The Stanford women’s basketball team took the first step on the road to a Pac-12 conference tournament championship last night, defeating Washington 76-57.
Senior All-American Nnemkadi Ogwumike led the Cardinal with 18 points, while her younger sister Chiney added 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Ogwumikes were joined in double figures by freshman Bonnie Samuelson, who nailed a trio of three-pointers and tallied 11 points.
Stanford (29-1, 18-0 Pac-12) entered the game as the Pac-12 regular season champion and winner of eight of nine conference tournaments since the Pac-10 started the postseason tournament in 2002. However, the Huskies certainly did not lie down.
“Washington came out and played really hard. They gave us a challenge inside with Regina Rogers,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “I thought it was a very good first game. But we have some things to work on for next game.”
Washington played particularly rigorous interior defense, forcing the Ogwumikes off the block, where they usually dominate.
“Scoring on the block today wasn’t as easy as it usually was, so we tried to expand the post game by going out and cutting to the basket and looking for each other high-low,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “I think it prepares us for the games that are coming up. It’s not going to be handed to us from here on out.”
While the Washington defense kept the game close, the Stanford defense kept the team ahead. The Huskies shot just 31 percent from the floor, and were limited to seven assists as a team.
Experienced upperclassmen led the Washington attack. Redshirt senior Regina Rodgers paced the Huskies with 13 points. Redshirt senior Mackenzie Argens and senior Mollie Williams also contributed 12 points apiece.
The 6-foot-3 Rodgers also stymied Nneka’s inside game and forced the Player of the Year candidate to take more outside shots.
“It’s always good to [play] a good post because it’s a challenge, both defensively and offensively,” said Nneka.
Stanford fans collectively held their breath during a scary moment when Rodgers smashed an elbow into the face of Nneka while going up for a shot. The senior reeled away with blood streaming from both nostrils, but shook it off and continued to score at a torrid pace.
“When she went up for that basket my face was just where her elbow was,” Nneka said. “I don’t think she tried to flagrantly foul me or anything, she just made her move.”
Washington won the tip and a quick three-pointer by Jazmine Davis gave them an early lead in a back-and-forth first half. Minutes later, with the scoreboard reading the 12 to 11 Stanford, Nneka and sophomore guard Toni Kokenis orchestrated an eight-point run that stretched the Cardinal advantage.
Stanford held the lead through the remainder of the half and went into the locker room up 37-24.
Early in the second half, the two teams traded baskets until the Cardinal went on a 12-to-zero run that gave it a 22-point lead and sealed the victory.
With the win, Stanford advances to the semifinals of the tournament to take on Arizona State. The Sun Devils defeated in-state rival Arizona 68-53 last night.
Senior forward Kimberly Brandon, the Sun Devils’ leading scorer, led ASU with 15 points and six rebounds. Center Kali Bennet also scored in double figures for the Sun Devils with 10 points.
Arizona State (20-10, 10-8 Pac-12) is the four seed in the inaugural Pac-12 tournament. At the Feb. 2 meeting in Tempe, Stanford defeated the Sun Devils by a score of 62-49. In that game Nneka unsurprisingly dominated in the post to a tune of 22 points and 16 rebounds, while Chiney followed her older sister close behind, racking up 20 points and 16 rebounds of her own.
If the Sun Devils hope to upset the Cardinal, ASU will need to find an answer for Stanford’s powerful post game. The Cardinal outrebounded the Wildcats 48-24 in the last meeting, and outscored them in the paint by a 34-20 margin.
The semifinal matchup will tip off at noon on Friday in Los Angeles.