Friday, February 25, 2011

Double your pleasure, double your fun

By Wally Mersereau

At the Fast Break Club meeting after the Oregon State game I was presented with the 2011 Margie Santillan Fan Spirit Award. It is an honor to become the latest in a long line of recipients who have participated in and contributed to the strong fan base for Stanford women’s basketball. At the same time, as I commented at the meeting, this is an easy award to win. To paraphrase Woody Allen’s quip, 90% of what you have to do to win is just show up.

I haven’t been showing up as long as many others. I’m fairly new to the game. So I’ve been trying to make up for lost time and lost opportunities to see the Stanford women play and Tara and her staff coach. I never knew Margie and I don’t know how she discovered women’s basketball. But I share her love for this ever-changing team and the game it plays.

I discovered the game while TV channel surfing when I came across a Tennessee game where I was dazzled by the talent and athleticism of Chamique Holdsclaw. I had no idea women could play like that. Eventually, I learned that Stanford had a good team and was close to my home in San Mateo, allowing me to see games in person. I attended a few games at Maples, sitting on the hard, backless general admission benches, then a few more, and finally became a season ticket holder with a regular padded seat and arm rests. A couple of years later I joined the Fast Break Club and my life changed. I started planning my life from October to April around the team’s schedule.

When I told my son how much pleasure I was having watching the Stanford women at Maples, he said: “You know, if you went to the away games you could see twice as many”. He was right. I was able to double my pleasure and double my fun by hitting the road. This season I expect to see every game the Stanford women play.

So here’s my tip to you, dear reader: enhance your life and have more fun by traveling to some Stanford away games. You may not be able to go to all of them, but with a little planning and a little effort you can go to some. There is simply no reason you cannot go to at least one road game. You may have friends or family in a Pac-10 or pre-season city, allowing you to combine a social visit with a game and giving you the opportunity to introduce others to the wonders of women’s college basketball.

The most popular trip is to Oregon. With Eugene and Corvallis only 30 minutes apart, attending both road games there is easy and the Willamette Valley is beautiful. Local Stanford alums and the Fast Break Club’s travel committee always arrange some enjoyable events around the Oregon games. Second in popularity is the trip to Los Angeles, easy to get to, and usually providing the chance to see some stiff competition on the court. Wherever you go, even to remote Pullman, you will visit other college campuses and college towns and experience their varying ambiance.

At away games you have the feeling that you are in on a secret, part of a small elite group that shares in the exotic ritual of supporting the remarkable Stanford women. You will astonish strangers when they learn you are not a parent or grandparent, but just a fan who travels to watch the team. More than once I’ve been told by a stranger or opposing team fan: “That’s amazing!” You will be able to see the team play in red or black uniforms and not just the same old white ones worn at Maples. And sometimes, when the stars align, you will find yourself staying at the team’s hotel, riding an elevator with Nneka or Kayla or Jeanette, or being on the same flight as the team and sitting next to Lindy or Sara.

Finally, by traveling to at least one away game you will become eligible to win the Margie Santillan Fan Spirit Award. Give it a try! Extend your horizon! Start planning now! You will find it’s an enjoyable and satisfying experience. I guarantee it!

Go, Stanford!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Two freshmen lead the way

By Wally Mersereau

Nneka was on the sideline wearing a nondescript, non-matching sweat suit. She walked slowly and somewhat gingerly and with a slightly halting step, but she was walking and showed no sign of pain. It was worrisome to have her out of the crucial UCLA game at Pauley Pavilion. Who would be able to make up for her points, rebounds and leadership against the quick and aggressive Bruins determined to get retribution for their earlier loss at Maples?

The answer was #13 and #31--whether you read them forward or backward, they were the answer. Of course it was a team effort and a great one under difficult circumstances. But the decisive factors were two freshmen, Chiney and Toni. They were magnificent. Chiney filled in for her sister and got the opening tip-off. Toni did not start (although she did start the second half and scored the first basket for that period), but both players were in the game for 37 minutes, trailing only Kayla who played the entire 40 minutes. Jeanette was not able to carry out Tara's order not to foul. She did so five times, being forced to leave the game with less than a minute remaining. Despite her foul trouble, Jeanette still played 34 minutes and scored 10 points. These were the Big Four of this game.

