Friday, February 21, 2014

A Trying Trip to Trojan Land

By Wally Mersereau

Friday was a beautiful winter day in LA with a high temperature in the 70s. There was a little haze, but the Hollywood Hills were clearly visible from my downtown hotel room.

This is an important road trip. The Pac-12 season is winding down. Stanford is close to clinching the conference title, but really needs to win-out from here on. Every game is going to be a battle, with every opponent trying to pick off the Cardinal. The target is on Stanford’s back in day-glo colors. No opponent is going to fail to notice.

Approached southbound on Figueroa, the Galen Center has a massive, and somewhat fascist, fa├žade, something Mussolini would have liked although he would have left off the brick trim. Inside, it is a very pleasant place with comfortable seats and short, easy-to-navigate aisles. The arena announcer is more of a homer than the one at UCLA, embarrassingly over the top with booming, long-drawn-out names of the Women of Troy. USC is big on dancing girls and there were two large platoons of them in contrasting uniforms, but only a small band. At the 6 pm tip-off there were about 250 fans present, but the attendance more than doubled by half-time. The official count was more than a thousand, but I moved to a sold-out section that was well under half full, so I stand by my estimate.

Lili was not suited up. Everyone else seemed fit to play. Karlie was back from resting her foot and started, along with Taylor and the Big Three.

The game began the wrong way and got worse before it got better. For much of the first half it reminded me of the Washington game. USC was scoring on almost every possession and Stanford had a hard time finding the basket. At the first time-out Stanford trailed 4-12. Four minutes later it was 9-21. With 8 minutes remaining in the half it was 13-31 and that also was the score at the 6-minute mark. From this 18-point deficit, Stanford finally began to battle back, closing to 30-37 at the half. I had been hoping the Cardinal could reduce the gap to single digits and this was done. This was a nice come-back from a deep hole.

The second half was better from start to finish. At the first time-out the score was 37-39 and with 12 minutes left 41-43. Stanford tied the game at 43-43 and then with 10:32 remaining was up 49-43 and kept the lead to the end of the game. The largest Stanford lead was 9 and the final score was 64-59. Stanford won the second half 34 to 22.

Three-point shooting went away again and the team made only 3 of 11 attempts for 27.3%. Rebounds were almost even with a 35-33 edge to the Cardinal. Stanford out-blocked 5 to 1, but was out stolen 4 to 6. Free throws were a bright spot with the team making 17 of 20 for 85%.

Tara substituted with abandon in the first half, seemingly somewhat desperately trying to find some combination that could stop USC and score some points for Stanford. Many players were in and out quickly and, in the end, the rotation of those with 10 minutes or more was seven. Chiney was in for 38 minutes, Amber for 37, Mikaela for 34, Bonnie for 28, Karlie for 21, Briana for 17 and Taylor for 14 minutes.

Chiney had only 9 points at the half and finished with 27, along with 7 rebounds. Bonnie was again second in scoring with 14 points, including 2 of 5 from beyond the arc and 8 of 8 free throws. No other Stanford players were in double digits in points or rebounds. Briana made 7 points and looked good at the point. She is improving rapidly.

For USC Ariya Crook had 24 points and was especially dangerous in the first half. Cassie Harberts scored 12 points. No other Trojan broke into double digits. USC threatened at the end, getting to within 3 points with 18 seconds left, but Stanford held on with two free throws by Bonnie with 14 seconds left producing the final Cardinal points.

This was a trying game. I have the feeling there will be more like this, extending through the Pac-12 Tournament. Stanford is going to be tested in every game from here on out.

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