Monday, March 24, 2014

The Weather Outside is Frightful...

(For lots more pictures, see our Smugmug gallery!)

Yesterday was clear and bright, but when we peeped out this morning we found the ground (and our car) covered in an inch of fluffy, dry snow.

The roads were already wet so we did the short drive to Café Diem again, but did not venture the drive down to Des Moines to see the inside of the Capitol. Maybe some other time (not likely). At three we drove all of four blocks to the Gateway Hotel on the other side of the street for the team send-off.

Heading for the game we noted patches of blue sky and remarked that we hoped it would hold, as tomorrow we have to drive back to Omaha.

The game didn't start well, with Florida State leading by 7 or 8 for several minutes.


Then Stanford clamped a smothering defensive blanket on the Seminoles and went on a 26-2 run to end the half 32-16. The second half the teams were almost exactly equal and the game ended 63-44.

Whew, we breathed in relief, back to California and Maples! And headed out the door to find...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day Off in Des Moines

Each tournament trip has at least one day off. Well, we suppose the team is watching film and practicing. But we fans have to fill the time somehow. This is a brief account of how we did that, to accompany our gallery of pictures. (Yes, click that link!)

We checked out the free breakfast at the Best Western. Blah. So we headed into downtown Ames and had a very pleasant time at the Café Diem on Main Street. Nice room with lots of comfortable tables, decent capuccinos, and cranberry scones just out of the oven.

Then we drove the 30 miles to check out Des Moines. ("It is named after the Des Moines River, which may have been adapted from the French Rivière des Moines, meaning 'River of the Monks.'" Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Main target was the state Capitol which turned out to be an outrageously gold-domed structure sticking up like a yellow beacon on a hill visible from many miles away. We walked around it for an hour in bright sunshine, but got thoroughly chilled in the 35F breeze.

Then we took a slow ramble through downtown Des Moines, and stumbled onto a sculpture park in the middle of the city. Lots of whimsical art works certainly brighten an otherwise not especially memorable place.

Further down Grand street we came to the Des Moines Art Center, a large and interesting gallery specializing in art of the 19th century to now. The building, with its three parts designed by three different major architects in different eras, was interesting and fun to see.

From there we ambled back to Ames via minor roads. Pretty boring drive, actually, with everything colored beige with accents of gray. For a few weeks in May this region is probably stunningly lovely. (Then it gets hot.)

Streamed the OSU trouncing of Middle Tennessee on the computer, and so to bed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Smack Dab in the Middle

OK, technically speaking the geographic center of the USA is near Lebanon, KS, more than 300 miles east of Ames, IA. But from a California perspective Ames is close enough. So here we are in the middle of the country, courtesy of the Selection Committee, to see some basketball games.

Flights to Des Moines were few and expensive; it was much less costly to fly from SJC to OMA. Since we would have a rental car anyway, and the weather forecast was favorable, the 275-mile freeway run from Omaha to Ames was acceptable.

Saturday morning was clear, but to Californians arctic-cold at 35F with a gusty wind. We had breakfast at a Starbuck’s in downtown Omaha, which on this brief viewing seemed quite nice, with a number of impressive bronze statues of buffalo and pioneers scattered around the streets. Then we headed out for Ames.

The drive was an uneventful 75mph tour of what would probably be very attractive farming country in the spring. Right now everything was in shades of beige, with ice on all the ponds and a few patches of old snow on the roadsides. One impressive feature was the large number of huge wind turbines scattered across all high ground. More are being built, at least we saw one of the 100-foot-long vanes being trucked down the freeway.

Game 1

In Ames we opted to forego the send-off at the team hotel in order to be sure of not missing any of the first game of the day, the host school Iowa State Cyclones, seeded 7th, versus the 10th-seed Florida State Seminoles. The very large Hilton arena was quite full, the lower bowl at least 3/4 full and quite a few people in the upper reaches, mostly Iowa State fans. (Iowa State has averaged over 10,000 attendance this season.) The atmosphere was exciting and cheerful with a horde of happy fans clogging the aisles.

