Last night, the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated archrival Cal 86-61 in the harsh atmosphere of the Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
With the win, No. 2 Stanford (28-1, 18-0 Pac-12) finished off its third straight unbeaten conference season, with its last such loss coming in the 2008-09 season against the Golden Bears. Though on the losing end last night, Cal (22-8, 13-5 Pac-12) has already secured the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament that will take place this week in Los Angeles. Should both teams live up to expectations in the conference tournament, last night’s game might not be the final time that they square off against each other this year — or even this week.
Four Cardinal players scored in double figures. Sophomore guard Toni Kokenis narrowly beat senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike for the team lead in points with 23 and 22, respectively. Sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike took home another double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Additionally, both Kokenis and freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson hit three shots from behind the arc, while junior forward Joslyn Tinkle had two threes as part of her 16-point haul. Just two Golden Bears made it into double figures and their leading point scorers were kept below their season averages, including freshman forward Reshanda Gray, who fouled out of the game.
Though Stanford won the tip-off, Nneka Ogwumike missed on her first jumper, and by the end of the opening minute, the Golden Bears held a 4-0 lead. In the next three and a half minutes, though, Cal missed four shots, turned the ball over three times and conceded two fouls, handing a 7-4 advantage to the Cardinal. Any chance that early lead may have given Cal to turn the tables on the Pac-12 champion had been lost as Stanford hit its stride, and by the half, the visitors held a comfortable 43-24 lead.
“It’s hard to credit Stanford enough,” said Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb after the game. “They’re really good. I really think that Chiney and Nneka might be the best post combination to ever play in women’s college basketball. And I thought their supporting cast played really, really well, and I thought they played very, very hard, made life difficult for us.”
Gottlieb’s biggest concern at half, though, was her own team’s poor cooperation on the floor. Berkeley went into the break with an assist-to-turnover ratio of just 0.33, compared to Stanford’s 2.00. Worse still, the Golden Bears had only scored four points from the four turnovers made by the Cardinal, whereas Stanford had notched up 19 from the nine turnovers made by its cross-Bay rivals.
The last time these two teams played each other, back on Jan. 28 on the Farm, California pulled back from a nine-point deficit at the end of the first period to force overtime before ultimately falling 74-71. This time around, though, there was no fairytale comeback in regulation. The Golden Bears were better after the break, making just three more turnovers and adding seven assists to bring their ratio up to a more respectable 0.83, but the gap was just too large and Stanford ultimately too good.
Cal only narrowly lost out on points to the Cardinal through the second half, forcing eight turnovers and making nine steals, but this came in part from Stanford’s freer approach to the second half. The squad dazzled the crowd with gutsy plays that didn’t always work out, but highlighted the team’s potential when successful.
“We really tried to be aggressive,” Chiney Ogwumike explained. “We collectively all looked to score and I think that shows how much we’ve been practicing and working on our offense. Our team is gelling, and we’re working hard, and it’s the time where you either get with it or you sort of give up.”
Older sister Nneka put a slightly different spin on things as her collegiate career heads into its final postseason.
“I think at this point in time people really need to buy into having fun out and being out there and just playing for each other for 40 minutes,” she said. “Because if you have fun, there’s really no stress.”
Both Stanford and California will be back in action this Thursday at the Galen Center in Los Angeles against the winners of Washington/Oregon and Utah/Colorado, respectively.