Tonight the Stanford women’s basketball team starts its first-ever road trip to the new Pac-12 schools, Utah and Colorado.
The No. 4 Cardinal (13-1, 4-0 Pac-12) will look to secure its position at the top of the conference against the Utes (13-1, 2-1 Pac-12) in Salt Lake City before heading up to play the Buffaloes (8-6, 1-2 Pac-12) in Boulder on Saturday afternoon.
Stanford has met Utah 12 times before this season, most recently on the
road in November 2010, and has won on every single occasion so far. However, the Utes may draw inspiration from their recent road win against Washington, and the Card struggled against Oregon State at Maples last weekend. To cause an upset, though, Utah will need to find a way to deal with the Ogwumike factor.
Senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike has been a consistent force for the Cardinal this season and leads the Pac-12 in both points and rebounds, with 24.5 points per game and 11.9 rebounds per game. She won her third Pac-12 Player of the Week honor this season for her performances against the Oregon schools last week, and is a leading contender for national player of the year.
Though her sister, sophomore forward Chiney, has not had quite as much consistency or success so far this year, both sisters had double-doubles against Oregon State last week. The effect these two players can have on a team was also evident in the previous contest against Oregon, when the Ducks’ strategy revolved around forcing the Card to shoot from outside, although freshmen forwards Bonnie Samuelson and Taylor Greenfield are able to hit threes at will, forcing the Ducks to pay for their strategy.
Utah will look down low to its top performers, as forwards Michelle Ploufe and Taryn Wicijowski lead the team with 15.1 and 12.9 points per game respectively. Interestingly (and unusually, for the Cardinal) the Utes might have a height advantage in this matchup. Like Chiney Ogwumike and four other Stanford players, Wicijowski stands at 6-foot-3, but the 6-foot-4 Ploufe and two other Utah forwards are only beaten in height by the Card’s 6-foot-5 redshirt junior forward Sarah Boothe. As a result of its height in the paint, Utah is fourth in the conference in defensive rebounds, two places below Stanford, and fifth in blocked shots, two places above the Card. However, the Utes have struggled to use this advantage at the other end of the court, sitting in 11th place in offensive rebounds.
After a solid string of play during the winter break, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer will be hoping that her players can find greater consistency in their play. The seven-game stretch featured some great individual performances and a couple of routs, but at times the Cardinal struggled and perhaps relied far too heavily on the skills of Nnemkadi Ogwumike to get it out of tricky situations. While the conference is only a few games old, both second-place teams, USC and Washington State, are locked in rivalry games this weekend, and a Stanford sweep of the new Pac-12 schools this weekend could provide a huge boost to Stanford’s dreams of winning the inaugural title.
Tip-off between Stanford and Utah at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City is at 6 p.m. tonight.