Cardinal bleed Mustangs dry: Women’s basketball leans on youth for Cal Poly rout

Nov. 20, 2023, 12:50 a.m.

No. 6 Stanford (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12) defeated Cal Poly (1-4, 0-0 Big West) 86-32 in a routine win at Maples Pavilion Thursday night. Head coach Tara VanDerveer entrusted her younger stars with a sizable role in the game, which was a foregone victory after only one quarter. 

But Stanford’s dominance was not immediately apparent from tip-off. The Mustangs started brightly and proved unintimidated by Stanford’s imposing starters. Guard Annika Shah — just five-foot-three — sunk a couple of early shots amid a crowd of Cardinal hands, as Cal Poly kept pace with Stanford’s scoring in the opening minutes. The Cardinal’s first points of the night came from a three by sophomore guard Talana Lepolo, who also chipped in with a team-high four assists. 

The reigning NCAA defensive player of the year, senior forward Cameron Brink secured her first block early to offset prior smart ball movement by the Mustangs. Brink’s partner in crime under the basket, junior forward Kiki Iriafen, was similarly troublesome on defense, intercepting a pass toward midcourt and scoring untroubled on the fast break. 

Junior guard Elena Bosgana — a new starter entering the 2023-24 season — justified her starter designation early by draining an open three on one end, before winning a jump ball for Stanford on the defensive end. 

“My confidence is great right now,” Bosgana said. “I’m just trying to do my best.”

After two missed shots on consecutive possessions for Cal Poly, Lepolo delivered a beautiful assist for graduate guard Hannah Jump, whose darting run and layup gave Stanford a 13-8 lead and evoked a rapturous round of applause from the Maples crowd. 

Nothing seemed to be working for the Mustangs after their early flurry of points: a combination of missed shots and staunch Cardinal defense left them scoreless for the remainder of the quarter. Freshman forward Courtney Ogden scored from deep as the quarter ended 22-8 in Stanford’s favor. 

In the second quarter, Stanford grew even more dominant as the Mustangs’ scoreless streak continued. Jump’s first three point attempt rimmed out, on what was a quiet night for the sharp shooter, who has made only three of her signature three-pointers to open the season. Last season, the Cardinal struggled in games where Jump’s deep shot wasn’t in sync, but tonight, others were eager to step up. Harriel, Ogden and freshman guard Chloe Clardy shared 16 three-point attempts, with Harriel converting four of six to amass a career-high of 14 points.

“My role has definitely changed [from] previous years,” Harriel noted. “It’s all about trusting the process, doing whatever the team needs me to do.”

Bosgana was then fouled taking a deep shot, and she converted all three free throws to take Stanford’s point tally above 50.

Despite the lopsided score, Stanford continued to entertain its home crowd. In the final play of the half, Clardy stole the ball, drove up the court, drew in the defender and assisted Harriel. At halftime, Stanford led 53-15.

Stanford’s large lead allowed VanDerveer to spread minutes across the team. The freshmen appeared on the court together often — forward Nunu Agara rebounding, Ogden shooting from deep and Clardy pulling the strings while Lepolo rested.

Cal Poly, meanwhile, opened the second half hoping to replicate the swift ball movement which had paid dividends at the game’s outset. Poor perimeter shooting was their downfall, though, as they followed up a 1-8 record from deep in the first half with consecutive misses early in the second.

The Mustangs were aggressive initially, and frustrated throughout, a volatile mix which gifted the Cardinal frequent trips to the free throw line. By contrast, Stanford did not concede a single free throw, a testament to their defensive maturity. At the end of the third quarter, Stanford led 73-24. 

Although the season is young, VanDerveer has been able to utilize different combinations of players while keeping her starters fresh, getting the entire roster minutes in every game. Harriel embraced a larger role as she drained a pair of three-pointers and calmly led a less experienced group on the floor in the game’s final minutes. 

“Jzaniya [Harriel] did a great job on the floor… three steals too,” VanDerveer said. “[She was] knocking her threes down.”

The Mustangs failed to score on their final possession, allowing Harriel to dribble out the clock. The Cardinal won 86-32. Bosgana led the team with 15 points, while three others amassed double digits: Harriel with 14, Iriafen with 13 and Ogden with 10.

Tougher tests are yet to come, but VanDerveer was proud of her team’s defensive display: “We’ve worked really hard on our defense. We’re not just about Cam [Brink] blocking shots.”

Next up, Stanford gets a sneak preview of life in the ACC, hosting soon-to-be conference rivals Duke (3-1, 0-0 ACC), in what should be a sterner test than tonight’s contest. Tip off is scheduled for 12 p.m. PT on Sunday at Maples Pavilion. 

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