By Tom Taylor
With a 73-40 victory over Michigan at Maples Pavilion on Tuesday evening, the Stanford women’s basketball team booked its place in the Spokane Regionals next weekend.
The No. 1-seed Cardinal (33-2) rebounded from a slow start to the NCAA Tournament against Tulsa on Sunday and led the No. 8 Wolverines (22-11) by 41-16 at the half. Eight three-pointers helped put the game out of reach with 20 minutes of the contest remaining, and the team added four more in the second half to get a season-best 12 baskets from downtown.
In her final game on Maples hardwood, senior forward Joslyn Tinkle led the field with 21 points and a career-high 5-for-5 clip from three-point range. Junior forward Chiney Ogwumike recorded her 27th double-double of the season, with 12 points and 15 rebounds, and sophomore guard Amber Orrange hit 11 points and handed out six assists. Fellow starters redshirt junior forward Mikaela Ruef and junior guard Sara James, together with sophomore guard Bonnie Samuelson, all added another nine points each.
Michigan, meanwhile, struggled to get its leading players going against a strong defensive display by Stanford. Though guard Jenny Ryan was perfect from the field and beat her season average of 10.2 with 11 points, fellow seniors guard Kate Thompson and forward Rachel Sheffer could not get into double figures, ending with seven points apiece.
A key part of frustrating Thompson, who went just 1-for-11 from the field, was handing 5-foot-10 James the task of guarding Michigan’s 6-foot-4 leading scorer, a player shooting .393 from three-point range this season.
“I give her a lot of credit because [James] will do whatever we ask her to do,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “We just said, ‘You’re guarding this girl [Thompson]. No threes. If she scores a three, then you’re coming out.’”
Thompson went 0-for-6 from three-point range and though she was fouled shooting from beyond the arc, it was Ruef, not James, who sent her to the line.
Michigan attempted to frustrate Stanford by targeting Ogwumike and playing zone defense, but while it succeeded in keeping her relatively quiet early on, the home team responded by consistently knocking down its outside shots.
“In practice the last couple of days, the zone looked really good,” said Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Just looking at their last couple of games, they hadn’t made that many threes, but teams were playing man — now I see why they were playing man.”
“We really tried to key on [Ogwumike],” continued Barnes Arico, “and I also don’t think that we really recognized what kind of range they had on their jump shots because they weren’t just threes, they were pretty far back behind the line … We obviously had to get out of the zone at that point but we were already in a pretty good hole.”
With the attention focused on her teammate, Tinkle made Michigan pay with one of the best games in her career, hitting 70 percent from the field, including a perfect record from outside and from the charity stripe.
“I feel like it just showed what we’re capable of,” explained Tinkle. “There are a lot of things we can improve on from watching this game. We can use it to fuel us for the sweet 16 and going into Spokane. There was just so much contribution from everyone, the starters and from the bench. We don’t need Chiney to dominate every single game. We want to have her back and help her out and spread that out a little bit.”
In the first round, the other No. 1 seeds, Baylor, Notre Dame and Connecticut, had all put down serious markers, winning by margins of 42, 33 and 58 points, respectively. In comparison, Stanford had struggled against No. 16 Tulsa, recovering from an early six-point deficit to tie the Golden Hurricane at the half before edging ahead to win 72-56.
“I think that when you’re a No. 1 seed and you’re tied at halftime with a No. 16, everyone says Stanford isn’t that good,” VanDerveer said. “Tulsa played us well. I thought we were sloppy. That got our team’s attention. I said before the game [against Michigan], ‘show people the good play that I see in practice.’”
It worked. That sluggish start to the NCAA Tournament was blown away in the first period against Michigan; looking around the country, the Cardinal’s performance was at the very least as impressive as the other top seeds’. Baylor won by 38, Notre Dame by 17 and UConn equaled Stanford’s margin of 33.
“I was super impressed with them tonight,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought they were tremendous. Obviously, [Ogwumike] is a superstar but the rest of them — they’re great basketball players as well, and they really stepped up tonight. I feel like if they continue to play that way they could challenge for the national championship.”
Stanford will now face No. 4 Georgia (27-6) in the Sweet Sixteen in Spokane, Wash., while rival No. 2 California (30-3) will square off against No. 6 LSU (22-11). If they win, the two Bay Area teams would face each other in the Regional Final on Monday, with a Final Four spot on the line.
The Cardinal’s game against the Lady Bulldogs will tip off at 6:04 p.m. PDT and be broadcast live on ESPN and KZSU, while Berkeley’s contest with the Lady Tigers is scheduled for 8:32 p.m. PDT and will be live on ESPN2.