After receiving a first-round bye, the Stanford women’s basketball team will begin its Pac-12 tournament campaign today against Washington at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. The No. 2 Cardinal looks to capture the inaugural Pac-12 tournament title in addition to the regular season title, which it clinched with a victory over Oregon last month.
Top-seeded Stanford (28-1, 18-0 Pac-12)–a team that has appeared in every championship game since the first Pac-10 tournament in 2002–hopes to pick up its ninth tournament title this weekend, but it will need to win three straight games on consecutive days. However, the task is even harder for Washington (17-12, 8-10), which defeated Oregon yesterday 72-56. Although the Huskies will be buoyed by the momentum of yesterday’s victory, they would need to win four games in as many days to take home the trophy, including tomorrow’s uneven matchup against the Cardinal.
The Huskies are one of only two Pac-12 squads that Stanford played just once this season, with the other being their in-state rival, Washington State. The Cardinal won that game back on Jan. 23, 65-47, with a solid second-half performance that made up for a tight opening period. But if Stanford follows its season trend–it has drastically improved against all of the teams that gave it a tough ride the first time around–there should be no struggle against the Huskies tomorrow. Stanford edged Oregon State at Maples 67-60 and then routed the Beavers 78-45 in Corvallis, and the squad hung on to win 74-71 in overtime against California on the Farm before thrashing its archrival 86-61 across the Bay last Sunday.
“I think we have been constantly growing since the beginning,” said sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike. “We’ve never been too high, and we’ve never been too low, and that’s a good thing because we steadily keep improving. We’re just hoping to build off of our last win at Cal…for the [Pac-12] tournament, and then build on that for the bigger tournament.”
The recent Pac-12 awards honored that steady progress, naming senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike the Player of the Year; sister Chiney the Defensive Player of the Year; and both, along with sophomore guard Toni Kokenis, to the All-Pac-12 team. Head coach Tara VanDerveer took home the conference’s Coach of the Year award, and the Ogwumike sisters remain among the 15 players shortlisted for the national John R. Wooden Player of the Year. But with the regular season now behind them, Stanford’s players face their biggest tests of the season this weekend and in the weeks to come.
“[We’re taking it] just one day at a time, really,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike said. “At this point we’re only guaranteed two games, and we want to play way more than that. I think we’re just taking every day gratefully and trying to have fun. I think when we have fun, we do well, so that’s kind of what we’re focusing on.”
The Huskies were led in scoring through the regular season by redshirt senior center Regina Rogers and freshman point guard Jazmine Davis, with averages of 16.3 and 16.2 points per game, respectively. The two were in exceptional form against the Ducks yesterday, with Davis putting up 23 points and Rogers 21. Washington also had standout performances from freshman forward Aminah Williams and redshirt senior forward Mackenzie Argens, pulling down 16 and 10 rebounds, respectively.
In comparison, the Ogwumike sisters have double-double season averages, with 21.6 points per game and 10.5 rebounds per game for Nnemkadi, and 15.9 and 10.1 for Chiney. Although other players might seem further off statistically–Kokenis and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle come next in scoring with 9.7 and 8.8 ppg, respectively–multiple career highs have been set by many of them over the season.
But despite the statistical edge her team holds, VanDerveer is taking nothing for granted this weekend.
“We have to be hungry,” VanDerveer said. “We have to go into it no matter who we’re playing, and I think there’s going to be some really exciting basketball with all the teams. There’s such a jumble there that you don’t know who you are going to play. Whoever we play, if you’re in that championship game you’re going to have to play well.”
The second-round contest of the Pac-12 tournament between Stanford and Washington will tip off today at 12 p.m. at the Galen Center in Los Angeles.