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W.Basketball: Stanford rebounds against UCLA to top Pac-12

The Stanford women’s basketball team returned to the top of the Pac-12 conference table with a 75-49 rout of UCLA in Maples Pavilion on Friday night.

The No. 6/6 Card (15-2, 4-1 Pac-12) now joins the No. 7/7 Golden Bears (14-2, 4-1 Pac-12), the No. 14/15 Bruins (13-3, 4-1 Pac-12) and the Trojans (7-9, 4-1 Pac-12) in a four-way tie for top spot.

Junior forward Chiney Ogwumike led Stanford with her 12th double-double of the season, hitting 25 points and 13 rebounds. Joining her in double-figure points, senior forward Joslyn Tinkle hit 16, including going four-for-four on three pointers and hitting three-straight in the last few minutes of the game, and sophomore guard Amber Orrange hit 15. Other standout performances for the Cardinal came from junior guard Toni Kokenis, who, though struggling in shooting, made a team high six assists, and junior guard Sara James whose aggression spurred her team on.

For the Bruins, senior forward Alyssia Brewer, junior guard Thea Lemberger and redshirt junior Atonye Nyingifa all scored in double figures, with 14, 12 and 11 points, respectively. However, senior guard/forward Markel Walker was held to just eight points and four rebounds. Entering this game she led her team on points, with 12.9 per game, and was second on rebounds, with 8.3 per game.

With both teams starting this contest ranked and UCLA leading the Pac-12 with an undefeated conference record, the game was set up to be another tough home battle for Stanford. The Cardinal had lost the two previous games at Maples to national rival Connecticut and local rival California and needed a win to turn the season momentum back its way. Berkeley’s 71-63 win over USC on Thursday also added further intrigue to the contest: it was a chance for UCLA to open up clear air between it and the chasing pack, or Stanford to regain a share of top spot.

Unexpectedly, though, both teams struggled in the early part of the first half, making ugly mistakes to finish out the first ten minutes with Stanford leading just 13-11 and with a combined 13 turnovers (seven by UCLA, six by Stanford). In that period, both teams shot far below their season average and from 21 jumpers, just five hit their target. The key to the game was which team would turn its play around first.

“We were struggling because we were trying to get a feel for the game,” Ogwumike said. “Sometimes the beginning is a little rough, trying to get a feel and see what offenses work. But I think Amber [Orrange] really breaking them down off the dribble and then I think Sara James really is the X-factor. She motivates people to go hard, she dives on the floor for loose balls, even if its gonna be a jump ball she’s still holding on.”

As Orrange and James’s impact began to count, it was Stanford that took the advantage, stretching ahead to lead 36-24 at the half. By the break it had also doubled the Bruins’ rebounding, leading 20-10 on the boards, and was 18-6 on points scored in the paint. Though UCLA had picked its play up by the first-half buzzer, recovering from a shooting low of 22.2% with 11:53 to go in the first period to head to the lockers on 30.8%, it significantly trailed Stanford‘s 50.0%.

The second half was more of the same, with the Cardinal opening on a 13-2 run to hit 49 points. It took UCLA the rest of the game just to close to that total, its lowest score of the season, as Stanford’s defense frustrated the Bruins offense.

“Our team has really focused a lot on scouting reports,” VanDerveer said , ”trying really hard to take away people’s strengths, not letting them do what they like to do. We gave up a couple of layups where they flicked the ball, or they stole the ball or there was a tackle and they come up with the ball, but I thought that people really worked hard to be physical, move their feet, get back, box out … really working hard to force shots they’re not comfortable with.”

Breaking the two-game home losing streak in style, Stanford will have helped erase memories of California and Connecticut and put itself back as the leading contender for the Pac-12 conference title. If it could capture that crown it would be the Cardinal’s thirteenth-straight.

“This was a really big win for us,” VanDerveer said. “UCLA is a top ranked team. They’re big, they’re physical, they’re athletic. I was really proud of how our team battled. I think we just saw our team learn from our last game and I was really excited about that.”

Next up, Stanford will face USC at Maples on Sunday, while UCLA heads across the Bay to face California earlier the same day. With all four teams tied at the top of the Pac-12 these will be crucial contests and two factors may make the difference:

“I think physicality is a theme here,” said UCLA head coach Cori Close. “That’s what Cal did to Stanford here before. That’s what Stanford did to us tonight. When we’ve been at our best, we’ve been the aggressor … the reality is in pressurized games and all through the NCAA tournament it’s very physical and they’re gonna let more go. I think we have to learn from tradition and from what happens in pressurized games.

“Also I think … guard play is gonna be a real key. Orrange was stepping up tonight and hitting some really big shots, controlling things late in the shot clock. It was really a backbreaker for us sometimes.”

Stanford’s contest against the Trojans will be live from 4 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks and on KZSU.

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