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Women’s basketball faces LA rivals in critical road trip

The Stanford women’s basketball team faces USC on the road tonight to start a crucial away trip to Los Angeles. After playing the Trojans, the team will then square off against UCLA on Sunday.

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Senior forward Joslyn Tinkle (above) earned her first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds against Arizona State University as Stanford swept the Arizona teams last weekend. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

When the Trojans (8-15, 5-7 Pac-12) visited campus on Jan. 20, they were tied for the top spot in the Pac-12 Conference with rival UCLA, but they have since slipped to seventh after losing seven out of their last eight games. The No. 15 Bruins (19-4, 10-2 Pac-12), however, have continued their strong season, so far only losing in conference play to the two Northern Californian schools.

The No. 4 Cardinal (22-2, 11-1 Pac-12) and No. 6 Cal (21-2, 10-1 Pac-12) have shared the top of the Pac-12 table since the LA schools visited the Bay Area and may well have to share the title unless someone can stop either team. UCLA, third in the Pac-12, could see this weekend as the perfect chance to do just that. If USC loses both games and UCLA wins, it would create a three-way tie for the top.

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer is aware of the significance of Sunday’s game but is wary of focusing on the Bruins just yet.

“USC gave us one of our toughest games—they came back against us, they’re athletic.” VanDerveer said. “We have to really prepare for everybody; we’re not looking ahead.”

Stanford junior guard Toni Kokenis is struggling with illness and is doubtful for this weekend, so junior guard Sara James and redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef are expected to keep their starting places alongside senior forward Joslyn Tinkle, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike and sophomore guard Amber Orrange.

Ogwumike has solidified her place as one of the nation’s best college players this season. In 24 games she has recorded 19 double-doubles and has scored in double figures in every game. For comparison, her sister Nnemkadi Ogwumike ‘12, the No. 1 pick in last year’s WNBA Draft, hit double figures in 35 out of 36 games in her final season on the Farm.

However, VanDerveer has been pushing all season for Ogwumike’s teammates to share some of the burden, and her persistence seems to be working. Last Sunday, sophomore forward Bonnie Samuelson scored a career-high 19 points, and, over the weekend, both Tinkle and Ruef grabbed double-doubles, marking Tinkle’s first of the season and Ruef’s first in her collegiate career.

“I just feel like we’re scraping and scrapping every game, figuring out a plan,” VanDerveer said, “Against USC, we have to contain their very quick athletic guards and an all-conference player with [junior forward Cassie] Harberts.”

Harberts leads USC with 17.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, ranking third and seventh on those statistics in the Pac-12. Ogwumike leads the conference in both. Sophomore guard Ariya Crook is the only other Trojans player with a double-figure scoring average.

UCLA, on the other hand, has a variety of players who can threaten Stanford. The Bruins count on a trio with almost identical scoring and rebounding averages: senior forward Alyssia Brewer (11.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg), redshirt junior forward Atonye Nyingifa (11.3 and 7.4) and senior guard/forward Markel Walker (11.1 and 7.7). Junior guard Thea Lemberger is also just shy of double figures in points, with 9.4 ppg.

“[UCLA] is playing a big lineup—they’re not starting their small point guard anymore,” VanDerveer said, noting that several Bruins have done well in their return from injuries.

The contest tonight between Stanford and USC will tip off at 8 p.m. PT from the Galen Center in Los Angeles, and the game on Sunday against UCLA is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. PT in Pauley Pavilion. Both will be broadcast live on Pac-12 Networks and on KZSU.

“This trip separates the girls from the women,” VanDerveer said. “UCLA has been more consistent, but USC is very dangerous. We’re just going to have to play well on both nights.”

Contact Tom Taylor at tom.taylor@stanford.edu.