Saturday, December 22, 2012

With malice toward all, with charity for none

By Wally Mersereau

The Lady Vols were seeking redemption after their loss to Baylor at Waco earlier this week. Coach Holly Warlick said her team needed to get back to its primary aims of strong rebounding and a stout defense. It could not let its opponent get a big opening lead as the Lady Bears had done by jumping off to a 17-0 starting score.

The home team took encouragement from the oh-so-close performance of South Carolina against Stanford on Wednesday. The Gamecocks had shown that the Cardinal’s #1 ranking was not to be feared. Holly and her team also were encouraged that Tennessee had actually out-scored Baylor in the second half in Waco 37-35.

Coach Warlick, her players and their many loyal supporters were determined and encouraged to do better and to end the week much better than they began.

So there was no holiday charity or Southern hospitality to be found in Thompson-Boling Arena before the game today. The beautiful fall weather in Columbia had been replaced with chilling winter wind in Knoxville. The lower bowl of the arena was packed with orange-wearing Tennessee fans (13,000 in all) roaring their support and ready for an upset. The small contingent of about 40 Stanford fans was barely noticeable.

Into this hostile environment came the nice girls from Stanford. The Cardinal, in its biannual visits, had not won in this place since 1996 and the Lady Vols and their supporters were intent on keeping it that way. The friendly comfort of Maples Pavilion seemed very far away. In this place and in this mood it was easy to see Stanford as the underdog. I was nervous before the game.

However, my confidence quickly returned and the team was properly confident from the beginning. Stanford got off to a 6-0 lead. Tennessee was not closer than 4 points in the first half and trailed 33-21 at the half. At halftime Chiney had 13 points, Amber 8 and Bonnie 6. Bonnie made two quick threes just before the half ended.

Tennessee did better in the second half, partly I think because Stanford was getting tired. Early in the second Stanford was up by 19. Tennessee made a run mid-way in the half, cutting the lead to nine. The crowd got into it, cheering and clapping, and the noise level went way up. But the Vols run was short in duration and with 7 minutes left Stanford had regained control. With two minutes left Stanford was visibly tired and the Lady Vols were still battling, but the outcome was not in doubt.

The final score was 73-60.

Tennessee accomplished one of its objectives by rebounding better—each team had 41. Tennessee played good defense, but Stanford’s was better. I thought Stanford looked much better prepared for this game than it was against South Carolina. There was plenty of sloppy play by both teams, but Stanford was clearly the better team today. The Cardinal looked much more like #1 than it did in Columbia.

Chiney was the top player once again. She was in for more than 39 minutes, had 21 points and an amazing 19 rebounds, along with 5 assists, 2 blocks and was 3 of 3 from the line.

Toni played 37 minutes and scored 11 points. Amber was in for 30 minutes, had 14 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists/2 turnovers, a block and 3 steals. Amber and Toni both played confidently and very well at the point. Tennessee pressed a lot, especially in the second half, but seldom rattled the Card.

Jos regained her shooting ability, getting 10 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes. Mikaela had 4 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 27 minutes. Bonnie made 3 of 3 from beyond the arc, ending with 11 points, and 3 rebounds in 15 minutes. She is continuing to play good defense.

Nneka, her father and her two younger sisters were at the game, sitting just in front of me. The young sisters made posters calling attention to #13.

Pat Summit sat on the opposite side at mid-court in the second row. Tara went over and gave her a hug before the game. Pat must have left early in the game because I didn’t see her after the action started. I think she only put in an appearance today.

And so the Thompson-Boling jinx was finally overcome with Stanford earning its first win there in 16 years. Beating Tennessee is always good. Beating Tennessee on its home court is something very rare and very special and well worth a trip to chilly Knoxville in December.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holy Moley! What a game!!

By Wally Mersereau

During the day there was nothing to suggest what an epic game lay ahead tonight.

December 19 was a beautiful fall day in Columbia, South Carolina, sunny with blue skies and a high temperature of close to 70 degrees. In the morning I bought my game ticket at Colonial Life Arena, “Home of Gamecock Basketball”. The arena is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It is located just off the university campus. The entry lobby features a giant banner with Dawn Staley’s picture.

I then strolled the USC campus (no, not that one), including The Horseshoe which is its historic heart, somewhat reminiscent of the University of Virginia. The institution was created in 1801, but first opened in 1805 with one building that sufficed for everything--student rooms, classrooms and administrative offices. Student enrollment on the main campus today is about 31,000. There are 7 satellite campuses throughout the Palmetto State.

The university museum currently has a special exhibition about USC sports. I learned that the Gamecock mascot is called Cocky and assumed his current appearance in 1982. Cocky was preceded by a 7-foot tall rooster called Big Spur who apparently has retired. Cocky is about 6-feet tall.

Central Columbia is a pleasant place, especially on a nice day. It has historical markers in almost every block telling for whom streets were named, etc. General Sumter was a Revolutionary War hero, for whom the Fort in Charleston harbor was named, along with a street in Columbia. He was called the Fighting Gamecock for his military prowess. USC sports teams began to use the Gamecock nickname in 1902.

