Sunday, January 6, 2013

Unsettling the Utes

By Wally Mersereau

The team boarded its bus at the Boulder Marriott for the Denver airport at 9 am on Saturday morning. I moved to a hotel in Denver and stayed on in that city until Sunday morning.

The west side of the Rockies is colder and whiter than the east side. The Great Salt Lake Basin is heavily covered in snow, much more so than in the Denver-Boulder area. The temperature this morning when I arrived at the Salt Lake airport was 12 degrees and the sky was overcast. On my flight from Denver was the women’s basketball team from Weber State University, returning to its Ogden home after losing to Northern Colorado yesterday.

Red banners proclaiming “Home of the Utes” and showing the Pac-12 logo are on every lamp post along the main street between downtown and the university. All single game seating for Utah women’s games is general admission. After lunch at my favorite Salt Lake City restaurant I bought my ticket at the arena about the time the doors opened at 1 pm. Attendance was poor, in the USC range, at only 500-600 or so.

Utah is a good team—as good as Colorado, based on this weekend’s games. Not until almost halfway through the second half was Stanford able to achieve more than a four- or five-point lead. The Utes presented a strong defense and had a multi-pronged offense with many players scoring. With 11 ½ minutes left in the game Stanford got its first 10-point lead and then kept the difference between 9 and 12 points until the last minute when it was able to stretch it to 14 points. The final score was 70-56.

So Stanford topped the Utes by 14 compared to Cal’s 5-point win on Friday. And Stanford beat Colorado by 17 on Friday compared to Cal’s 4-point win in Boulder today. Pretty much the same results, but with Stanford clearly doing better against both Rocky Mountain teams.

Toni did not play, with no explanation announced, and Taylor again started in her place. But it was Sara who soared in this game. At Colorado Sara bumbled with two successive turnovers and not much else of note. Today was completely different. Sara was red hot and her accomplishments kept her in the game for 31 minutes—a personal record to go along with new personal bests of 18 points and 4 assists. Sara’s scoring included three confidence-building 3-pointers.This was a long overdue breakout game for Ms. James, earning her my game ball for her inspirational performance.

Three other Cardinal players scored in double digits—Chiney with 20, Amber with 16 and Jos with 12. While topping Stanford scorers, Chiney did not have her typical double-double. Amber continued her aggressive play on offense and defense and showed no lingering effects from her ankle injury on Friday. Jos had 2 blocks and 3 steals and was essential for the win.

This trip to the Mountain West was satisfying and fulfilling. Stanford rebounded nicely from its UConn loss and won two hard-fought games, doing better than Cal in both of them, to set the stage for next week’s two meetings with the Golden Bears. There were some impressive individual performances and no one, with the possible exception of Toni, was injured. The Stanford Pac-12 win-streak remains intact.

To cap the trip, the team was on my flight back to San Francisco from Salt Lake City. Nice.

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