Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pre-game Activities in Indianapolis

If you are going to Indianapolis for the Final Four, note the following activities that occur on Saturday:

  • Open practice and autograph sessions, 10:45am to 3pm. The schedule is:
    • 11am-noon, Stanford
    • noon-1pm, Texas A&M
    • 1:35-2:35, UConn
    • 2:40-3:40, Notre Dame
  • Battle of the Bands, 3:45-4:15.
  • WBCA High-school All-American game, the roster including Stanford recruits Amber Orrange and Taylor Greenfield, 4:30.

All the above take place at the Conseco Fieldhouse, the venue for the games as well. Click that link for arena information including floor plan. Here is the official NCAA event schedule.

On Sunday 4pm-6pm there is a reception and band send-off at the Crowne Plaza hotel. Click here for more info and the address to request a reservation.

The recommended bar and watering hole for Stanford fans is the Buffalo Wild Wings Bar and Grille at 7 East Washington Street.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How sweet it is!

By Wally Mersereau

What a difference a game makes! There are wins and there are wins. Two nights ago I was wrung out after the down-to-the-end battle with North Carolina with Jeanette making only one basket from the floor. After this game, along with all of the Stanford fans present, I was thrilled, happy and had plenty of energy. At the trophy presentation the words were: "The trophy for the Spokane Regional is presented to Stanford University along with an invitation to the Final Four in Indianapolis". No sweeter words could have been spoken. How amazing that this team is going to its fourth consecutive Final Four!

It was especially satisfying for this win over Gonzaga to end in such a dominating manner. All over Spokane were signs reading "Good luck, Lady Zags" and "Go Zags". 11,000 locals packed the Spokane Arena and roared in anticipation before the game. An article about Courtney Vandersloot in today's Spokesman-Review came close to having her walking on water. She is a truly outstanding player who can do just about everything. In the first half she was unstoppable, making 21 points this way and that. But in the second half Courtney made only 4 points and her team made only 8 of 34 shots.

There was a nice send-off of the team from the Davenport Hotel (they stayed in the old hotel this time) with the band, Dollies and Tree performing before a line of clapping players and a good representation of fans. The news of Tennessee's loss to Notre Dame was learned by smartphone just at the opening tip-off of the game and that put Cardinal fans in a good mood. Nneka, as usual, got the opening tip and Stanford scored first. Slowly, Stanford pulled ahead. The lead was one after 4 minutes, 8 after 7 minutes, 10 after 10 minutes. Then Gonzaga battled back, led by Courtney, narrowing the lead to 5 points with 6 minutes to go. At the half Stanford led 47-38. At that point Nneka led Stanford scoring with 15 points to Courtney's 21.

The second half was all Stanford. With 16 minutes to go the lead was 16, it grew to 20 with 12 minutes left and to 23 with 7 minutes remaining. The final score was a sweet 83-60, with Mel making a pretty floating lay-up just before the end.

The box score is not available as I write this, but in this game minutes played were mostly by the starters. Toni came off the bench first, then Joslyn, then Mikaela. Jeanette had a few wild passes in the first half and Tara sent Mel in to replace her just before the half ended. My impression is that the starters played almost all of the second half. There was no reason to replace them as they shut down Gonzaga while scoring and rebounding at will.

Jeanette had five 3-pointers to bring her season total for threes to 93, breaking Krista Rappahahn's Stanford record by two. Lindy and Kayla added more threes. At one point Kayla had four straight rebounds and she had more as she nears the season rebound record. If Nneka wasn't scoring or rebounding, Chiney was. Nneka led Stanford scoring with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Chiney had 18 points and 15 rebounds. Jeanette had 17 points and Lindy 11. Kayla's totals are not available to me now, but she was everywhere, doing everything. There was nothing hesitant about the team tonight. They played with confidence and great determination. There were a few mistakes, but they were far outweighed by stellar playing, individually and collectively. This was a great team performance, unfazed by the 98% Gonzaga capacity crowd. And certainly Tara and her crew did an outstanding job, especially with half-time adjustments.

