W. Basketball: Card heads to Pac-10 tourney with title in tow

March 4, 2011, 3:05 a.m.

Once again, the Cardinal is perfect.

With a 75-51 victory over the visiting Cal Bears on Thursday night, the Stanford women’s basketball team completed its second consecutive unbeaten Pac-10 regular season and wrapped up a 61-0 career home record for the senior class, which was honored after the game.

Perfection wasn’t easy for the Cardinal–it trailed after nine minutes of play in the first half–but the 11-time defending Pac-10 champions pulled ahead late in the second half thanks to 11 Bear turnovers and the efficient play of senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, who went 4-for-4 overall and 3-for-3 from behind the arc in the first period.

Freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike (13) stretches to corral a pass during Stanford's 75-51 victory over Cal at Maples Pavilion. With the win, the Cardinal heads into the Pac-10 Tournament with a perfect 18-0 conference record and plenty of momentum. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

The Cardinal led just 38-33 at halftime, the third time in three weeks it had led by five or less at the half, even though the Card had 17 points off turnovers and 16 points in the paint.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer praised the five members of the class of 2011–Pohlen, Kayla Pedersen, Ashley Cimino, Hannah Donaghe and redshirt Melanie Murphy–and lauded Pohlen and Pedersen especially, who are likely to go down as two of the best players in Cardinal history.

“What I’m most proud of with [Pohlen] is her improvement,” VanDerveer said. “If I get on her, she keeps playing hard, she’s having a really special year…she’s a great team leader and a great team player.

“It’s not an accident that [Pedersen] played more minutes than anyone else in a Stanford uniform, and there’s a lot of great players to wear a Stanford uniform,” she continued. “There’s not any way that anyone’s coming in and filling the shoes of these two girls.”

Offensively, the Cardinal was led by its “Big Three,” as Pohlen led all scorers with 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting (and added five assists and four rebounds), junior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike had 16 and Pedersen added 14 points to go with a game-high nine rebounds. The Bears came out in the first half unwilling to let the bigger Cardinal push them around, and Cal challenged the Stanford offense with a physical strategy that paid dividends. The cross-bay rivals came out shooting 8-for-11, including 3-for-3 from three, while Stanford shot just 4-for-15 over the same time period.

After coming out playing down to their competition–the Bears had just snapped a six game losing streak before Thursday’s contest–the Cardinal flexed its defensive might late in the first half, forcing Cal’s offense away from the three-point line and into uncomfortable positions where turnovers came in bunches, leading to fast-break opportunities that the Cardinal had little trouble capitalizing on.

Stanford was off and running in the second half as well, snagging five more turnovers from the Bears and converting them into 14 fast break points–in stark contrast to the zero points Cal had off the fast break.

Freshman Chiney Ogwumike had the highlight play of the night, catching a 40-foot outlet pass from Pohlen and throwing it up and in with a defender hanging on her back, then nailing the free throw for an and-one to give Stanford a 55-43 lead with 12:13 to go. The Bears only got within 10 points once after that.

Cal had some nice play from Rachelle Federico, who led with 16 points while Lindsay Sherbert had 13 and Layshia Clarendon had 12. A surprising non-factor was DeNesha Stallworth, who was held to a shocking zero points after averaging 14 points per game this season.

The Bears finished the Pac-10 season with the sixth-best record in the conference and will most likely play the Washington Huskies in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament on March 9.

The victory extended the Cardinal’s winning streak to 21 games and wrapped up Stanford’s third run of perfect back-to-back Pac-10 seasons, a feat last pulled off in the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons.

The Cardinal won’t take the court again until next Friday in Los Angeles, where it will defend its Pac-10 tournament crown as the No. 1 seed in the Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament.

VanDerveer said that the Bears showed her some areas for improvement.

“I feel that we are where we want to be, to go 18-0, but they exposed some things,” she said. “Cal really prepared hard. If they played like this every single game, they wouldn’t be in six or seventh place.

“They played us in different ways, they helped us, and I thank them for it,” she continued. “They didn’t just let us do whatever they want, they played to their strengths, they looked at different people and they did things that we’re going to see in the tournament.”

VanDerveer also mentioned that the battle-tested team deserves the three-day break it will take after this game, and the weeklong layoff before the Pac-10 tournament.

“I love it,” VanDerveer said. “I think it’s great for us; it protects us in a good way. We have two games instead of three. Our team earned it; we need a break, and we’re taking it.”

 

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