This was the last time Stanford will play in the old Pauley. It will close on April 1 for a major renovation and will re-open for the 2012-13 season. The exterior work is already underway. While not certain, it is likely that women's games next season will be in the John Wooden Rec Center which is located kitty-corner from Pauley and seats 1,800. That is plenty of seats for most UCLA women's games, but it would have been woefully inadequate today with an official attendance of 6,725. I think that is an accurate figure. I thought there were about 8 to 10 times more people at the UCLA game than were at Galen Center two days before.

UCLA's frequent pressing and trapping only worked once early in the game when Jeanette was caught in a trap with no escape, but managed to call a time out. After that the Bruins were always pesky and often slowed Stanford's progression down the court, but never were able to trap again.

Toni was first off the bench, going in for Lindy about three minutes into the game. She never came out, scoring a splendid 13 points and grabbing 3 steals. Chiney, drenched in sweat, was high scorer with 18 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. Chiney's greatest contribution was at the free throw line, a place where she did not do well early in the season. Today her style of play earned her 12 free throws and she made 10 of them. Free throws won the game for Stanford. The only two misses were Chiney's. Kayla was 4 for 4 and Jeanette and Toni were both 2 for 2. Altogether Stanford made 20 of 22 free throws, an awesome 91% team percentage--yielding six points more than the 14-point victory margin. Rebounds were about even, 38 for Stanford, 37 for UCLA. Both teams were relatively weak at 3-point shooting with almost equal low percentages. Jeanette did best for three with 3 out of 5, Toni made 2 out of 3.

There was another really bad officiating call, again involving Toni charging the basket, that again brought Tara to her feet looking as if she was ready for another technical, but she calmed herself in time. That was followed by a couple of favorable calls for Stanford that pretty much evened things out.

At the half the score was tied 28-28. Tara did some of her usual adjustments and the team carried them out well in the second half to end with a 67-53 win. This was a great win to cap a great weekend in the Southland. The game was a thriller and Stanford gave a gutsy performance with Nneka looking on.

Nikki Caldwell wore a tight-fitting pants suit and her usual heels. The UCLA band chanted each player's name three times before the game as they always do. I really like that. Josie Bruin was there, but not Joe. The band played a rousing bit from Carmina Burana just before tip-off. After the game, Nikki Caldwell addressed the fans as she always does. She had nice words for Stanford, saying the Cardinal play the kind of basketball UCLA aspires to.

Last season Ros Gold-Onwude scored 18 points, including two last-minute free throws to help Stanford to a 65-61 win over UCLA at Pauley. Today Ros, wearing a spiffy pink jacket, was seated next to Jake Kelman providing the color commentary on KZSU during another Stanford win that should assure yet another Pac-10 title. This was a biggie and Stanford met the challenge.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tough game, tough injury

By Wally Mersereau

Playing in LA is tough. On January 6, 2008 in Galen Center Stanford lost to USC 73-72 when Camille LeNoir made a jumper with 8 seconds left to turn a Stanford one point lead into a Stanford one point loss. Jayne had 22 points in that game and Candice 17. LeNoir had 21, including that final jumper. Three years later the script was different, but for a while a repeat seemed possible. And Nneka was hurt--how badly I don't know. After a tension-filled first half Stanford led by only 38-36. The Cardinal came out with much greater efficiency in the second half and widened the lead to 10 points in only a little over three minutes. And then Nneka went down.

Nneka got a nice pass and made one of her nice lay-ups, but when she came down she crumpled to the floor in pain. She was helped to the bench by Marcella and they went into the locker room for about 10 minutes. For the remainder of the game Nneka sat and never stood. At the end she was supported by two teammates as she left the court, still with no weight on her left leg. It looked very bad to me. I would have given the game to USC if this incident could have been avoided. I feared an ACL, but the AP game report says it was a bad ankle sprain. That is not good, but, if true, is a whole lot better than my initial fears. I don't think Nneka will play against UCLA and may be out for some time.