There was a men’s game in the arena starting at 5 pm against Appalachian State. Those holding tickets for the women’s game at 7 pm were allowed to enter during halftime of the men’s game. Three sections of the arena are reserved for women’s season ticket holders, all other seats are general admission. With my early entry during the men’s game I was able to get a seat as close to the Stanford bench as a general admission permits.

The men’s game was close which caused it to run late, finishing at 7:05 pm. South Carolina won 74-69. The women’s game started at 7:40 pm. It seemed as if most of the crowd for the men’s game stayed for the women’s game, making this the highest attendance game of the season for both teams. It’s hard to estimate crowd size in an unfamiliar arena, but I thought it could have easily been 7,000 to 8,000. The crowd was in for a treat—a thrilling game with ample opportunity to cheer for the home team. Stanford had a very small representation, I didn’t see any other fans that weren’t family members and the family group was smaller than usual for a road game—maybe 25 in all.

Before the game I noted that Taylor appeared recovered from her ankle injury and everyone else also looked fine. Alex made this trip, but Aly did not. I was glad to see Stanford in the black uniforms, but this did not intimidate the Gamecocks in the least.

What a game it was! South Carolina was well prepared and played inspired from start to finish while also staying calm and collected. The Gamecock defense was excellent and didn’t allow 3-point opportunities. The team’s season stats suggested great effectiveness in stealing and this was amply demonstrated, especially in the first half. Many of the steals were team efforts with someone deflecting the ball to a teammate. The team stats suggested poor SC free throw shooting, but this was not the case, again especially in the first half, although there were some welcome misses from the line down the stretch.

Tara used 9 players in the first half. Stanford was fortunate to have a 24-19 lead at halftime. Chiney had 12 points in the first half and Amber had 6. Jos had no points. Tara used fewer players in the second half—I think just seven.

I hoped for some halftime corrections by Tara that would result in Stanford pulling away. If Tara had such corrections, so did Dawn Staley. The result was a closer second half than the first.

The Stanford lead was 3 to 5 points for the first 12 minutes of the second half. From the 6-minute mark to the end it was a one-point game or a tied game with the Gamecocks sometimes ahead. The crowd went wild, on its feet and waving rally towels. The noise was deafening. South Carolina continued to be calm and effective and Stanford could only hold on under intimidating conditions. With four minutes left it was 42-42. With a minute left it was 45-45. Either team could have won.

With 25 seconds left Stanford led 47-46 and had the ball. South Carolina started fouling. Fortunately, the in-bound passes were to Toni and it was she who was fouled. And it was Toni that made clutch free throw after clutch free throw. Gamecock fouls and Toni’s free throws built the lead to 51-46 . A South Carolina three with 1.5 seconds left made it 51-49 — too little and too late. The final score was 53-49. Whew! What a battle! What a thrilling battle!

Stanford did not play its best. For example, Jos still had zero points at game’s end, but she and her teammates played well enough to win. South Carolina just played so well and its defense was even better in the second half. Stanford didn’t look like #1, but it looked like a champion. In the end it won, matching and outlasting the Gamecocks who certainly deserved to be called the Fighting Gamecocks tonight.

This game was worthy of an advanced match-up in the NCAA Tournament. It was the ideal preparation for the Tennessee game on Saturday. Congratulations to Dawn Staley and her team for giving Stanford such a challenge. The South Carolina defense was absolutely magnificent.

Toni apparently injured her neck in the second half and had ice on the back of her neck whenever she was on the bench. Everyone else seemed healthy at the end.

I was very proud of the Stanford team. I was able to tell Chiney she was great and give her a high-five as she left the court. She ended with 21 points. She was vital to the win and she came through again. All of the starters played great, with Amber with 11 points and Toni with 15 points deserving special mention. Bonnie was in for extended periods and played very good defense and made two free throws that mattered.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Time to Think About Oregon!

Stanford plays at Oregon in Eugene at 6pm Friday, February 1st. At 4pm before this game, the Eugene Stanford Alumni will once again welcome visiting fans to a no-host dinner at The Bridge Bar and Grill, just across the street from Knight Arena.

After that game we'll have a weekend free to enjoy central Oregon before the OSU game in Corvallis (details and logistical speculations on the Travel Page).

We will pre-order tickets for Oregon.

Update We will have tickets in section 102, behind the visitor bench, at $11/seat!

Please email travel (at) with your ticket count. No orders taken after the USC game of 21 January.

For OSU tickets, order your own using the link on the aforementioned the Travel Page.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Are you going to the Pac-12 Tournament?

The Cardinal haven't even begun conference play. Does it seem too early to talk about the tournament?

Hey! It's dead week, and nothing's going on at Maples. Might as well use the spare time to make your arrangements for attending the tournament.

When is the tournament?

Thursday, March 7 through Sunday, March 10.

