphy found the basket once, scoring on a fade-away jumper that sent her stumbling into a smiling Stanford bench.
The Trojans stuck with their starters deep into the game, though they weren’t able to stem the tide. Briana Gilbreath went 6-for-12 with 17 points, but no other USC player broke into double digits.
The inflow of bench players means that Pedersen will have to wait at least another game to become Stanford’s record-holder for career minutes played. She has 4,141 minutes overall, just eight shy of breaking Virginia Sourlis’ record of 4,148, set in 1982-86.
Pedersen will have an opportunity to break the record when Stanford travels to the Pacific Northwest next weekend, facing Oregon at 6 p.m. on Thursday and Oregon State at noon on Saturday.