The No.1 Cardinal women’s basketball team (6-0) starts its weekend of play on the road tonight after returning from Hawaii with a huge win over Baylor and with the program’s first No. 1 ranking since 2005.
“We’re starting a big week,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “[Sunday’s game] will be in front of a packed house at Gonzaga and we’re going to have to play very well. We’re using this week to really make some big improvements in our defense and offensive attack.”
VanDerveer and captains Chiney Ogwumike and Joslyn Tinkle emphasize how important it is not to get caught up in the rankings so early in the season. VanDerveer sees it as “just an opinion — it’s not a fact” until the end of the season.
“I think that the No. 1 ranking is awesome because it shows the respect our team has around the country, but at the same time we know that numbers don’t matter in November,” Ogwumike said. “They matter when it comes to March and [the NCAA] tournament.”
The Card is looking ahead to the end of the season and advancing past the Final Four but realizes that it must take each game as it comes. Tonight Stanford faces a sharpshooting UC-Davis squad (2-2).
Sophomore Sydnee Fipps is averaging 21.8 points per game for the season and is shooting 55.1 percent. Her fellow guard, senior Cortney French, was named Big West Conference Player of the Week after averaging 19.5 points per game and shooting an impressive 54.2 percent in the Aggies’ two wins last week.
The more highly anticipated game this weekend is Sunday’s matchup with West Coast Conference powerhouse Gonzaga (6-1) in front of a sold-out crowd. The Zags have won the WCC every season since 2005 and last year advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs are led by returning starters senior Taelor Karr and junior Haiden Palmer. Karr and Palmer led the team last year in 3-point shooting, assists and steals. This season Palmer is averaging 12 points and three steals per game, while Karr has 7.7 points per game and leads the team in free throw shooting at 85 percent.
Sophomore Keani Albanez, however, has stepped up this year and improved her scoring average from two points per game last season to 10.1 this season and is shooting an unprecedented 50 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Along with its talented guards also comes an imposing frontcourt that is averaging 34.4 rebounds and 5.25 blocks per game.
“Gonzaga has great perimeter shooters and I think we have really good perimeter shooters too, so it’ll be a good battle,” VanDerveer said. “We have to play great defense, we have to contest shots, be aggressive defensively.
“Offensively we’ve got to score,” she added. “We just have to take advantage of our size, using our size, our length, using our athleticism with people like Amber [Orrange], like Jas [Camp] and Toni [Kokenis]. We’re going to have to be very aggressive and play with a lot of confidence.”
The matchup between Tinkle and her sister Elle, a Gonzaga freshman, should make for some great sibling rivalry as they play against each other for the first time.
“It’s a really cool feeling because here I am, a senior about to leave and end my career here at Stanford, while [Elle]’s just beginning hers,” Tinkle said. “So I’m very happy and excited for her, and she’s playing well.”
Tinkle has been dominating the court so far this season alongside Ogwumike, espnW’s National Player of the Week. Tinkle is averaging 18.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 64.4 percent. Ogwumike has posted four double-double performances thus far, averaging 19.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per game while shooting 64.9 percent from the floor.
The Cardinal plays at UC-Davis tonight before travelling to Gonzaga for Sunday’s game at the Kennel.