Saturday, March 12, 2011

The hard way

By Wally Mersereau

Well, Saturday started off pretty much like Friday. A walk up Figueroa Street, the band and Dollies playing and dancing, the players getting on the bus, etc. The tournament championship game against UCLA started a half hour earlier, still pretty much the same. Attendance was far better for the final game. It looked to me as if about 2,500 were present with about 250 of them supporting Stanford, including Condi Rice in a mid-court, court-side seat. There were many more UCLA fans.

Stanford got off to an early start as it did the day before. UCLA was supposed to be a tougher opponent than Arizona--and, sure enough, it was. This was a far superior performance by the Bruins than in the two previous games--no comparison really. Stanford maintained a lead for the first 8 minutes of the game and then the wheels began to get a little wobbly. With 5 minutes left in the first half the wheels came off and UCLA took a 3-point lead. The Bruins increased their lead to 6 and then to 9 when the half ended. The half-time score was UCLA 30, Stanford 21. I know it's a lot more fun to win than to lose, but it also is a lot more fun to lead than to fall behind. That is the wrong kind of momentum. That is what Stanford's opponents face most of the time.

During the half-time interlude I tried to find some hopeful indicators and found none. A Stanford fan asked me, "Do you think they can come back?" and I said I didn't know. UCLA played better and better as the first half progressed, confidently, and with breaks seeming to go its way. I didn't see any breaks go Stanford's way and I wondered where they might come from. I wondered how the Bruins could be stopped and had no clue.

Four minutes into the second half Stanford was still down by 9 points. And then Toni entered the game to replace Lindy. Things suddenly began to look up. The UCLA lead shrank to five and then to three, then back up to 6 and then down to four. Then, wonderfully, the sun broke through and with five minutes left in the game Stanford was up by 3--the first Stanford lead in 20 minutes of playing time. Not only did Stanford recapture the lead after crawling out of its hole, but it never gave it back. A bit later the Cardinal was up by six and then by seven and finally by nine--the same margin it had trailed at the half. So Stanford out-scored UCLA by 18 points in the second half, an impressive comeback. The kind of comeback great teams are capable of. The final score was 64-55.

Tara came up with half-time adjustments and the team carried them out. It was a team effort with many participants. But the spark off the bench, the leading scorer of the game and the heroine of the final game was Toni. It was a great and gutsy performance by the freshman guard. She had shown signs of this in the first half to the extent that an observant Bruin fan seated behind me said more than once, "the one I'm worried about is #31," and he was right on the money. Toni did things no other Stanford player could do. Toni ended the game with a career-high 17 points. Nneka added 15 points and Kayla 12. The Big Three played all 40 minutes. Chiney had foul problems and eventually fouled out in the final minutes, but still played 26 minutes. Things went better when she was in the game. Toni played 23 minutes, followed by Lindy with 18. Stanford shot only 27% from the three for a total of 7, but they were crucial baskets.

They say, "All's well that ends well." This game ended well, but it was a painful ordeal before and after the half. Eventually, Stanford won the game, the tournament, and ended undefeated in the PAC-10. Nneka was selected as MVP of the tournament, and rightly so. But the game ball for the final game goes to Toni.

And so ends the Pac-10 games of 2010-11 with Stanford winning all 20 of its games. Stanford showed its strength and fortitude in this game, but it had to do it the hard way. The easy way is much more fun.

4 comments:

  1. Great commentary on a surprisingly interesting game.

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  2. I really enjoy all your commentaries. Thank you for posting. Looking forward to NCAA time!
    A fan in Virginia

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  3. Wally, loved your reports!
    Out of curiosity, did you go to any of the men's games? Did you sell any of your men's tickets?
    I'm wondering whether we'll have the same game location and ticket purchase structure for next year.

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  4. Wally Mersereau3/15/2011 6:35 PM

    I went to one men's game and stayed for the first half. Because I bought the lowest cost ticket my seat for that game was just a few feet under the Staples roof. I could see the entire floor, but it was about the size of a postage stamp. So I watched the second half on TV in my hotel room. I did not sell or attempt to sell any men's tickets. For Staples, one ticket covered both women's and men's games.
    I hope we do not have the same game location and ticket structure next year. See my comments for the third day. Separate tournaments are better.

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