Despite big wins over USC and then-No.14 UCLA, the Stanford women’s basketball team was still unable to break back into the top-five rankings this week, remaining at No. 6 in the nation for a second week.
The Cardinal (16-2, 5-1 Pac-12) has another chance this weekend to prove their dominance against Utah (10-7, 1-5) and No. 20 Colorado (15-2, 4-2).
Although the team did not receive a nod from the NCAA, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford’s standout star, was named to the John R. Wooden Award’s Midseason Top 20. Also a consensus national player of the year, Ogwumike is the only player in the country to rank in the nation’s top 10 in scoring (22 ppg), rebounding (11.9 rpg) and field goal percentage (.583). Due to her stellar performances against top-25 teams, the Cardinal has managed to go 6-2 against ranked opponents this season.
This weekend the Card meets up with Colorado—another top-25 team. The Buffs are led by senior guard Chucky Jeffery (13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and redshirt freshman forward Arielle Roberson (13.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Jeffery made the All-Pac 12 team at the end of last season, and Roberson begins her collegiate career this year after sitting out the 2011-12 season due to injury.
“[Chucky Jeffery] is really good,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “[Colorado] is extremely aggressive. They are a very quick, very athletic team. They have an excellent freshman with [Arielle] Roberson. She’s a really outstanding freshman. Both teams are both really good. Obviously they’ve played each other, and Colorado beat Utah twice. They’re different in that Colorado is maybe more athletic, quicker, whereas Utah is bigger. Both teams are very physical.”
Stanford has yet to drop a game to Utah, leading the series history 15-0. The Utes are led by Canadian standouts Michelle Plouffe (16.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Taryn Wicijowski (15.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg). Plouffe, a junior forward, is a member of the Canadian Olympic team and made All Pac-12 honorable mention last season, while redshirt junior forward Wicijowski received first team All Pac-12 honors. Both players offer decent size and consistent shooting for the Utes.
“They’re a lot better than their Pac-12 record indicates,” said VanDerveer. “They’re very physical; they have big Canadian kids, [Michelle] Plouffe and [Taryn] Wicijowski; they have an excellent point guard with [Iwalani] Rodrigues. They played us and Cal first; they played Colorado, some of the top teams first…and kind of got down.”
For Stanford to have the same success this weekend as it did the last time out, it will have to see contributions from the bench. All 75 of the Card’s points against USC were scored by starters. Although Stanford has experienced some positive stats as well—dominating the offensive and defensive glass recently and leading the Pac-12 in scoring margin (+16.7) and field goal percentage (47.6)—VanDerveer is not satisfied with the spread of offensive output.
“We’re working on pace, our offensive pace, and trying to get people to set better screens,” VanDerveer said. “We’re working on getting on the o-boards better. I showed our team the Pac-12 statistics where we’re working being more aggressive. We’re 12th in the Pac-12 in steals, we’re 11th I think in offensive boards. We’re living a lot on what Chiney does, and we need some people to carry more of a load. I really think the blueprint of our team is Sara James, how well she’s done and how well she’s contributing. So for other people, it’s if she can do it, you can do it—that’s been our message. We’re just hoping to get more contributions from more people. We think we have capable players that are spectating. We have to make more happen.”
With junior James playing so consistently since the start of Pac-12 play, it appears the Card may have finally found a coherent starting five. James has averaged seven points in her first three career Pac-12 starts to become the Cardinal’s fourth-leading scorer in Pac-12 play, behind starters Ogwumike, senior forward Joslyn Tinkle, sophomore point guard Amber Orrange and junior guard Toni Kokenis. With redshirt junior and all-around contributor Mikaela Ruef coming off the bench as the sixth man, the Card should start to see greater offensive output from multiple players.
The Card finishes out its five game homestand 7 p.m. tonight against Utah and 4 p.m. Sunday against Colorado.