The afternoon of Friday, December 30 was a pleasant one in Phoenix. The temperature was in the low 70s, the sky was blue, the air was clear, the tram from the airport was clean and comfortable. All in all it was a good time and place for a women’s college basketball game.
I travelled light from SFO to PHX, carrying only my Stanford clear plastic bag with only a few more things in it than I generally take to Maples. Apparently the Pac-12 has adopted the clear bag policy for all of its major sports venues as it was required at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena. My bag worked well as a sturdy but light carry-on for this one-day trip.
I made the same trip a year ago to watch what turned out to be a simply awful game--one of Stanford’s worst performances of all time. To add to the gloom that day, it rained. I hoped that the sunshine on this day was a good omen for a better outcome. I told Amy Tucker before the game that I had come to see a win. She was noncommittal, perhaps not wanting to create a jinx.
ASU has averaged a home attendance of less than 1700 so far this season. More than 2500 turned out to see Stanford play on Friday afternoon, of which about 40-50 were clad in red. There was a good-sized and loud band and a large group of ASU dancing girls. The singer of the national anthem was well above average. Charli Turner Thorne was more demurely dressed than for previous games.
Kaylee and Mikaela were not in uniform, but both were present. Mikaela was not wearing a boot as she did at the Yale game so perhaps her foot problem is a minor one.
The game was close and hard-fought. The eventual Stanford win was satisfying. ASU led most of the first half. Stanford led most of the second half, but the score was always close with the largest lead being 8 points in the fourth quarter, but that quickly shrank to one point in the last couple of minutes.
I would give the game ball to the eight Stanford players who got onto the court. It was a team effort. I give my Game Warrior award to Karlie who played her heart out for the full 40 minutes, excelling on offense with 16 points and on defense where she was tenacious, often diving or scrapping for loose balls or pulling the ball away from an ASU player. All eight Stanford players scored. Dijonai was in the game for the shortest time, only 6 minutes, but she made 5 points at a crucial time, giving her the highest per minute scoring.
All was not encouraging. Although Erica ended with a double-double, she took a long time getting going, missing a lot of layups and not seeming to have her usual energy. Not finishing was a common Stanford problem. This avoided being fatal because ASU was similarly troubled. Credit for Stanford’s troubles at close-in shooting should be given to ASU who packed the paint.
Sophie Brunner and Reili Richardson were the best players for the Sun Devils. As in the past, Brunner was a constant menace on defense and offense. Richardson did a fine job as point guard and has some secret way of finding seams and successfully driving for layups.
At the end, when the game could easily have gone either way, Stanford maintained more poise and composure than the Sun Devils who became somewhat inept in the final minutes and couldn’t seem to avoid fouling. The high point of this from a Stanford fan’s perspective was the astonishing fouling of Erica’s 3-point shot in front of the Stanford bench by Quinn Dornstauder. Erica, who played 37 minutes and had to be tired, calmly made all three free throws to guarantee the win.
Statistically, it was Stanford’s making 60% of 3-point attempts and 75% from the free throw line that provided the winning edge. Back at Sky Harbor Airport, waiting for my flight home, I celebrated the Stanford victory by consuming three green chile pork tacos followed by a scoop of plum raisin ice cream. That may not sound appealing, but, like the Cardinal players, it turned out to be a winning combination.