Saturday, November 23, 2013

Deep in the heart of Texas

By Wally Mersereau

The team was on my Friday morning flight from San Francisco. Austin was not visitor-friendly, weather-wise, on this Stanford road trip. It was cold and wet--not fit for man or beast. Rain was falling as we arrived at the AUS terminal and the gloomy skies did not brighten then or later. The weatherperson on the TV news stressed it was unusual to have a high temperature below 40 on November 23. The good news was no flooding.

Kate used the wait at baggage claim to take Amber aside for some one-to-one coaching tips. Amber listened impassively. The advice must have been helpful because Amber had another great game with 13 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals in 32 minutes.

The official attendance at the Frank Erwin Center was 3,900, but the actual crowd appeared to be no more than 2,000. Those wearing Texas brown stood before the game with right hands extended in the Longhorn salute as the 60-member band played “The Eyes of Texas” and continued to stand until their team scored. The Texas fans next to me said second-year coach Karen Asten is a big improvement over Gail Goestenkors because of more effective recruiting. Three of Stanford’s starters are from Texas: Chiney, Amber and Lili.

Discretionary Stanford starters were Lili and Karlie. Chiney lost the tip to the Texas 6-7 center. Mikaela scored 6 early points to keep Stanford in the game in what could have been a Texas runaway.

Sara had her best game so far, showing the hustle that has been missing until now. Her defense was effective and she scored two threes in the first half. Not stepping up in the first half was Chiney who had only 4 points at the half when Stanford trailed 30-37. Texas blocked at least two of her first-half attempts.

Texas is an excellent free-throw shooting team and I thought for a while this edge could win the game for the Longhorns. At game-end, free throws were 18 of 24 or 75% for Texas and 15 of 25, or 60% for the Cardinal. This game was the first of the season in which Stanford faced multiple attempts to press, none of which were successful.

Sara started the second half, apparently in recognition of her high level of play in the first half of the game. Six minutes into the second half Stanford still trailed 37-40. That was when Stanford began its pull-away, going from down 3 to up 8 in the next 6 minutes. Chiney came to life, scoring 14 points in the second half. After that Stanford held the lead to the end of the hard-fought game. The final score was 63-54.

Tara shrunk the rotation to seven players with 16 minutes or more on the court. Sara played 18 minutes, was 2 of 5 from 3 and had 4 assists and no turnovers. Mikaela had the only double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but was a pitiful 3 of 8 from the line. Karlie played 30 minutes. Bonnie did not play. Chiney fouled out with two minutes to play having made 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks.

I had a dry walk back to my hotel under dark gray skies. I listened to the Stanford-Cal football game on KZSU as I wrote this report.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pregame lunch in Austin

Sam Chang from the Stanford/Austin Alumni Club is wondering if you're going to Austin for the game this Saturday.
Stanford/Austin has a reservation under his name at Scholz Garten for 11AM if you'd like to join them. He says that it's a venerable BBQ/soul food restaurant that's been in operation since 1866, making it a real Austin gem.
Here's a Google map showing Scholz's and the game venue (the Erwin Center).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

On the road again

By Wally Mersereau

Fall weather is well established in Boston with a forecast high for Saturday of 48 degrees under a hazy sky, but no dramatic foliage change has occurred yet, at least not in Boston. One of four branches of the westbound Green Line trolleys ends at Boston College. From there it’s about a 15-minute stroll to Conte Forum. Tip-off was at 1 p.m.

Boston College holds its own among Boston’s academic elite. Founded by Jesuits in 1863 it began to expand to a full university in the 1920s. Last year there were 34,000 applications for the 2,250 spots in the freshman class. Enrollment is 14,400, with 9,100 undergraduates. U. S. News & World Report ranks BC #31 and Forbes puts it at #35 on its America’s Best Colleges list.

When I called the BC ticket office a few weeks ago I was told all seats are general admission for women’s games so I bought my ticket at the door. There I was told all seats along both sides of the court are reserved. With my mind set on general admission, I paid $7 and got a GA seat at the end of the court behind the Stanford bench just across the aisle from the reserved section with the most Stanford fans. Official attendance was 1,628, but looked less than that—I thought more like 1,200.

The national anthem was sung by a 2010 BC women’s basketball alum who has apparently rocketed to country music stardom, but who was unknown to me. She sang slowly in her best country style.

Bonnie and Sara were off the injured list, but neither started. The starting five were Chiney, Amber, Mikaela, Alex and Kailee. Sara was first off the bench, replacing Alex after an early foul.

Stanford was off to a slow, almost bumbling, start. Kailee, a standout at the exhibition game, looked very much a freshman today. She was perfect at the free throw line in the Vanguard game, but missed all of her free throws today, including four in the first few minutes. Stanford’s defense was good in the early going, but the score was 7-7 after 4 minutes. Erica McCall made the first free throw for the Cardinal.

With 11:20 to go in the first half, Stanford trailed 13-18 and the game had become worrisome. Then Stanford took off on 28-0 run with BC stuck at 18 points for 10 minutes. Stanford led at the half 44-24. Boston College reached the 10-foul mark quite early and Stanford had only 5 fouls in the first half. Things were looking up and I celebrated with an ice cream bar.

Stanford built its lead to 57-32 in the first four minutes of the second half and my ice cream bar still tasted good. But the Eagles were determined not to fold and they did not. They cut the lead to 17 after 8 minutes. Stanford pushed it back to 20 after 10 minutes. With 7 minutes to go Stanford led by18. Kailee continued to struggle, and was pulled when she got her fourth foul and zero points. Stanford got the lead back to 20 with 4 minutes left. BC still would not fold and cut the lead to 16 at the 2-minute mark and to 12 at the end. The final score was 83-71.

It was a good thing Stanford was not playing UConn today. The Cardinal was outscored by 8 points in the second half by scrappy Boston College. And in the second half it was Stanford who got in foul trouble. The Eagles scored in lots of ways, primarily from 3-pointers, from drives to the basket and from the free throw line. Stanford will have to do much better on Monday to avoid a blowout at Storrs.

Individually, four Stanford players had a great game. Chiney had 30 points, with 11 of 12 shooting and 8 of 10 free throws, plus 14 rebounds in 37 minutes. Amber came close to a triple-double, with 19 points, including two early 3s, 9 rebounds and 10 assists with one turnover in 32 minutes. Bonnie scored 15 points, including 3 of 7 3-pointers and 4 of 4 free throws in 21 minutes. Mikaela scored 9 points and was a vital contributor for the win, battling effectively all game long on offense and defense, playing 32 minutes. But she made only 2 of 8 free throws. Sara was scoreless.

As a team, Stanford out-rebounded 44 to 26, but made only 17 of 31 free throws, for 54.8%, and 6 of 19 3-point attempts, for 31.6%.

I don’t know what Tara and the team can do to boost the overall level of play before Monday night, but a lot will be needed. Chiney, Amber and Bonnie will need to continue their fine play against a much stronger opponent. Mikaela will need to score more and make her free throws. And from somewhere on the roster a few others will need to greatly improve in the next two days and dazzle us all.