The All-Regional Team was announced at the end of the game: Italee Lucas of North Carolina, Courtney Vandersloot, Kayla, Chiney and Nneka with Nneka being named MVP.

I was expecting to greet the team when it returned to the Davenport, but learned that it headed straight for the airport after the game for a charter flight home.

And so it is off to the Final Four once again. How sweet it is! May the good times continue.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Through the wringer

By Wally Mersereau

Before coming to Spokane I told a friend that the games here would show whether #1-seed Stanford has enough fortitude and composure to earn another trip to the Final Four. I guess that's what it took to win the Saturday game over #5-seed North Carolina, but the composure of the 300 or so Stanford fans present was entirely gone by the end of the tension-filled, emotionally draining game. As I walked to my car in the post-game drizzle I could hear Tara's TV interview over the outside p.a. system at the Spokane Arena. She was excited and happy. I was wrung out.

But let me start at the beginning.

There were long lines at the arena doors and will call windows when I arrived. It took me a while to find the Stanford will call window where there was no line and my ticket was quickly produced. The Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena was virtually full and the game was reported as being a sell-out. The official attendance was announced as 11,339. 95% of that number were Gonzaga fans. All of the arena was used, including the upper section that reaches to the roof. There were very few North Carolina fans present--not more than 50 by my estimate.

In the first game #11-seed Gonzaga had a 35-24 half-time lead over #7-seed Louisville. The Bulldogs generally played with more maturity and poise than the Cardinals. Courtney Vandersloot was outstanding for the Zags with 27 final points to Shoni Shimmel's 18. Five minutes into the second half Gonzaga had increased its lead to 20 points and looked as if it would just keep pulling ahead. But Louisville somehow began to slowly claw back and Shoni, who had only 2 points at half-time, began to score repeatedly. With 3 minutes left in the game, Louisville had pulled to within 3 points--a miraculous comeback. But Shoni and her teammates could not progress further. After Gonzaga made a number of game-ending free throws the final score was 76-69 with the grossly under-seeded Zags deservedly making it to the Elite Eight and a rematch with Stanford on Monday.

Tara, Kate and Bobbie watched the first game from mid-court seats. Tara and Bobbie left with 10 minutes remaining, but Kate stayed for the entire game, indicating she was the primary scout.

And then came the Stanford-North Carolina game. I had wondered what the Tar Heel mascot would turn out to be. It was a strange-looking goat with curved yellow horns and a somewhat mouse-like face. The mascot was not impressive in appearance or performance. But the North Carolina players were most impressive and generally stuck like tar, answering Stanford basket after basket for the entire game.

The first half was close with the teams exchanging narrow leads. The game was mostly tied during the final 6 minutes of the first half until Stanford managed to end up by 4 with a score of 39-35. Better than the last UCLA game, but providing no level of comfort. The game was not pretty and no Stanford players really stood out. Most of the Gonzaga fans stayed for the start of the Stanford game, but a lot of them left at the half.

The second half was similarly close. Stanford led for the most part, but only by two to four points. The Tar Heels lived up to their sticky nickname and just would not go away. Italee Lucas was the stand-out player for North Carolina. She is only 5'8', but Stanford could not stop her from scoring in an assortment of ways. It basically was a two-point game for the final 10 minutes. And then those wonderful Ogwumike sisters came through, scoring 12 crucial points between them as the clock ran down. There was less than a minute to play before Chiney increased the lead to 4 points and for the first time North Carolina did not answer back. Jeanette missed all but one of her shots from the field during the course of the game, but she fortunately was the player the Tar Heels fouled in desperation and Jeanette was able to put the game beyond reach with her free throws in the last 30 seconds.

