The Stanford women’s basketball team heads into weekend play ranked third in the Pac-12, the first time in seven seasons that the Card fail to lead the conference, after Cal broke its 81-game conference winning streak on Tuesday. A lot of weight is being placed on these two upcoming games as the Card (14-2, 3-1 Pac-12) looks to redeem itself against the only teams left undefeated in the conference — UCLA (13-2, 4-0) and USC (7-8, 4-0).
After losing two consecutive home games for the first time since the 2000-01 season, the Card dropped to sixth in the AP and USA Today Coaches’ Polls — first time that Stanford has been left out of the top five since March of 2009.
However, this is the same team that also pulled off road victories against then-No. 1 Baylor and No. 10 Tennessee and is confident that it can make the necessary corrections to right the ship this weekend in critical conference matchups.
“I do know that we’re trying to be more aggressive in practice and trying to emphasize things that will make us more successful,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “We’re really learning how teams are playing us, how different teams scout us and what we need to do.”
Stanford continues to be led by offensive and defensive threat, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike. Ogwumike is averaging 21.4 ppg and 11.6 rpg while shooting 57 percent from the field. Rounding out the Card’s triple threat is senior forward Joslyn Tinkle (12 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and sophomore point guard Amber Orrange (10.8 ppg, 4.38 apg).
Redshirt freshman guard Jasmine Camp is expected to split playing time this weekend with Orrange as she continues to stand out in practice after recovering from last year’s foot injury. Junior Toni Kokenis has struggled throughout the season to regain her All-Pac-12 level of play after not feeling well at the beginning of the season.
“I think [Toni] is as healthy as she’s going to be this year,” said VanDerveer. “It’s day-by-day how she feels. I think she’s not as aggressive offensively, but she’s working pretty hard defensively.”
No. 15 UCLA comes into tonight’s game off of a six-game win streak and boasting this week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week. UCLA has some experience against top-ranked teams after beating No. 11 Oklahoma but falling to No. 5 Notre Dame.
Junior guard Atonye Nyingifa (12.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg) has dropped double-digits scoring outings in five consecutive games. Last week against Washington and Washington State, she averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and two steals while shooting an impressive .737 from the field and .857 from the free throw line, earning her the Pac-12 Player of the Week honor.
Senior guard Markel Walker leads the Bruins in scoring and rebounding with 12.9 ppg and 8.3 rpg. Walker made the All Pac-12 team last season and continues to lead her team this year.
“UCLA’s coming in here, [and] they’re playing nine people, and we’re playing six or seven,” said VanDerveer. “They press, they trap, they go for steals in a similar way that Cal did but maybe more full-court.
While UCLA has even scoring across the boards, USC has experienced consistently dominant play from junior forward Cassie Harberts. Harberts was last week’s Pac-12 Player of the Week as she helped the Trojans end a six-game losing streak with wins against Oregon and Oregon State. Last year, she was awarded All Pac-12 Honorable Mention, and this year she is averaging 17.9 ppg with 7.9 rpg.
Both USC and UCLA will have to play at the top of their games in order to keep up with the newly focused and determined Cardinal.
“This is just what the doctor ordered for us. I think sometimes it’s tough for our team to have, I don’t know, ‘feel-good’ wins,” said VanDerveer. “We beat Utah, we beat Colorado, we beat Cal at Cal, but it’s like, we’re supposed to beat these people. I think this is a great opportunity for our team to come in, and we’ll have to play well to win, and people can feel good about it.”
The Card plays UCLA tonight at 8 p.m. and USC on Sunday at 4:30 p.m., both at Maples Pavilion.