Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Day in the Desert

By Wally Mersereau

Having successfully made a one-day trip to Colorado last week to watch Stanford women’s basketball, three of us decided to try the one-day method again, this time aiming for Arizona on Monday, January 20th.

Going into its game last week with #4 Stanford, Colorado was ranked 17/18 with a season record of 11-2 and a Pac-12 record of 1-1. It had just been beaten at home by Cal 55-57. Although Stanford won its game against the Buffs, it was outscored in the second half, gaining the win only because of a strong start.

Now, a week later, still #4 Stanford was facing Arizona State, ranked 19/24 with a season record of 15-2 and a Pac-12 record of 4-1. The Sun Devils had just beaten California 68-59. ASU was undefeated in Tempe, its only Pac-12 loss having been against Washington State at Pullman.

The name Sun Devils was adopted by student body vote in 1946. ASU’s previous nickname had been Bulldogs and before that—way back in 1889—the Owls. To symbolize a Sun Devil, the same Walt Disney artist who drew the Stanford Indian came up with Sparky as the ASU mascot. There is no historic or official meaning of Sun Devil, but I presume the name is intended to represent playing like the devil under the desert sun. I also presume this was the mind-set of every Sun Devil as the 5 pm game time approached.

The desert sun was low in the west, after a high temperature of 75 degrees, when we entered Wells Fargo Arena on the Arizona State campus. Head coach Charli Turner Thorne, Stanford ’88, as always was fashionably dressed, this time in a black dress and 3-inch heels, ready to apply her distinctive substitution protocol against her alma mater and former coach. ASU is always a challenging opponent and Coach Thorne has been doing well with her 2013-14 team. Having topped #15 Cal, she was ready to raise her sights toward an upset of the Cardinal.

ASU led 6-8 after 5 minutes of the first half, but never again. Stanford led at the half 35-28. The Sun Devils ran out of zip in the second half. Stanford began the half with a 9-0 run and kept going. The final score was 80-56.

Once more Chiney was wondrous to behold, ending with 30 points and 16 rebounds, 3 blocks and 4 of 5 free throws in 30 minutes. When she sat on the bench with two fouls in the first half, Stanford looked like an ordinary team.

Taylor turned into a tiger in this game. She had 14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 of 3 free throws and a three-pointer. She scored in a variety of ways and was aggressive on offense and defense. Karlie and Lili each had 11 points. In contrast, Amber’s stats barely registered with no points, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 2 steals. Mikaela was her usual strong presence, providing her usual glue.

Three-point shots fell off dramatically in this game with the Cardinal making 3 of 6, a nice 50% ratio, but only from a few attempts. But it didn’t matter. Stanford chose another course in Tempe. Bonnie and Karlie made one three each. Free throws were a very nice 15 of 20 or 75%.

This was a fine and decisive win, more so than the win over Colorado. ASU beat Cal, Colorado did not. Colorado outscored Stanford in the second half, ASU did not. The result of four road games in consecutive weekends was Stanford 4, opponents 0. Stanford remains the only undefeated team in Pac-12 play. Chiney rolled on in all four games with various teammates stepping up to help clinch each win.

Official attendance was 2,400 at Wells Fargo Arena, not like the good old days in Tempe, but Sun Devil fans were loud in support for their team and created an impressive sense of hostility. However, the nice girls from Stanford were unfazed.

I want to end this report with another shout out to Taylor. This was her finest game, even if she may have scored more points in other games. Never has she shown more energy, assertiveness and variety in her play. She truly was a tiger. She contributed to the win through her own actions and as an inspiration to her teammates.

This was a solid and important win.

Monday, January 13, 2014

In One Day

By Wally Mersereau

Have you ever gone to Colorado to watch a Stanford women’s basketball game and returned the same day? Can you really do that? Well, yes you can and three dedicated Stanford fans did just that on January 12. It makes a long day, but an interesting and enjoyable one, providing a nice change of pace from watching games as a lethargic couch potato and adding a little zest and adventure to our sporting lives.

We set off before dawn in the Bay Area when the Sunday highways were being little used, passed through the sprawling airport and onto a waiting plane that whisked us eastward toward the Rockies. The snow-covered peaks of the western mountains were shining in the sun. We then flew over large expanses of snow stretching to the horizon, with rivers winding through. After a two-hour flight we descended into the Denver airport over surprisingly brown land with only touches of snow here and there.

Transferring to a rental car, we drove west about an hour to the land of the Buffs. After a leisurely and splendid lunch in Boulder, we moved on to the Coors Events Center on the University of Colorado campus for the 3 pm game. The weather was dry and the sky was filled with pleasing cloud formations.

We settled into our seats behind the Stanford bench, removed our outerwear, revealing our Stanford garb, and surveyed the scene. The principal sporting event in Denver this day was a Broncos football game that lured some fans away, as the 49ers had done the week before in the Bay Area. My guess at actual attendance at the Coors Center was about 1,000.

Stanford started well and led 55-38 at the half with Chiney contributing 20 points. There were three remarkable aspects of the first half: 1) Stanford’s 3-point shooting, led by Karlie with five and Chiney, Sara and Amber adding one each, 2) Chiney’s 20 points and 3) Stanford’s 100% free throw shooting.

The Colorado team that returned to the floor in the second half was transformed. The Buffs played the remainder of the game with great intensity, maintaining this to the end. The Buffs almost closed the scoring gap as the game neared its end and out-scored the Cardinal by 7 points in the half. The final score was 87-77. Possibly the elevation took a toll on the Stanford players, but the main factors were the consistent and effective efforts of the Colorado team.

Chiney ended with 34 points and 16 rebounds, held back by four fouls that caused her to play with some caution. She was 9 for 9 from the free throw line and made a 3-pointer for the second consecutive game. Taylor and Lili each made a 3-pointer in the second half to raise the game total to 10. Free throw shooting fell off a bit, but still set a season record of 21 of 24, or 87.5%, for the game. Karlie had her finest game, finishing with 19 points, including 5 of 8 3-pointers and 4 of 4 free throws in 26 minutes. Amber fouled out.

There were concurrent off-setting technical fouls involving Karlie and Arielle Roberson, but we did not see this incident and don’t know its details. TV watchers had the advantage here.

We arrived at the Denver airport after the game just in time to board our return flight to SFO , touching down there 13 hours after we had taken off this morning. This was a very satisfying trip, highlighted by an exciting game, with the right team coming out on top.