Nneka was again high scorer for Stanford with 19 points, followed by Chiney with 16 and I think Kayla with 14. Kayla again played the entire game and did everything.

And so the Elite Eight game of the Spokane region is set for Monday: Stanford vs. momentum-propelled local favorite Gonzaga. The arena will again be packed with more than 11,000 Gonzaga fans and they will be loud. The exhausted Stanford fans in Spokane will have two days to pull themselves together and get braced for what probably will be another epic contest.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The hard way

By Wally Mersereau

Well, Saturday started off pretty much like Friday. A walk up Figueroa Street, the band and Dollies playing and dancing, the players getting on the bus, etc. The tournament championship game against UCLA started a half hour earlier, still pretty much the same. Attendance was far better for the final game. It looked to me as if about 2,500 were present with about 250 of them supporting Stanford, including Condi Rice in a mid-court, court-side seat. There were many more UCLA fans.

Stanford got off to an early start as it did the day before. UCLA was supposed to be a tougher opponent than Arizona--and, sure enough, it was. This was a far superior performance by the Bruins than in the two previous games--no comparison really. Stanford maintained a lead for the first 8 minutes of the game and then the wheels began to get a little wobbly. With 5 minutes left in the first half the wheels came off and UCLA took a 3-point lead. The Bruins increased their lead to 6 and then to 9 when the half ended. The half-time score was UCLA 30, Stanford 21. I know it's a lot more fun to win than to lose, but it also is a lot more fun to lead than to fall behind. That is the wrong kind of momentum. That is what Stanford's opponents face most of the time.

During the half-time interlude I tried to find some hopeful indicators and found none. A Stanford fan asked me, "Do you think they can come back?" and I said I didn't know. UCLA played better and better as the first half progressed, confidently, and with breaks seeming to go its way. I didn't see any breaks go Stanford's way and I wondered where they might come from. I wondered how the Bruins could be stopped and had no clue.

Four minutes into the second half Stanford was still down by 9 points. And then Toni entered the game to replace Lindy. Things suddenly began to look up. The UCLA lead shrank to five and then to three, then back up to 6 and then down to four. Then, wonderfully, the sun broke through and with five minutes left in the game Stanford was up by 3--the first Stanford lead in 20 minutes of playing time. Not only did Stanford recapture the lead after crawling out of its hole, but it never gave it back. A bit later the Cardinal was up by six and then by seven and finally by nine--the same margin it had trailed at the half. So Stanford out-scored UCLA by 18 points in the second half, an impressive comeback. The kind of comeback great teams are capable of. The final score was 64-55.

Tara came up with half-time adjustments and the team carried them out. It was a team effort with many participants. But the spark off the bench, the leading scorer of the game and the heroine of the final game was Toni. It was a great and gutsy performance by the freshman guard. She had shown signs of this in the first half to the extent that an observant Bruin fan seated behind me said more than once, "the one I'm worried about is #31," and he was right on the money. Toni did things no other Stanford player could do. Toni ended the game with a career-high 17 points. Nneka added 15 points and Kayla 12. The Big Three played all 40 minutes. Chiney had foul problems and eventually fouled out in the final minutes, but still played 26 minutes. Things went better when she was in the game. Toni played 23 minutes, followed by Lindy with 18. Stanford shot only 27% from the three for a total of 7, but they were crucial baskets.

They say, "All's well that ends well." This game ended well, but it was a painful ordeal before and after the half. Eventually, Stanford won the game, the tournament, and ended undefeated in the PAC-10. Nneka was selected as MVP of the tournament, and rightly so. But the game ball for the final game goes to Toni.