As I said, the first half was very close. Briana Gilbreath of USC was on fire and made 11 points in about the first 8 minutes with one great shot after another. USC had other great shooting throughout the game, many of them difficult shots. Stanford's largest first half lead was 7 with less than 4 minutes left in the half. In those last 4 minutes USC scored 14 to Stanford's 9 to close the gap to the previously noted two points.

Stanford did much better in the second half, except for Nneka's injury. USC closed to within 8 points at one time, but got no closer. Joslyn got her first basket--a three--with about 8 minutes left in the game and then picked up 4 fouls in about a minute. Mikaela replaced her. Jeanette was a warrior throughout, doing everything well. Kayla was slow to score in the first half, but finished with a rush. Chiney also had a low scoring first half, but then played much better after her sister went out. Toni was the best player off the bench in shooting, defense and ball handling. Briana Gilbreath was contained in the second half with an assortment of Stanford players guarding her. Mel came in with one minute left and looked ok. The final score was 78-64.

This was a hard-fought game. I thought USC made more difficult shots than Stanford did while being closely guarded. USC effectively played Stanford even in the first half and was still battling at the end, cutting Stanford's largest lead of 19 points with 3 minutes left to 14 at the final buzzer.

There was one outrageous call of a charge on Toni with about five minutes left in the game. Tara leaped off the bench and kept after the refs about the injustice of it and was called for a technical. After the technical free throws were taken, Tara kept protesting, following a ref down the floor until being guided back to the bench. Tara was well aware she would get the technical but felt she could not accept the call. It looked as if she was prepared to get a second technical.

As is usual for the LA schools, attendance was poor. Stanford had about 50 fans present, a fairly high percentage. A dozen Cardinal fans ate together at an adjacent restaurant before the game.

The good news is that the history of 2008 did not repeat itself at Galen Center. Stanford was clearly the better team this time out, especially in the second half, even without Nneka. But USC is dangerous and can be explosive. It has excellent shooters and played strong defense. Stanford came out in the second half with some good corrections and for the most part executed well. The bad news is Nneka's injury. It appeared to be simply how she fell and not due to an encounter with another player. I hope she will recover soon and well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Social before the USC game

Are you traveling to LA this weekend for the USC and UCLA games?

The Stanford Athletics Buck/Cardinal Fast Break Club has organized a social before the USC game on Friday, February 18 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at:

The Lab Gastropub
3500 Figueroa St., Los Angeles

Join your fellow Stanford fans in cheering on the Cardinal versus the Trojans.

Special appearance and address by former Stanford standout, Vanessa Nygaard.

Drinks and appetizers available for purchase.

Questions? Contact Heather M. Owen at or (650) 723-3075.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Planning for the PAC-10 Tournament

The tournament will be upon us in less than a month! The PAC-10 tournament, always a feast of basketball, offers even more this year with the merger of the men's and women's tournaments. This post covers some of the things you might want to consider in planning to attend.


If you have not already done so, you can purchase tickets at the Stanford sales page.

The Schedule

Click here to review the complete tournament schedule, covering a total of eighteen games in four days.

Now, it is a pretty sure bet that the Cardinal Women will be the #1 seed, and hence will not play until the first semifinal game, 12pm on Friday. (Should they not beat UCLA next week, depending on how the tie-breakers work, they might be the #2 seed and play in the second Friday game.) However there are plenty of other story-lines worth watching: how high can the WSU Cougars get? Can the scrappy new OSU Beavers get a tournament win? Can Cal get into a semifinal? Will Nikki Caldwell's heels punch through the Galen Center's floor?

Also, our tickets include the men's games as well, and the Stanford men might play on Wednesday evening (7th-10th seeds) or if not, certainly on Thursday. We won't know the seeding until the weekend before the tournament.

So there are plenty of reasons to attend preliminary games on Wednesday and Thursday, if your real-life concerns permit.

