Friday, February 18, 2011

Tough game, tough injury

By Wally Mersereau

Playing in LA is tough. On January 6, 2008 in Galen Center Stanford lost to USC 73-72 when Camille LeNoir made a jumper with 8 seconds left to turn a Stanford one point lead into a Stanford one point loss. Jayne had 22 points in that game and Candice 17. LeNoir had 21, including that final jumper. Three years later the script was different, but for a while a repeat seemed possible. And Nneka was hurt--how badly I don't know. After a tension-filled first half Stanford led by only 38-36. The Cardinal came out with much greater efficiency in the second half and widened the lead to 10 points in only a little over three minutes. And then Nneka went down.

Nneka got a nice pass and made one of her nice lay-ups, but when she came down she crumpled to the floor in pain. She was helped to the bench by Marcella and they went into the locker room for about 10 minutes. For the remainder of the game Nneka sat and never stood. At the end she was supported by two teammates as she left the court, still with no weight on her left leg. It looked very bad to me. I would have given the game to USC if this incident could have been avoided. I feared an ACL, but the AP game report says it was a bad ankle sprain. That is not good, but, if true, is a whole lot better than my initial fears. I don't think Nneka will play against UCLA and may be out for some time.

As I said, the first half was very close. Briana Gilbreath of USC was on fire and made 11 points in about the first 8 minutes with one great shot after another. USC had other great shooting throughout the game, many of them difficult shots. Stanford's largest first half lead was 7 with less than 4 minutes left in the half. In those last 4 minutes USC scored 14 to Stanford's 9 to close the gap to the previously noted two points.

Stanford did much better in the second half, except for Nneka's injury. USC closed to within 8 points at one time, but got no closer. Joslyn got her first basket--a three--with about 8 minutes left in the game and then picked up 4 fouls in about a minute. Mikaela replaced her. Jeanette was a warrior throughout, doing everything well. Kayla was slow to score in the first half, but finished with a rush. Chiney also had a low scoring first half, but then played much better after her sister went out. Toni was the best player off the bench in shooting, defense and ball handling. Briana Gilbreath was contained in the second half with an assortment of Stanford players guarding her. Mel came in with one minute left and looked ok. The final score was 78-64.

This was a hard-fought game. I thought USC made more difficult shots than Stanford did while being closely guarded. USC effectively played Stanford even in the first half and was still battling at the end, cutting Stanford's largest lead of 19 points with 3 minutes left to 14 at the final buzzer.

There was one outrageous call of a charge on Toni with about five minutes left in the game. Tara leaped off the bench and kept after the refs about the injustice of it and was called for a technical. After the technical free throws were taken, Tara kept protesting, following a ref down the floor until being guided back to the bench. Tara was well aware she would get the technical but felt she could not accept the call. It looked as if she was prepared to get a second technical.

As is usual for the LA schools, attendance was poor. Stanford had about 50 fans present, a fairly high percentage. A dozen Cardinal fans ate together at an adjacent restaurant before the game.

The good news is that the history of 2008 did not repeat itself at Galen Center. Stanford was clearly the better team this time out, especially in the second half, even without Nneka. But USC is dangerous and can be explosive. It has excellent shooters and played strong defense. Stanford came out in the second half with some good corrections and for the most part executed well. The bad news is Nneka's injury. It appeared to be simply how she fell and not due to an encounter with another player. I hope she will recover soon and well.

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