Friday, November 16, 2012

Somewhere over the rainbow

By Wally Mersereau

... bluebirds fly... Sometimes they really do. Stanford’s bluebirds took flight today over the Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu as the Cardinal picked off national champion, and #1-ranked, Baylor in a thrilling win on the campus of the University of Hawaii.

Seven and a half months ago the teams met in the semi-final game at the Final Four in Denver. In that game Stanford double- and triple-teamed Brittney Griner, holding her to 13 points to Nneka’s 22, trailed the Bears by only one point at the half, but was outplayed in the second half to fall 59-47. At Denver Chiney scored 4 points before fouling out after 27 minutes. Toni scored 9 points and Amber 3.

Before Griner joined the team, I saw Stanford lose to Baylor 81-65 in Waco in 2008. I did not expect to see a Stanford win today. How sweet it is!

This win was a true team effort with some players contributing in uncharacteristic ways. Bonnie played 11 minutes and never attempted a 3-pointer, but made 5 rebounds, some of them hard-fought. Toni (she of delicate health) put in 30 productive minutes, making 5 of 9 field goals and 5 of 6 free throws to contribute 15 points. She also was the point guard at times. Mikaela was a true warrior, playing 30 minutes and leading the team in rebounds with 12 even though hurt at the end of the first half.

As usual, Chiney led the way with 18 points and 8 rebounds. Chiney made her first ever 3-pointer as a shot clock buzzer-beater in the first half. Taylor made 6 of 9 from the field including 4 of 6 3-pointers for 16 points in 29 minutes. Jos was another warrior, guarding Griner, making 4 of 7 field goals, including 2 of 3 3-pointers for 11 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. Overall, Stanford made 51% of its field goal attempts, 50% of its 3-pointers (7 of 14), 67% of its free throws and out-rebounded Baylor 40 to 28. Every bit of this collective effort was vital to achieve the 2-point win.

Stanford double-teamed Griner in the first half (mostly by Jos and Mikaela), holding her to 4 points. She was not so heavily guarded in the second half and finished with a game-leading total of 22 points.

Stanford took the lead fairly early in the game, going up by 12 points until Baylor began cutting the lead down to 31-29 at the half. Baylor clearly had the momentum in the last 8 minutes of the first half, but was not allowed to carry it into the second half which truly became a great battle. Baylor finally regained the lead with about 7 minutes left in the game, at about the same point as it made its move in the first half. Griner began making basket after basket, but Stanford kept answering back. The score kept going from tie to up 2, to tie to up 2. This was as thrilling a finish as you could hope to see.

The score was tied at 66-66 with a bit over a minute to play. Then it was 70-69 with Stanford ahead with less than 10 seconds left and with the ball. Toni was fouled with 8 ½ seconds to go, with that being Baylor’s 10th foul, and made one of her two free throws to reach the final score of 71-69.

Odyssey Sims had a serious leg injury of some sort four minutes into the game and did not play again. Mikaela appeared to be similarly hurt just before the end of the first half, coming out with a heavy limp. But she started the second half and continued to play well. After the game she had ice on her left knee.

Kim Mulkey congratulated each Stanford player after the game, enhancing my opinion of her. For Stanford, six players carried most of the load with 28 to 37 minutes, augmented by Bonnie with 11 minutes.

Winning is so much better than losing and winning over #1 Baylor with Britteny Griner is just about as good as it gets.

Stanford and Baylor both had about 50 fans present. My guess at total attendance was somewhere between 400 and 500. So this great, great game was seen by few.

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