Getting There

The trip starts with getting from the Bay Area to L.A. in time for the first games on Wednesday afternoon. You may plan to return on Saturday the 12th, either following the Women's final about 2pm, or following the Men's Final around 6pm. Probably the latter: since you have the ticket to men's games, and there is always the chance that Stanford might be in the final, how can you plan not to see it? If you are going to stay until 6pm-ish on Saturday, you might elect to stay over and return Sunday the 13th.

Drive, or fly? The drive time, Palo Alto to USC, is 6 hours via I-5, or 7 hours via 101. That would be with two drivers trading off, and minimal stops. Cost, $125 for gas (round-trip), plus one or two additional motel nights, as you would probably want to travel on the Tuesday and return on the Sunday.

Or you can spend about 5 hours door-to-door by flying SFO-LAX, at a cost of $175 per person (again, round-trip), plus either 4 days' parking or $75 for door-to-door van rides, plus a rental car or taxi rides.

In other words, the costs, times, and inconveniences are pretty even; which you do depends on how you feel about airport security hassles versus driving hassles. If you plan to fly and return on Saturday, however, you had better book that flight ASAP. A lot of people will be trying to leave LAX around 8pm Saturday.

L.A. Without a Car?!?

Since the schedule of basketball games is so full—up to fourteen games in four days, if you really try—you won't have a lot of spare time for driving around to see the sights of the Los Angeles Basin. Suppose you fly; if all you do then is eat, sleep, and watch games, do you really need to rent a car?

Well, actually, no! First, select a hotel within walking distance of the Staples Center. There are numerous hotels in this area; here is a map of them.

Click "View Larger Map." Letter (J) is the Wilshire Grand, where in the past the PAC-10 has housed all the teams.

The Galen Center is a mile or so southwest along Figueroa street. The #81 bus runs every few minutes, as shown on this map.

Again, click on "View Larger Map." Then you can see the Galen Center at letter (A) and Staples Center at letter (B), and the #81 running between them.

Google apparently doesn't know about the new Metro Silver Line, an express bus that also runs between these two places. The Silver Line station for USC is inconveniently placed three blocks away from the door of the Galen Center, underneath the Harbor Freeway on 37th street. But it is an alternative to the #81.

Leave a Comment!

Now you've thought it all through, which days will you go? How will you travel? What games will you attend? Where will you stay? Leave a comment below to say what makes sense to you.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The return of the threes

By Wally Mersereau

There were lots of positive vibes in Tucson on February 5. The multi-year reconstruction of the I-10 freeway through Tucson has ended. Arizona has unusually attractive freeway structures, in both Tucson and Phoenix, with artistic ornamentation and an absence of graffiti. The temperature increased today by about 15 degrees to the mid-60s and it was a beautiful Saturday. A winter visit to the Arizona desert is a pleasant experience in general and can be enhanced by attendance at a Stanford women's basketball game.

The good vibes carried into McKale Center where President Obama made his Tucson speech a couple of weeks ago. Both teams came out in pink tee-shirts, looking quite a bit alike. The similarity in appearances ended when the tee-shirts were removed and play began.

The first good omens were Nneka getting the opening tip-off for the first time in 4 games, followed by Stanford scoring first. Two minutes into the game the score was 9-0 and Lindy had shown the way with the first 3-pointer of the day. By game's end Stanford had bagged twelve--count 'em--twelve 3-point shots which I'm sure is a season high, topping even the rain of threes in Oregon. Players contributing to that happy total were Jeanette with 5, Lindy with 4, and Toni, Sara and Grace with one each for a very nice 40%. Free throws also went well, with the Cardinal making 19 of 24 or 79%. The team assist-turnover count was a healthy 20 to 11. And Stanford out-rebounded the Wildcats 46 to 34. Nneka was especially impressive in her stretching scoops of many rebounds that would have been out of reach for other mortals.

