Seven months after falling short in the Final Four for a fourth consecutive season, the Stanford women’s basketball team was at it again this weekend, kicking off the season against a pair of tough foes in No. 24 Texas and Gonzaga.
While the absence of star senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike for the Texas trip may have slowed the squad down, the No. 5 Cardinal (2-0) was able to pull out two tough victories to start the season on a strong note.
As expected for the coming season, the Ogwumike sisters led Stanford in scoring in both games, with Nnemkadi putting together a flashy 33-point, 18-rebound performance against Gonzaga (1-1) to cap off the weekend.
“When you’re playing a really good team like this, you can’t afford to put three players on somebody,” said Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves, referring to Nnemkadi Ogwumike’s performance. “And on some of those shots tonight, it wouldn’t have mattered if we had five people, one on top of the other. She would’ve made those shots. It’s just the combination of strength, quickness and tenacity, and it’s just incredible how she can play. And it’s fun to watch.”
Stanford had to do without the preseason All-American’s services on Friday, however, due to an undisclosed upper-body injury. The Cardinal started slowly against the Longhorns, failing to pull away in the first half while shooting just 12-for-32 from the floor and 1-for-7 from behind the arc. With sophomore guard Chiney Ogwumike on the bench after two first-half fouls, Houston-native freshman guard Amber Orrange stepped into the spotlight in her first college game and kept Stanford running with 12 points before the break.
But Chiney Ogwumike would have the chance to make up for her sister’s absence in the second half, leading Stanford with 16 points and 14 rebounds for the 11th double-double of her young career. Junior forward Joslyn Tinkle and sophomore guard Toni Kokenis would also finish in double figures to finish off a 72-59 win.
Unfortunately, scheduling was not kind to the Cardinal, which had little time for rest between its Friday night game at Texas, the flight back to the Bay Area and a 2 p.m. start on Sunday against the Bulldogs.
“We were tired, and they’re an excellent team,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “They shoot the ball really well, they’re in great shape and they’re physical, but they just didn’t have an answer for Nnemkadi and Chiney inside. I think the turnaround did probably affect us a little bit, but that’s just college basketball. You’re going to travel, and you’re going to have that kind of stuff to deal with.”
Stanford had some trouble dealing with the turnaround at first, and a slow start left the Cardinal trailing at halftime 32-31 thanks to a 10-3 turnover deficit. It was the first regular-season game that the Cardinal had trailed at the break since a Dec. 19, 2010 loss to Tennessee nearly a year ago.
The lone bright spot in the opening frame against Gonzaga was Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who led all scorers with 16 points going into the second half. But her teammates rallied behind her to close out the win, which was highlighted by a one-handed, underhand basket—and one—by the senior as she was fouled to the floor.
“When I go out there, the only thing I think about is my team and what we need to do, so I go out there as hard as I can,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike said. “We talked about it before we went out there, that we never lose at Maples. We defend this place like no other, and I think my team did a really good job of coming back. The first half was not how we wanted it to be; we were missing a lot of shots, we weren’t necessarily getting the rebounds for those missed shots and we weren’t getting back on defense. I think we did a really good job of adjusting.”
Thanks to improved ball-handling and a stingy defensive effort, the Cardinal pulled away late to win 76-61.
Stanford will have to perfect its play even further with yet another busy week ahead. After hosting Old Dominion at 7 p.m. on Thursday, the Cardinal flies out to face No. 4 Connecticut a week from today in a rematch of last year’s heroic effort by Stanford, which ended the Huskies’ record 90-game winning streak.