Unfortunately for the local fans, FSU dominated the game from the outset. They began with a quick 3, then two more 3s in the first couple of minutes, and had a ten-point lead before the Cyclones scored anything but free-throws. The Seminole’s hustling defense left Iowa State clearly discomposed, rattled, and out of rhythm. At the half the Cyclones had but a zephyr’s 18 points on a miserable 18% shooting pace.

During the second half Iowa State seemed to be trying to control the pace and their own emotions, but the only result was that their offense seemed slow and plodding. The final score was 55-44, showing that neither team had much offensive power. It was a very sloppy game: the ESPN recap notes that in this game, there were more turnovers than there were field goals!

Game 2

Toward the end of the recent TV documentary on Tara Vanderveer, after the loss to USC, Tara’s voice is heard saying “For the last month our offense has been stagnant, we need to work on that.” (She might have said “static” not “stagnant” but that was the general idea.) As a result we had hoped to see the Cardinal come out with new offensive fire for this game and dominate it.

They did not dominate from the start; the Coyotes (pronounced “coy yotz”) scored first and still led 13-12 after 5-1/2 minutes. Then Stanford surged to an 8-point lead and retained a large lead to the end. Bonnie really led the offense with six 3-point shots made, as well as some impressive rebounds. Lili hit three more (of six attempts) and also grabbed rebounds.

Chiney was the scoring leader at 23 points, but to our eyes she was not playing at her best. It’s perhaps heartless to say that the player who got 23 points and 8 rebounds, and became all-time scoring leader for Stanford, wasn’t at her best. And possibly it’s the defensive attention she now gets from every opponent that keeps her from controlling the paint as she used to do; or perhaps she’s just tired after a long season of being the heart and soul of the team.

Mikaela was a force in the first half, with 6 gritty rebounds, 3 assists and 4 points in only 13 minutes of play. At one point during a rebound, a South Dakota player’s arm hit her head and dislodged her scrunchy so her pony-tail came undone. She jogged down the court and through much of the next possession trying to get it under control until Tara subbed for her.

During a scrimmage for a loose ball, Mikaela tried to save the ball from going out of bounds, fell backward, and hit her head on the floor with a thump we could hear on the other side of the arena. She left the game and didn’t return, although word later is that there is no sign of concussion and she is available to play Monday. That’s a major relief because the team was clearly working better when she was on the floor.

On to Monday

Monday the vibe in Hilton Coliseum should be quite different from today’s crowded, county-fair atmosphere. First, it’s a weekday game that will start at 5:30. Very few of the South Dakota “howling pack” will stay; with their team gone they’ll head back to their day jobs. And a lot of the thousands of Iowa State fans will probably stay home as well. So it will be a much quieter place with probably plenty of choice of seats. Stanford should be pleased at not having to play in front of a roaring crowd of Cyclone fans.

On the other hand, Stanford will have to play a team that has a hustling, pressing defense not unlike that of Colorado or USC, two teams that gave the Cardinal trouble this season. If the lessons of the PAC-12 tournament have been learned, Stanford will keep their composure and execute against FSU. If they do, then FSU’s sloppy ball-handling and frequent fouls should make it a fairly easy win.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Not the desired outcome

By Wally Mersereau

I’m not sure what the opposite of “all’s well that ends well” is--probably something like “all’s bad that ends badly”. That pretty well describes my mood on this rainy Saturday evening in Seattle. Before entering Key Arena for tonight’s Stanford game I had endured two four-game, ten-hour days in that venue. One of the games was a challenging Stanford win over Colorado, but I could have done without the other seven games and not felt deprived at all.

As I entered the arena this evening my confidence in Stanford winning the tournament was high. I expected two difficult, but winnable games. I was pleased that the first 8 games were over and only three remained. I anticipated Stanford would be in two of those games, would win them both and would emerge once more as tournament champion. I thought the hardest game would turn out to be last night against Colorado.

At a chalk talk at the Westin hotel this afternoon, Tempie told us the game plan included tight defense, leaving no USC player unguarded. This was a good plan, but it was not executed well. USC outplayed Stanford, especially on defense. The Trojans achieved a much tighter defense—just the kind Tempie said was Stanford’s objective.

