By Tom Taylor
The Stanford women’s basketball team came through a tight first half at lunchtime yesterday to soundly defeat UCLA 82-59 and finish up a home sweep of the Southern California schools.
It was the end of perhaps the toughest home stand of the conference season for the No. 4 Cardinal (22-1, 13-0 Pac-12), facing teams ranked, respectively, third and fourth in the Pac-12: the Bruins (12-12, 7-6) yesterday and USC (13-11, 7-6) last Thursday.
The game marked the second time in a week that two pairs of sisters had squared off on the Maples hardwood; this time it was a chance for UCLA’s senior guard Rebekah Gardner and sophomore forward Rhema Gardner to face off against the Ogwumikes. The final combined performance: 44 points and 10 rebounds for Stanford’s pair versus 17 and seven for the Bruins’ siblings. Sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike didn’t make it to her seventh straight double-double, but a strong rebounding effort by junior forward Joslyn Tinkle made up for any missed boards.
The first half did not run as smoothly as the Cardinal would have hoped. After falling behind on the first basket, Stanford took early control of the game, running out to a five-point lead with just over five minutes gone. But the Bruins refused to roll over, stabilizing the deficit reining the Cardinal back in.
With just over five minutes left in the half, the Bruins took back the lead as Stanford struggled. An uncharacteristic turnover by senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike that allowed UCLA sophomore guard Thea Lemberger to steal the ball highlighted a difficult few possessions for the Cardinal, but Nneka quickly overcame any distraction to take the lead back with a fast-break layup. By the break, Stanford had its five-point lead back.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a big game,” Tinkle said. “And they came out of the gun hot, they were all over us, and we had a little bit of a lapse there in the first half. But we caught ourselves at halftime, got that second wind and we came out for the second half ready to take over and push ourselves.”
After the break, Stanford stretched further ahead, and even when UCLA managed to close back to within seven midway through the second half, the Cardinal answered back with a 14-0 run that finally killed off the Bruins’ challenge.
“Credit to Stanford,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said. “When you let them be who they want to be, they are the best in the country and it was imperative for us to force them to be something else. If it was a pretty game, I knew it would be in their favor. If it was a little uglier, it would be to our favor.”
In the second half, UCLA was also almost certainly hurt by playing the bulk of the game — and the Pac-12 season — with just six players. While Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer was able to rotate her players, fatigue and foul trouble made their mark on the Bruins.
It wasn’t just UCLA that had problems, though. Both Chiney Ogwumike and sophomore guard Toni Kokenis got into early foul trouble for Stanford, which reduced their time on the court, and Nneka Ogwumike had six turnovers. VanDerveer, however, wasn’t overly concerned by these statistics, appearing excited by both the overall team performance and that of her star player.
“Honestly I don’t really get mad at [Nneka],” VanDerveer said. “She does so many great things for our team, so many intangible things. She is a tremendous leader, she gets clobbered in there and she doesn’t complain, she is just so big-time. So a couple of turnovers, that’s not going bother me.”
Stanford now heads out of California for the last time before the NCAA tournament, traveling up to the Beaver State to face Oregon State this Thursday and then Oregon on Saturday.
The Cardinal needs just one win in the last five Pac-12 conference games to guarantee at least a share in the title, but the Beavers hold the honor of being the team that has pushed the Card hardest so far this season, narrowly losing 67-60 at Maples Pavilion, so Thursday’s clash is expected to be a serious test.
Stanford and Oregon State square off this Thursday in Corvallis, Ore. at 7 p.m.