OK, technically speaking the geographic center of the USA is near Lebanon, KS, more than 300 miles east of Ames, IA. But from a California perspective Ames is close enough. So here we are in the middle of the country, courtesy of the Selection Committee, to see some basketball games.
Flights to Des Moines were few and expensive; it was much less costly to fly from SJC to OMA. Since we would have a rental car anyway, and the weather forecast was favorable, the 275-mile freeway run from Omaha to Ames was acceptable.
Saturday morning was clear, but to Californians arctic-cold at 35F with a gusty wind. We had breakfast at a Starbuck’s in downtown Omaha, which on this brief viewing seemed quite nice, with a number of impressive bronze statues of buffalo and pioneers scattered around the streets. Then we headed out for Ames.
The drive was an uneventful 75mph tour of what would probably be very attractive farming country in the spring. Right now everything was in shades of beige, with ice on all the ponds and a few patches of old snow on the roadsides. One impressive feature was the large number of huge wind turbines scattered across all high ground. More are being built, at least we saw one of the 100-foot-long vanes being trucked down the freeway.
In Ames we opted to forego the send-off at the team hotel in order to be sure of not missing any of the first game of the day, the host school Iowa State Cyclones, seeded 7th, versus the 10th-seed Florida State Seminoles. The very large Hilton arena was quite full, the lower bowl at least 3/4 full and quite a few people in the upper reaches, mostly Iowa State fans. (Iowa State has averaged over 10,000 attendance this season.) The atmosphere was exciting and cheerful with a horde of happy fans clogging the aisles.
Unfortunately for the local fans, FSU dominated the game from the outset. They began with a quick 3, then two more 3s in the first couple of minutes, and had a ten-point lead before the Cyclones scored anything but free-throws. The Seminole’s hustling defense left Iowa State clearly discomposed, rattled, and out of rhythm. At the half the Cyclones had but a zephyr’s 18 points on a miserable 18% shooting pace.
During the second half Iowa State seemed to be trying to control the pace and their own emotions, but the only result was that their offense seemed slow and plodding. The final score was 55-44, showing that neither team had much offensive power. It was a very sloppy game: the ESPN recap notes that in this game, there were more turnovers than there were field goals!
Toward the end of the recent TV documentary on Tara Vanderveer, after the loss to USC, Tara’s voice is heard saying “For the last month our offense has been stagnant, we need to work on that.” (She might have said “static” not “stagnant” but that was the general idea.) As a result we had hoped to see the Cardinal come out with new offensive fire for this game and dominate it.
They did not dominate from the start; the Coyotes (pronounced “coy yotz”) scored first and still led 13-12 after 5-1/2 minutes. Then Stanford surged to an 8-point lead and retained a large lead to the end. Bonnie really led the offense with six 3-point shots made, as well as some impressive rebounds. Lili hit three more (of six attempts) and also grabbed rebounds.
Chiney was the scoring leader at 23 points, but to our eyes she was not playing at her best. It’s perhaps heartless to say that the player who got 23 points and 8 rebounds, and became all-time scoring leader for Stanford, wasn’t at her best. And possibly it’s the defensive attention she now gets from every opponent that keeps her from controlling the paint as she used to do; or perhaps she’s just tired after a long season of being the heart and soul of the team.
Mikaela was a force in the first half, with 6 gritty rebounds, 3 assists and 4 points in only 13 minutes of play. At one point during a rebound, a South Dakota player’s arm hit her head and dislodged her scrunchy so her pony-tail came undone. She jogged down the court and through much of the next possession trying to get it under control until Tara subbed for her.
During a scrimmage for a loose ball, Mikaela tried to save the ball from going out of bounds, fell backward, and hit her head on the floor with a thump we could hear on the other side of the arena. She left the game and didn’t return, although word later is that there is no sign of concussion and she is available to play Monday. That’s a major relief because the team was clearly working better when she was on the floor.
On to Monday
Monday the vibe in Hilton Coliseum should be quite different from today’s crowded, county-fair atmosphere. First, it’s a weekday game that will start at 5:30. Very few of the South Dakota “howling pack” will stay; with their team gone they’ll head back to their day jobs. And a lot of the thousands of Iowa State fans will probably stay home as well. So it will be a much quieter place with probably plenty of choice of seats. Stanford should be pleased at not having to play in front of a roaring crowd of Cyclone fans.
On the other hand, Stanford will have to play a team that has a hustling, pressing defense not unlike that of Colorado or USC, two teams that gave the Cardinal trouble this season. If the lessons of the PAC-12 tournament have been learned, Stanford will keep their composure and execute against FSU. If they do, then FSU’s sloppy ball-handling and frequent fouls should make it a fairly easy win.