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W. Basketball: Stanford stays tied for top spot in Pac-12

Securing its grasp on top spot of the Pac-12 Conference, the Stanford women’s basketball team defeated Utah 65-44 in Maples Pavilion on Friday night.

The No. 6/6 Cardinal (17-2, 6-1 Pac-12) now holds an undefeated 16-game all-time record over the Utes (10-8, 1-6 Pac-12) and remains tied for first place in the Pac-12 with California.

The duo of senior forward Joslyn Tinkle and junior forward Chiney Ogwumike stood out for Stanford. Ogwumike made her 14th double-double of the season, with 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Tinkle scored 16 points and grabbed eight boards of her own. Utah, meanwhile, struggled with losing one of its key players to injury midway through the first half and even junior forward Michelle Plouffe’s game-leading 24 points — plus 10 rebounds to make her own double-double — could not turn things around for the Utes.

“Jos [Tinkle] and Chiney [Ogwumike], they’re on a mission,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “They don’t care who else plays well, they’re gonna play well. They’re aggressive , they’re making great things happen for our team, they’re being great leaders, rebounding for us.

“I think it was a Chiney and Jos show. They really got it done.”

Tinkle rebounded a couple of missed shots by her teammates and hit a three-pointer to score the first seven points of the game and force Utah to take an early timeout with just over two minutes gone. It showed an urgency and aggression that VanDerveer has been trying to instill in her team in recent weeks.

“Tara [VanDerveer] kinda brought up to me a couple days ago,” Tinkle said. “She’s been saying it in practice and it’s really kinda hitting me, is that before this game I had eight more [possible] home games here. And it just kinda hit me really hard and I know that now we’re getting into the Pac-12 season, regular season, thick here and I just want to go out there and give it my best, and do it for my teammates.”

Ogwumike entered this game as the Pac-12’s leading point-scorer, but Utah had the fifth and sixth players on that list, Plouffe and redshirt junior Taryn Wicijowski, in its starting lineup. It was a huge blow for the Utes when, already trailing by 11, Wicijowski went down with a knee injury — the same knee where she previously tore her ACL — just ten minutes into the first period and did not return to action.

“She’s a great player. Not just [because] she scores, but she’s critical in everything we do,” Utah head coach Anthony Levrets said about Wicijowski. “She’s a great passer, a great screener. She and Plouffe play really well together. And then defensively she’s just physical and strong … no one’s gonna stop Chiney [Ogwumike], but to ask someone to guard her by themselves for 40 minutes is really hard, and between the two of them it’s a different deal when you can trade back off between Plouffe and [Wicijowski], so obviously that’s a big deal.  She’s a huge part of our team.”

In her absence, Plouffe stepped up and though she did struggle with foul trouble that reduced her playing time slightly, her 24 points was well above her season average 16.1 per game. She caused Stanford problems defensively, getting sent to the charity stripe 11 times, and though her team shot poorly on returning to the court after halftime — Utah missed the first eleven shots from the floor — she made big steals that offered them a glimmer of hope.

Though Stanford stayed tied for first place at the top of the Pac-12 table, VanDerveer will be hoping for greater contributions from other players against Colorado. The No. 20/23 Buffaloes pushed No. 7/7 California hard in a narrow 59-56 defeat on Friday and will likely offer tougher competition that Utah. Excluding Ogwumike and Tinkle, VanDerveer’s other players hit just 11 out of 38 shots against the Utes.

“We’re working really hard to get more people involved offensively and we really struggled from the perimeter shooting-wise,” VanDerveer said. “[Junior guard] Sara [James] struggled, [sophomore guard] Amber [Orrange] struggled, [senior forward] Mikaela [Ruef], [sophomore forward] Taylor [Greenfield]. Basically our whole perimeter game.”

Stanford hosts Colorado at Maples Pavilion on Sunday at 4 p.m. PT. The contest will be broadcast live on Pac-12 Networks and KZSU.