Just one more win.
That’s all it will take for the Stanford women to complete their second perfect Pac-10 season in as many years, as they close out conference play by hosting rival Cal tonight. For a team that’s made a habit of running away with conference titles and setting records for win streaks, a perfect season sure doesn’t seem like much.
No. 2 Stanford (26-2, 17-0 Pac-10) clinched its 11th consecutive regular season Pac-10 championship last Saturday with a 99-60 rout of Oregon, a win that extended the program’s best-ever home winning streak to 61 games. The team has won every game in Maples Pavilion since beating San Francisco, 96-61, on Nov. 28, 2007.
Tonight’s matchup with Cal (15-13, 7-10) also marks the team’s annual Senior Night, where guards Jeanette Pohlen, Melanie Murphy and Hannah Donaghe will be honored along with forwards Kayla Pedersen and Ashley Cimino. Other than the redshirt Murphy, Stanford’s senior class is per3fect at Maples and has ended every year with a Final Four appearance–with one more, it would set a Stanford record.
“Our senior class is amazing, and me along with everyone else is going to miss them so much,” said freshman guard Toni Kokenis. “They’ve definitely taken us under their wing and helped us out…we all get along super well and we’re really good friends, so it’s definitely going to be emotional for us.”
She may lack the experience of phenoms like Pohlen and Pedersen, but Kokenis has managed to work her way into Stanford’s lineup and make some serious contributions this season. The Oak Brook, Ill. native has averaged over 17 minutes per game in her rookie season, and since recovering from a minor head injury last month, Kokenis has become a staple of Stanford’s score sheets with 7.9 points and 1.00 steals per game, 63.2 percent shooting from the field, a 46.2 percent clip from beyond the arc and 9-for-10 shooting from the charity stripe. Kokenis posted six steals across Stanford’s last three games, each of which saw her break into double-digit point totals.
“I’m definitely trying to bring more energy off the bench and make our pace go a little bit faster,” Kokenis said about her recent contributions. “I want to speed up the tempo a little bit by definitely picking up the defense and pushing the ball, getting it out of my lane so we can get some fast-break opportunities and speed the game up.”
That speed has been one of Kokenis’ unique additions to a power-heavy Stanford roster. Against Oregon State last Thursday, she sparked a number of fast breaks and fired up the crowd with cross-court runs to the basket.
She also impressed in Stanford’s first game against Cal, scoring 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting in a 78-45 victory in early January.
After a solid start, the Golden Bears have struggled mightily in the back half of the conference season, plummeting into a six-game losing streak that they just snapped with a 58-49, come-from-behind victory over the visiting Oregon State Beavers. Sophomore forward DeNesha Stallworth–Cal’s leading scorer at 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game–posted nine points on clutch second-half shooting.
Rachelle Federico scored a career-high 15 points from the guard position–a fine performance for the four-year veteran on Cal’s Senior Night. It was her last game at Haas Pavilion, but Federico was making her first career start–given her performance, her second may come against the Cardinal.
After snapping the prolonged losing streak, Federico says her team’s confidence is ramping back up.
“There was some sort of vibe that we had,” she said. “Cal basketball was back…A sense of pride kicked in. For whatever reason it was, we were able to get back to Cal basketball.”
With a postseason berth secured and the Final Four only a month away, it might be easy for Stanford to see tonight’s matchup as a stepping stone–a final chance to prepare for single-elimination play.
Kokenis acknowledges that a game like this can provide a tune-up before the Big Dance, but says the team needs to focus on fundamentals and coming away with a win.
“Cal’s definitely an aggressive team, so it’s good for us to be playing against them since they pressure so much, that’s something we’ve definitely been working on,” Kokenis said. “But’s really it’s just taking care of the ball…and making sure we know what we’re doing on each possession and getting good shots.”
Stanford will tip off with Cal at 8 p.m. tonight in Maples Pavilion. A ceremony for the team’s senior class will follow the game.