All five starters had double-digit scoring, with Nneka providing a dandy double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds. Tara did not substitute as early or as freely as in the Arizona State game, but still nine players had 10 minutes or more of playing time. Toni played much more and much better today. Sarah had good hands today and was more active than usual in grabbing rebounds. A mystery was that Mel did not play at all. She was on the verge of going in with only two or three minutes remaining, but Tara called her back and sent Grace in instead.

The half-time score was 45-24 and the final was 91-61, returning Stanford to the 30-points-or-more margin for Pac-10 games.

Wilma and Wilbur Wildcat were present. Wilma has a red ribbon on her head and dances demurely. Wilbur is a full head taller than Wilma, wears a black hat and walks with a swagger. The Arizona band had three tubas, significantly fewer than ASU, but played well, with its leader dressed in a tie and blue blazer. The red tee-shirt-wearing band liked to chant "U of A", which I have always found a bit unusual because of the strong emphasis on the word "of". I don't think I have encountered another school that gives such prominence to "of". There were four floor-bound baton twirlers and four female cheerleaders who were lifted aloft by their male counterparts. Attendance was announced as 2,300, but my eyeball survey led me to conclude that closer to 1,200 actual bodies were occupying seats. That included about 40 Stanford fans who had much more to cheer about than did the quieter 1,160.

This was a good road trip. Stanford passed its most challenging Pac-10 test so far at Arizona State and showed it was back in the groove at Arizona. The Pac-10 win-loss record now stands at 11-0, which is consistent with the other good vibes felt in Tucson today.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dogged Devils Defeated in Desert

By Wally Mersereau

In a hard-fought game, its closest of the Pac-10 season, Stanford finally wore down a determined Arizona State team before 4,000 fans in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Cardinal was up by only 5 at half time, 32-27 and ASU never let up in the second half, even though it was out-played by Stanford which built a peak lead of 20 points and then held on to win by 18, 72-54. ASU scored the first basket, but just over a minute into the game Stanford took the lead and never gave it back. The first half was worrisome, the second half more reassuring.

ASU played without Simon and Burke and I doubt they would have made a decisive difference. ASU had excellent play from its entire remaining roster who streamed on and off in Charli Turner Thorne's patented style.

Tara also substituted freely in the first half, with 10 players seeing action in the first 9 minutes. For the entire game, there were 8 players with 10 or more minutes, followed by Sarah with 8 minutes. Chiney played 30 minutes, finishing with 8 points, all in the second half, and a team-high 11 rebounds. After being out of 3 games, Toni returned, played only one minute and looked rusty.

Stanford left its 3-point shooting game in Oregon, with Jeanette making the only one out of only one attempt. I think this was primarily due to Arizona State's aggressive defense which kept tight pressure on the Cardinal for the entire game. ASU also made only one three-point shot.

Considering how aggressive and and physical the game was, I thought the refs seemed restrained in their whistle blowing. There were times when it looked as if there were half a dozen players shoulder-to-shoulder fighting for rebounds under the basket and many scrambles on the floor for loose balls. Stanford did best at the free-throw line, making 25 of 33, or 68%. ASU made 19 of 28 attempts from the line. As indicators of the intensity of play by both teams: Stanford had 17 turnovers to ASU's 15, 11 steals to ASU's 13 and 9 blocks to ASU's 4.

The Big Four lived up to their leadership roles. Lindy, Mel, Joslyn, Mikaela and Sarah also all did well. Jeanette had four fouls and sat for quite a while in the second half. Mel filled in capably for her during that time and throughout the game. We are fortunate to have her back.

The ASU band had an abundance of tubas and played well, including the national anthem. Sparky the Sun Devil was present, but was as unexciting as ever. ASU should give him a make-over. He seems as dull and dated as Reddy Kilowatt.

It was a clear, cool day in the Phoenix area with a high temperature of about 45 degrees under a sunny, cloudless sky. The temperature was down to 40 degrees at game time. The air was clear and the surrounding mountains were sharply visible.

This was a challenging game and a solid test for the Cardinal. ASU lost to Stanford by 47 points at Maples and should feel good about achieving its announced goal of doing far better at home.