Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year’s Eve in Westwood

By Wally Mersereau

A fast-paced 77-50 win over UCLA was a nice way to end the year and set the stage for a romp to Stanford’s first Pac-12 conference title. Especially because the Bruins had picked off Cal two days earlier 60-55 in the same venue.

Because Pauley Pavilion is being reconstructed, the game was played in the adjacent Wooden Center on the UCLA campus. The UCLA ticket office had told me all seating was general admission, but this was incorrect and half of seating along one side of the court was reserved, apparently for Bruin season ticket holders. Wooden has a capacity of only 1,800. Seating is on all four sides of the court in benches that go eight rows high. There is a single concession stand.

I arrived at 12:50 pm to find a long line of well over a hundred waiting for the doors to open at 1:00 pm. By the time I got inside all of the top row seats which let you lean back against the wall were taken so I took an aisle seat on one of the plastic-topped benches. The benches are slightly contoured, making them a little more comfortable than the upper level benches in Maples.

For once, my estimate of actual attendance and the official count closely agreed. I guessed there were about 1,500 there and the official attendance is 1,426. There were at least 100 Stanford fans present, twice as many as at the Thursday night USC game.

Only 9 Bruins were suited up to play, with 5 injured players on the UCLA bench. Unlike USC, there was no band and only a scratchy recording of the UCLA fight song was played when that team took the floor. One encouraging sight was Mikaela jogging across the floor before the game to get practice balls indicating some mending of her injured foot.

Wooden shows only the score with no display of player numbers or points. The announcer gave the count of personal fouls when these occurred, but no report of cumulative points scored by individuals.

As a suggestion that the game was not going to go UCLA’s way were three Bruin fouls in the first 90 seconds. And, unlike the USC game where the Trojans kept narrowing Stanford’s lead in both halves, this game provided a steadily expanding Cardinal lead. With 11:30 remaining in the first half, Stanford was up by 3, with 5:30 left in the half up by 8 and at the half the score was 40-23.

The second half was more of the same as the Stanford lead grew to 19, then 25, then 32 with 4 minutes left in the game. All Stanford players got on the court and 10 players had more than 11 minutes each.

The Big Three of Nneka, Chiney and Toni led the way with a combined total of 44 points. Both Nneka and Chiney had double-doubles with 18 points and 10 rebounds for Nneka and 15 points and 11 rebounds for Chiney. Stanford’s free throw shooting improved from 59% at USC to 70% today. But Cardinal 3-point shooting was dismal, connecting on only 2 of 13 attempts for 15%, with Toni and Sara getting one apiece.

UCLA played aggressive defense, occasionally pressing and trapping, but it could not contain Stanford. Stanford topped UCLA in rebounds 49 to 27. The Cardinal had 19 assists to 14 turnovers, while UCLA ended with a mere 5 assists to 11 turnovers. This game was Stanford all the way, ending with a decisive win that puts Stanford at 2-0 in conference play.

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