Building the nest: Women’s basketball wins opening game

Nov. 8, 2022, 11:14 p.m.

No. 2 Stanford women’s basketball (1-0, 0-0 PAC-12) welcomed fans back to Maples Pavilion with a comfortable 86-48 win over San Diego State (0-1, 0-0 Mountain West) on Monday night.

The Cardinal produced a strong display, overwhelming the Aztecs early with a combination of fast-paced offensive moves and lockdown defense. Head coach Tara VanDerveer included every bench player.

Prior to the first quarter, Stanford elected to hold a minute’s silence for Brittney Griner, who remains in custody in Russia amidst the Ukraine war.

“I just wanted to remind everyone that we’re thinking of her and we love her,” VanDerveer said.

One question mark at the start of this season was how Stanford would adjust to losing three starting guards in Anna Wilson ‘22 and twins Lexie and Lacie Hull ‘22. The new-look starting five brushed aside any concerns and gained early momentum with a 10-0 run in the first few minutes. Junior forward Cameron Brink brought the crowd to its feet with two huge blocks in the quarter and set the tone for the Cardinal win with an early three.

“Cam [Brink] hitting that first three, that was a big momentum for us,” said sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen.

Backed by an enthusiastic crowd and a very loud Stanford band, the Cardinal flexed its muscles on offense to lead 25-4 at the end of the first quarter. The more forward-heavy approach deployed by VanDerveer paid dividends, with Iriafen and sophomore guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu each contributing an offensive rebound to put more pressure on the Aztecs.

There were moments to remember for two freshmen, also, with freshman guard Indya Nivar’s first collegiate points bringing a raucous celebration from the home bench, as well as freshman center and number one recruit Lauren Betts receiving a massive cheer from the home crowd upon entering the game.

In the second quarter, the Aztecs regained momentum from the home side by converting an early three-pointer and drawing an offensive foul from Iriafen. But sophomore forward Brooke Demetre raised the roof once more with a wide-open three after a beautiful pass by senior guard Haley Jones. Senior forward Fran Belibi, nursing an injury, got her first minutes of the game — making one field goal during five and a half minutes of action.

As the Cardinal lead grew, VanDerveer introduced players off the bench, underlining the depth of this roster. In particular, sophomore forward Elena Bosgana was electric with six points in limited playing time in the first half. The best of her three three-pointers was a buzzer-beater that circled the rim before dropping in to cement a commanding 42-16 lead for Stanford at the end of the half.

The second half was a more back-and-forth affair, with San Diego State, to their credit, never giving up. Yet Stanford’s depth proved too much for the Aztecs to handle and the lead grew by the end of the third quarter to 69-34.

In the final quarter, Stanford continued to keep their opponents at arm’s length, maintaining its impressive streak of wins against unranked opposition, which dates back to Jan. 17, 2021, in an overtime loss at Colorado.

“It’s great to start a season when we can get everyone in the game and really have a lot of different people play really well,” VanDerveer said.

She also lauded the contributions of 2022 Pac-12 Player of the Year Jones and 2022 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Brink, the only two starters retained from last year, who each had impressive displays before resting in the fourth quarter. Jones went a perfect 4-4 on free throws, while Brink had 13 points and led the team with eight rebounds.

Just as significant were the contributions from the freshmen, led by Nivar and fellow guard Talana Lepolo. Bett’s first layup and score as the number one recruit was a special moment, while Nivar had the best three-point conversion rate on the team, going 3-5. Lepolo, despite starting on the bench, played the third-most minutes after Jones and senior guard Hannah Jump, illustrating VanDerveer’s confidence in her ability to impact the game.

“They might be freshmen, but you don’t know it,” VanDerveer said.

The freshmen delivered tonight and it will be interesting to see how VanDerveer uses her new guards and imposing center in upcoming games.

Iriafen led the Cardinal in scoring with 16 points and six rebounds. Following her, Bosgana came off the bench with 15 points. Then, both Brink and Nivar scored 13 points each. Another notable stat is that Lepolo — in her first-ever collegiate game — ended with a team-high 11 assists.

“Crazy!” Bosgana added in reference to Lepolo’s performance.

The Cardinal look to build a winning streak before their crucial game against avian foe No. 1 South Carolina (1-0, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) on Nov. 20. Their next game comes this Wednesday against Cal State Northridge (0-1, 0-0 Big West) at 6 p.m. PT at Maples Pavilion.

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