And so ends the Pac-10 games of 2010-11 with Stanford winning all 20 of its games. Stanford showed its strength and fortitude in this game, but it had to do it the hard way. The easy way is much more fun.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Semi-Finals

By Wally Mersereau

This morning I walked 20 minutes up Figueroa Street from the Staples Center to the Downtown LA Marriott where all of the women's teams are staying. About 30 or so Stanford fans were there to see the team off with the band, Dollies, Tree and cheerleaders. Arizona departed at the same time and both bands played side by side sometimes at the same time to produce a truly deafening sound under the hotel overhang. I was really impressed with the Dollies who are much more vigorous, athletic and attractive up close than they are viewed from a distance on the court. Viewing the high kicking and ever-smiling Dollies from a few feet away was awesome. After the team put their bags on the bus they formed a clapping line, enjoying the music and dancing. The Arizona band also was excellent. The Wildcat dancing girls were unsurpassed with regard to their glistening lipstick, all of the same shade of Arizona red, expertly and liberally applied.

After the send-off, Marian and Dave Cortesi, Judy Richter and I walked several blocks with Peter Ogwumike who had flown in from Africa the day before. I urged him to send his younger two daughters to Stanford and he said that would be fine with him.

It was another beautiful day, a little cooler with a high temperature in the mid-60s and somewhat more haze in the distance. From Dave Cortesi I learned that a rule for tournaments is that the higher ranked team is considered the home team and wears white uniforms, which Stanford did. Attendance for both of today's games approached 1,000 with Stanford fans being about 8-9% of that. There were almost no Cal fans present, but good representations from Arizona and UCLA. An attempt was made to restrict seating to four sections on the bench side of the arena, but this effort failed and fans ended up sitting on both sides.

This was my first visit to the Staples Center. It is a good arena, but not perfect. It had lots of food choices today, including sushi, Mexican, California Pizza Kitchen, McDonald's and even a gluten-free stand, in addition to the usual arena items. The sound system was poor, making the announcer only semi-understandable. The same announcer was great at the Galen Center. There is a new giant central video/scoreboard unit, but there were no video replays. Marian Cortesi gave me her scorecard for Staples: food concessions = A; video/scoreboard = B-; display of stats = C+; tight seat rows = C; ice cream = D and p.a. system/acoustics = F.

Vanessa Nygard and Tina Thompson were introduced before the game as former Pac-10 women athletes.

The Stanford-Arizona game was the clear winner of the most-impressive-display-of-talent-by-two-sisters game of the season. Nneka's 32 points and 10 rebounds and Chiney's 21 points and 13 rebounds were amazing. Probably the second most significant thing about the game was that Mel played 20 minutes and did well. Stanford was up 45-24 at the half and ended with a 100-71 victory. Soana Lucet led the Wildcats with 17 points and Ify Ibekwe had 15 points, with 9 of those from the free throw line. There were no Stanford injuries.

Lisa Willis of UCLA was the former player introduced before the second game. During a time-out in the first half Kayla was introduced at center court as Pac-10 Women's Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Kayla also was given a page in the program where her 3.53 GPA was noted.

UCLA easily won its game over Cal. Clarendon of Cal, who had been a shining star of Cal's two previous tournament games, had only two points--two free throws made with about two minutes left in the game. UCLA got off to an 11-1 start and that ended up being the primary difference in the game. The Bruins were ahead 37-23 at the half. Cal outscored UCLA by one point in the second half, for a final score of UCLA 63, Cal 50. Cal looked uninspired and ineffective for the most part and yet played UCLA even in the second half. UCLA had a couple of successful traps and generally played with more skill and confidence. Bobbie and Kate watched the UCLA game, Tara and Amy did not.

As of this point, with one game to go, combining the men's and women's Pac-10 tournaments seems to have been a failure. A clever idea that didn't work. Attendance at the women's games has been embarrassingly poor, with a top attendance at Galen of 400 and today's at Staples of not more than 1,000. Certainly contributing to this has been the days and times assigned to the women's games. When the tournaments were separated, the women had evening games on all days. This year they had evening games only on the four-game Day One. And Los Angeles just does not support women's college basketball, although the LA Times ran two stories today on page 6 of the sports section, one captioned "USC's NCAA hopes dimmed" and the other "UCLA will face familiar Cal team".

