As Pac-12 Player of the Week Chiney Ogwumike put it, Stanford’s narrow victory over Fresno State last Friday night was a “gut check” for the women’s basketball team, a test that hopefully helped to prepare the Cardinal for the much tougher competition it faces tonight against No. 1 Baylor.
The season opener was no walk in the park for Stanford. To put the 72-61 win in perspective, the Card has beaten Fresno State by an average margin of close to 30 points in the past several years.
Head coach Tara VanDerveer pointed out that defense and rebounding were key struggles for the Cardinal that need to be resolved before the team faces Baylor.
“Twenty-five offensive rebounds [by Fresno State] is inexcusable for anybody out there; that’s hustle,” Ogwumike said. “I know I made mistakes, other people made mistakes. I believe defense is all heart, and as a collective group we need to bring up our intensity and our aggressiveness. We are going to work so that doesn’t happen again.”
And the Cardinal didn’t let it happen again. They played a completely different game on Sunday against Santa Clara, decisively beating the Broncos 97-57.
The successful duo of Ogwumike and senior Joslyn Tinkle led the team in the opening weekend series. Ogwumike averaged 22.5 points and 12 rebounds on the weekend and scored her 1,000th career point against Santa Clara — Tinkle averaged 19.5 points in the two contests.
The real player connection made, however, was between sophomore point guard Amber Orrange and Ogwumike. Orrange averaged 16 points and 5.5 assists per game, most of which were converted by Ogwumike in the paint.
With first-game nerves out of the way, and with a convincing win under their belt, the Cardinal now looks ahead to possibly their toughest opponent of the season. Stanford takes on top-ranked Baylor tonight in Honolulu at the Jack in the Box Rainbow Wahine Classic.
“I’m getting goose bumps thinking about it,” Tinkle said. “We’re ready to play a great team and great players.”
This game will be a rematch of last year’s Final Four game in which Baylor beat the Card 59-47, largely in part due to the dominance of senior Brittney Griner.
Last season Griner was named the AP National Player of the Year after averaging 23.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game. Griner put up 27 points against No. 6 Kentucky in last week’s 85-51 Lady Bears victory.
“I think the fact that we played them last year helps us this time around, but it probably also helps them too in that they know our team a little bit better,” VanDerveer said. “We always want to play a very challenging schedule and we want to know early on what we need to work on, areas where we need to improve. Our team is excited about it. It’s not like you’re going to end your season with one game. It’ll be a game where we’ll learn a lot about ourselves and it’s a win-win. If you win the game, great, and if you don’t win the game it’s great because you played them.”
Freshman center Tess Picknell will most likely go up against the 6-foot-8 Griner in tonight’s matchup. Picknell played a solid game defensively against Santa Clara with one blocked shot and four rebounds. VanDerveer was impressed with her aggressive screening and play and is confident in Picknell’s ability to help stop Griner.
The Card will also have to match up with All-American point guard Odyssey Sims who last year averaged 13.1 points per game and three assists.
“We’re going to do a lot of the same things [from the Final Four],” VanDerveer said. “We’re going to learn from the things that we did last time and do a lot of the same attack. Chiney is playing very well, Joslyn is playing very well, Amber’s playing very well. We have our ‘big three’ and we need it to be four, five, six or seven. We need really major contributions from a lot of people.”
With an 11-player rotation, it will be interesting to see who steps up for the Card in tonight’s highly anticipated matchup.