Here's the bracket (Click to enlarge.):

No team assignments yet, of course, but you can make a guess as to where Stanford will fit in.

Where is the tournament?

In Seattle at the Key Arena.

Here's a map:

View Larger Map and hotels near Key Arena

Why go to the tournament?

To watch the Cardinal go for its 7th consecutive conference tournament championship, of course!

To enjoy the pleasures of Seattle between games. There are a few suggestions of things to do on the FBC Travel page. If you have other favorite Seattle attractions you want to share, send them to

How do I get tournament tickets?

You don't just yet, but they will be available soon.

This Pac-12 page has the current information about tournament tickets. In a nutshell: If you want to sit in the Stanford section, buy your tickets from the Stanford Ticket Office.

When tickets are available, the link to order them online will be posted to the FBC website.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Efforts of the Traveling Fan Pay Off

By Wally Mersereau

It isn’t easy being a traveling fan of Stanford women’s basketball. Yesterday’s weather and its effects on air travel required those heading for Spokane that day to endure a few hours in some nether world of SFO called Gate 71A that I previously had never known to exist. Gate 71A sounded innocent enough when I was confusingly told that I should go to Gate 71A to get the shuttle bus to Gate 37.

After clearing security I spotted Gate 71 and when I arrived there I saw a door marked A and concluded I was in the right place. Not so! After reading my newspaper there for a considerable time it began to dawn on me that there was nothing at that place suggesting it was the way to Spokane. When I inquired I was condescendingly told that I was at Gate 71 when I should be at Gate 71A which was vaguely indicated as being on the other side of a newsstand. Sure enough, beyond the newsstand was a temporary-looking sign in among a network of crowd-control stanchions showing “71A” in red. This was in a main passageway of the airport a few hundred feet away from Gate 71.

Arriving at the red sign and asking if this was the way to Gate 37, I was waved toward a stairway leading down to the baggage-handling level of the airport, waved onto a small bus marked United Shuttle and driven into a long, narrow, poorly lighted and wet tunnel and then back into daylight, following a twisting route among parked aircraft. Eventually arriving somewhere, I was waved off the bus and into a third-world-country sort of room populated with many third-class travelers such as I. This was the holding pen for Gates 37 and 38.

The departure boards I had seen when I first arrived at the airport showed the Spokane flight was on time. Gate 37, however, showed it to be delayed and “awaiting aircraft”. About 2 hours after its scheduled departure time the door to the tarmac opened and the boarding process began for the small United Express plane to Spokane. Soon I was strapped into a seat that seemed to have been designed for an elementary-school child, the kind who sit at those little desks. But the plane and crew did their jobs and the 50-some passengers arrived, after some air turbulence, in surprisingly dry and not-too-cold Spokane.

So, was this long, somewhat discouraging and depressing experience worth enduring to get to Spokane just to watch a college basketball game? You betcha!

First off, McCarthey Athletic Center was sold out to its 6,000-seat capacity and that gave an immediate excitement to the game and some loud moments, although not as many as Gonzaga fans would have liked. Second, there were some very fine Stanford performances. Third, Stanford won, advancing its season record to 8 – 0. Fourth, the Tinkle sisters met as opponents for the first time. And fifth, the Star-Spangled Banner was played as a saxophone solo by Charlie Butts, a well-known blues musician in Eastern Washington, producing a mellow and unique version of the anthem. I was pleased to be present for all of this.

It was a nice, dry Sunday in Spokane with a brisk crispness in the air that added a pleasant seasonal touch. I watched the team board its bus at noon in front of the Christmas-decorated Davenport hotel and departed myself an hour later after a short walk to see the Falls on the Spokane River.

The crowd was in good spirits from start to finish. The band played well. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was sold at a reasonable price, generous portions being available in a cup or in a waffle cone.

As for the game, it was Stanford all the way. Highlights were: 6 of 8 3-point shooting by Taylor; 57% 3-point shooting by the team (8 of 14); 100% free-throw shooting by the team (Chiney was 3 of 3 and Mikaela, Jos and Toni were 2 of 2); Chiney with a great double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds and Gonzaga held to 25% shooting by Stanford’s stout and effective defensive efforts.

Earlier this week in TV interviews Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves and Zag players expressed their intent to limit Chiney’s rebounding, specifically by boxing her out. This didn’t happen. Chiney was not limited in scoring or rebounding. Gonzaga’s second major objective of the game was to score well. This didn’t happen either. As Coach Graves said after the game “25% shooting is not going to win games, especially against the #1 team in the country”.

Jos easily won the Battle of the Sisters, topping Elle in every statistical category, which, of course, was just as it should have been.

Bonnie was suited up and fully participated in all team drills. She did not show any ankle weakness, but she did not play as Tara decided to rest the ankle that was injured two days before at Davis. With Taylor’s hot hand from beyond the arc, Bonnie was not missed.

December 2 was a good day to be a Stanford fan, especially if you were fortunate enough to be present for the Gonzaga game. The ordeal of getting to Spokane was very much worth enduring.