After a break for finals, the Stanford women’s basketball team was back in action yesterday, defeating Princeton 85-66 at Maples Pavilion. Senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike posted 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the team. Her sister, sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike netted 21 points of her own to go with nine rebounds, putting the duo tantalizingly close to an Ogwumike double-double-double.
This Tiger-Cardinal matchup marked only the second time these two academic powerhouses have met on the court; the first game was a 95-39 rout by the Card at Maples Pavilion back in November of 2002. The first half of this contest, though, defied statistics and history. Princeton (7-4) may have been unranked while Stanford (7-1) came in as No. 4 in the country, and the Tigers may have lost three out of their previous four games, but nothing the Cardinal could do in the first period could kill off their challenge.
The Cardinal’s advantage crept up to a seven-point difference at the break, but each time Stanford tried to leap ahead, the Tigers players dug deep and responded. In fact the Princeton players, despite having a starting line-up that’s mostly shorter than the Card, were out-rebounding their West Coast opponents throughout the early part of the game, and the intensity of their play forced turnovers deep in Stanford’s back-court.
“It’s obviously an honor to play in a place like Stanford, a place that really does the student-athlete thing the right way,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. “But we came out here to win just like everybody else comes, and not many people leave with a victory. We asked our kids to come in and believe in what we do and play with poise and play with toughness.”
Among the players she was counting on were junior forward Niveen Rasheed, making her first return trip to play basketball in the Bay Area since high school. She led Princeton in points alongside senior guard Lauren Edwards with 16 points.
“We knew coming to this gym that we’d have to put in a 100-percent effort and if we didn’t, they would get all the momentum,” Rasheed said. “So we wanted to come out and show them that we’re here to fight, we’re not here just to play a game, we wanted to win.”
After the half, though, Stanford began to pull further ahead while Princeton’s challenge began to falter. Fouls began to take a heavy toll on the East Coast team, as senior center Devona Allgood got into foul trouble—in her absence Rasheed was called out of position. To make things worse for the Tigers, Stanford shot brilliantly from the line through most of the half and made the free-throws count.
“They play back East where twenty of those fouls wouldn’t have been called,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, offering her opinion on why the Tigers were so susceptible to referee calls. “If you’re playing a game in Princeton, their officials are just really used to a lot more physical [play], as we know from being in Connecticut.”
Officiating aside, though, the crucial difference may have come down to two sisters named Ogwumike.
“I thought their [Princeton’s] pace was great, I thought they were scrappy, and if Nneka and Chiney had been on their team we would have gotten blasted,” VanDerveer said. “We need other people stepping up.”
“Princeton doesn’t have the size,” she continued. “They don’t have the athleticism inside that Nneka and Chiney bring, but other teams that we play will have it.”
One of those teams, No. 6 Tennessee, is next up for Stanford at Maples Pavilion on Tuesday. Perhaps in hindsight, Princeton was the perfect test to shake off any post-exam lack of sharpness. Even behind by 27 points with two minutes left on the clock, the Tigers continued to push the Card, stealing the ball a three more times and closing the difference back by eight points.
“There shouldn’t be any reason that people are saying we had two weeks of no games,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike said, sounding fired up after the game. “That shouldn’t be an excuse. What we really need is just that mindset, that aggressive mentality, because we’re well equipped, we’re more than equipped.”