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W. Basketball: Card heads to Utah, Gonzaga on first road trip

After knocking off Rutgers on Sunday in the season opener, the No. 3 Stanford women’s basketball team heads away from the Farm this weekend for two tough road games. The Cardinal tangles with Utah on Friday night, then heads north to play Gonzaga on Sunday afternoon.

For the 10th year in a row, the Cardinal opened its season with a win, defeating Rutgers 63-50 last Sunday. The Card’s next test comes against two familiar opponents.

Stanford and Utah have played each other in six out of the last seven years, and the two teams will both be members of the new Pac-12 next year. The Cardinal took home a 60-41 victory last year in Maples Pavilion, and is unbeaten in 11 games all-time against the Utes.

Stanford put up a strong effort against Rutgers last Sunday, shutting down the Scarlet Knights' offense in the second half. (BRYANT TAN/The Stanford Daily)

Last year, Utah finished with a 23-12 overall record and was the runner-up in the Mountain West conference after falling to San Diego State in a 70-60 overtime defeat. The Utes went on to the Women’s NIT tournament, where they lost to Cal in the second round.

Gonzaga, on the other hand, was on the receiving end of the Cardinal’s biggest scoring output last season. Led by senior Kayla Pedersen’s 30 points and junior Nnemkadi Ogwumike’s 29 points, Stanford cruised to a 105-75 victory last year, the most points the Cardinal scored in a single game all season.

Minus the loss to Stanford, Gonzaga had a dominant season last year. The Bulldogs lost only five games all season, won their third West Coast Conference title in the last four years and had a 20-game winning streak snapped in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament by Xavier. Xavier’s win over Gonzaga sent them to their matchup with Stanford in the Elite Eight, where the Card escaped 55-53 thanks to Jeannette Pohlen’s coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating layup.

Even against two dangerous teams like the Utes and Zags, Stanford fans can expect to see plenty of new looks on the floor this weekend, as Head Coach Tara VanDerveer expects to use all many different rotations in order to find the strongest starting lineup and the best rotations off the bench.

The Cardinal used six different lineups against Rutgers, which VanDerveer said was “not enough.” After losing seniors Jayne Appel and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude to graduation last year, the Cardinal seems to have found a few answers to who will help take over for the two fan favorites.

Sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle started only two games last year in lieu of an injured Jayne Appel, but the 6-foot-3 forward raised eyebrows–and expectations–when she dropped two three-pointers in the first three minutes of Sunday’s game against Rutgers.

The Missoula, Mont. native had a solid 10 points and six rebounds in Sunday’s matchup against Rutgers. Coach VanDerveer praised the poise and calm of her new starter.

Tinkle says the team’s anxiety was “typical butterflies,” but the sophomore is using her calm and confidence to help take over the holes left from last year’s team.

“It’s not so hectic [as a sophomore], you’re more comfortable and at ease, you have a more definite role on the team,” she said. “I think knowing that, it’s a big goal to be one of those go-to players. That’s something I keep working on every day to be a big-time contributor to this team.”

Tinkle says she’s playing the role of a small forward or shooting guard this year instead of taking over Appel’s spot at center, and that her own versatility–as well as her teammates’–gives the Cardinal a huge advantage down the road.

“Me and Nnemkadi [Owgumike] and Kayla [Pedersen] all have the ability to step out whenever we need to,” she said. “It’s a compliment that we can mix it up depending on who our opponent is.”

VanDerveer said that versatility is a positive thing, but it has some consequences for the players like Tinkle who are stepping into new roles this season.

“It’ll take some time [to set a starting lineup], and it might be based on a couple things,” she said. “All three freshmen played exceedingly well, but they don’t have the margin for error. They’re getting thrown into the deep end of the pool.”

But even with an opening win, a No. 3 national ranking and a starting spot on the floor, Tinkle isn’t afraid to say that there is room for improvement.

“We have a lot to work on,” she said. “Rutgers definitely hung in there with us, and we need to exceed the expectations that we have for ourselves.”

Tinkle says those expectations are clear, and that setting the bar high will help the Cardinal both achieve their goals this year and fill the holes from last year.

“Coming here, they expect the best from you, they want to see all aspects of the game,” Tinkle said. “With the presence of Jayne and Rosalyn being gone, all of us can share that role, and everyone wants to step up and equally contribute.”

Stanford will take on Utah tonight at 6 p.m. PST in Salt Lake City, before traveling to Spokane, Wash., on Sunday to play Gonzaga at 2 p.m.

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