The women's championship game between Stanford and UCLA is Saturday morning at 11:30 am. The team looks ready.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The field thins

By Wally Mersereau

The second day of the Pac-10 Tournament was again held at the Galen Center, featuring only half as many games as yesterday--a reasonable two. The first upset of the tournament occurred in the first game when #6 seed Cal beat #3 seed Arizona State in a low-scoring game 48-43. The Golden Bears move on to face UCLA on Friday afternoon at the Staples Center. In the second game #4 seed Arizona topped #5 seed USC 72-61. With their losses today, both ASU and USC lost not only their respective games but any hope of earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Attendance did not improve by much on Day Two. Only about 150 were present for the start of the first game with 100 more arriving by half-time. For the second game, with host USC playing for the second day, the peak attendance at Galen Center was achieved with about 350-400 attendees. Stanford fans began to arrive in noticeable numbers to see the second day of eliminations. The UCLA team and coaches watched the first game whose winner, Cal, will play the Bruins on Friday. Tara and her entire coaching staff watched both games and the entire Stanford team watched the second game whose winner, Arizona, will play the Cardinal at Staples at high noon on Friday.

Kate Paye was introduced before the first game as part of the series highlighting former Pac-10 players for the 25th anniversary of Pac-10 women's sports.

The Cal-ASU game was close, with Cal up at the half 27-23 and then maintaining a narrow one- to three-point lead in the second half. With 47 seconds remaining in the game Cal led by only one point, 44-43. Free throws expanded the Cal lead to the final 48-43. Clarendon of Cal, named to the Pac-10 team, was high scorer with 22 points. Becca Tobin led the Sun Devils with 10.

The second game was hard fought throughout and was very close in the first half. The half-time score was Arizona 29, USC 28. Arizona extended its lead in the second half to a maximum of 17 points, but USC whittled it down to 9 points with 1:24 left, before ending up with a 72-61 loss on its home court. Davellyn White had 24 points, Soana Lucet had 20 and Ify Ibekwe had 13, all for Arizona. White and Ibekwe had been named to the Pac-10 team. Both have played well in the tournament, as has Lucet.

On Friday the women's tournament action moves to the Staples Center. Fresh #1 seed Stanford and #2 seed UCLA will meet Arizona and Cal, respectively. Arizona and Cal have both played two demanding games in two days which must have produced some fatigue. Their reward will be to play against one of the significantly strongest teams in the conference, both of whom have had a week off. The winners of the Friday games, which should be Stanford and UCLA, will meet at 11:30 am in the Staples Center on Saturday for the tournament championship.

Four at the Galen

By Wally Mersereau

Wednesday was a beautiful day in Los Angeles with a high temperature of about 75 degrees under clear and sunny skies.

This was first day of the Pacific Life Pac-10 Women's Tournament at USC's Galen Center. This is the first year of tournament sponsorship by Pacific Life with its leaping whale. In recent years the tournament has been sponsored by State Farm. This year, for the first time, the men's and women's tournaments are being held together. All of the men's games are at the Staples Center. The first two days of the women's games are at the Galen Center and the last two days at Staples. Stanford's men lost today in their first game. The Stanford and UCLA women will not play until Friday.

The Los Angeles Times devoted about 78 column inches to the Pac-10 men's tournament, starting on the front page of the sports section. The Times gave 18 column inches to the Pac-10 women's tournament in one article on page 6 of the sports section, headlined "NCAA bid could be on the line for USC".

Wednesday's four games were between the bottom eight women's teams in the Pac-10. All higher seeds won, with one game being extremely close.

Game #1--Noon-- #3 seed Arizona State vs. #10 seed Oregon State. Attendance at tip-off was approximately 115, matched by the combined ASU and OSU bands, cheerleaders, dancing girls and mascots. Nine identifiable Stanford fans were present. By half-time, attendance had swelled to about 200. ASU led at the half 27-20 and increased its lead in the second half only to have OSU close to within 3 points with 3 minutes left. Oregon State is a frustrating team to watch. Its motto could be "So near and yet so far". ASU held on to win 50-44. Dymond Simon showed she deserved her All-Conference selection by scoring 15 points, some in an impressive manner.

Game #2--2:15 pm--#4 Arizona vs. #9 Oregon. Attendance at tip-off was about 200. Oregon got an early lead, but only briefly. At the half it was Arizona ahead 51-36. Oregon players were quick shooters throughout the game, taking lots of early shots. Oregon played remarkably better in the second half as its many shots started to fall. Oregon closed to within one point with 4 seconds left and with the ball to inbound. The inbound play failed and the final score was ASU 90, Oregon 89. Ify Ibekwe, Davellyn White and Soana Lucet were the leading players for the Wildcats, while Amanda Johnson and Ariel Thomas led the way for the Ducks.

On a wall in the Galen Center is a display of Sports Illustrated covers that show a USC player or team from 1955 to 2009. A cover for July, 1996 shows Tara and five members of the USA Olympic team, including Lisa Leslie.

Game #3--5:00 pm--#3 USC vs. #8 Washington State. Attendance at tip-off was about 300. At the half USC led 35-29. If WSU had shot better it would have been a close game. The Cougars played well otherwise. USC pulled away at the end to win 78-66. USC freshman Cassie Harberts was red-hot for the Trojans, scoring 31 points.

Game #4--7:20 pm--#6 Cal vs. #7 Washington. Attendance again was about 300, with a different mix as many USC fans left after Game 3. The Mendiola sisters who played for Washington were introduced before the game as one of a series honoring former players in connection with the 25th anniversary of women's sports in the Pac-10. Taylor Lilley was introduced before the Oregon game. Washington's new Harry the Husky mascot was present, looking fresher but blander than Good Ol' Harry. Oski paced the sidelines, hands clasped behind his back. This was a very close game until the final nine minutes, with many tied scores. Down the stretch the Golden Bears wore down the Huskies to come away with the win. The final score was 58-48.

Four games played over nine hours tests the endurance of the most devoted fans. As the attendance figures indicate, few accepted the challenge. The four survivors of today's games will meet on Thursday afternoon to cut the survivors list to two. Those two will play Stanford or UCLA on Friday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

PAC-10's 3-Ring Circus

The PAC-10 tournament is about to kick off a mini-march-madness week-long circus of games. Now that the seedings are known, here's how the schedule breaks down for Stanford fans (print this page for handy reference):

  • Wednesday
    • 12:00 Galen Center: ASU v. OSU
    • 2:15 Galen Center: UA v. UO
    • 5:00 Galen Center: USC v. WSU
    • 6:00 Staples Center: Stanford men v. OSU
    • 7:15 Galen Center: Cal v. UW
  • Thursday
    • 2:30 Staples Center: Stanford men (if they won) v. UA
    • 3:00 Galen Center: (ASU or OSU) v. (Cal or UW)
    • 5:15 Galen Center: (UA or UO) v. (USC or WSU)
  • Friday
    • 12:00 Staples Center: Stanford women v. somebody
    • 2:30 Staples Center: UCLA v. somebody else
    • 6:00 Staples Center: men's semi
    • 8:30 Staples Center: men's semi in which Stanford might appear
  • Saturday
    • 11:30am Staples Center: Women's championship
    • 3:00 Staples Center: Men's championship

It is not too late to buy tickets from the Stanford ticket office. Remember, although tickets are priced based on reserved-seat location for the men's games, all women's games are general admission. So you can buy the very cheapest seats, up in the rafters of the Staples Center with the bats and owls, and that's where you'll sit for any men's games you attend. But for a women's game, at Galen or at Staples, just show up when the doors open and sit where you please!