Southern Cal should have been more tired, having played two games in two days. Stanford had only played one. But USC started off ahead. Stanford struggled back after 10 minutes or so and managed to take a small lead, but at the half it was a 32-32 tie. Chiney had 13 points and Lili 7. Crooks had 13 points for the Trojans.

I had expected some effective halftime adjustments. Instead, USC jumped to an 8-point lead and held it until midway in the second half. Stanford then whittled away and finally got a 3-point lead with 3 minutes to go. But in less than a minute the Trojans had taken back the lead, built it to 7 and then held on against Stanford’s frantic efforts. Before the final horn Stanford got within one point, but could get no further.

The desperate fouling by Stanford in the final minute was reasonably effective, but was not enough and the final score was 72-68 with the wrong team on top.

As Stanford fans, we are not conditioned to deal with losses. They are too few and far between to build our tolerance and toughen us to take a loss or two in stride.

Chiney did her part, ending with 30 points despite a lot of misses. Lili and Amber got in low double digits. But it wasn’t enough. The primary reason for the loss was not being able to carry out the game plan of tight defense on every USC player.

This is an elimination tournament and Stanford was eliminated tonight. USC deserved its win after fighting like Trojans.

Another Long Day

By Wally Mersereau

The second day of the Pac-12 Tournament was sunny and dry. Stanford Red was much in evidence in Key Arena. Attendance was much the same as yesterday: 300-400 in the afternoon and 700-800 at night.

Game 5

#1 Stanford took on #9 Colorado at noon. This was a game of two halves—the first one was unsatisfactory, adjustments were made and the second half represented a nice comeback and a taking control of the game by the Cardinal. Chiney had only 5 points in the first half, but ended with 19. Lili came alive in the second half. Alex played 17 minutes and made nice contributions. Mikaela made key shots and grabbed rebounds. Bonnie continued her fine play on offense and defense.

Colorado led at the half 23-21. The final score was 69-54 with Stanford on top. In the first half Stanford was unable to capitalize on rough play and resultant fouls by missing most of its free throws. The weak start by the Cardinal was troubling. Stanford needs to play more consistently well if it is to win this tournament and stay alive in the NCAA tournament to follow.

Chiney ended with 19 points and 11 rebounds; Mikaela with 10 points and 16 rebounds; Lili with 16 points and 3 rebounds and Bonnie with 15 points and 4 rebounds.

Nneka was in the stands.

Game 6

I was so emotionally drained by urging Stanford on in the first game that I did not have much energy or interest for the second game between #4 Arizona State and #5 USC. I had no preference as to which team won. ASU generally led in the first half, USC in the second. The game was tied with two minutes to go, but the Trojans squeaked by to win 59-57. Stanford will play USC in the 6 pm game on Saturday.

Amy, Kate and Tempie scouted this game.

Game 7

The 6 pm game was the Friday highlight. #7 Washington State put itself forth as a Cinderella candidate by defeating #2 Cal 91-83 in a hard-fought game. The Cougars led 45-44 at the half. Lia and Tia were the stars for WSU with 24 and 19 points, but the victory was a real team effort with strong performances by many Cougar players.

Brittany Boyd fouled out with 5:48 to play. Gray and Brandon led Cal’s scoring with 25 and 19 points. The Bears started desperation fouling with a minute to go, but WSU plunked in free throws to assure its upset win.

Game 8

The final game of the day matched #3 Oregon State and #11 Utah. The Beavers jumped out to a quick lead and built on it to a half-time score of 32-13. Utah could not get its shots to fall. OSU looked much more poised and polished than early in the season. Jamie Weisner played for the first time in 8 games with two pins in her broken left hand, but did not score. Wiese and Hamblin were the dominant players for the Beavs.

The final score was OSU 50, Utah 35. Only three players scored in double digits, Wiese for the Beavers and Plouffe and Potter for the Utes. Utah shot only 21% from the floor.

Looking Forward

At the end of this second long day, two days remain, but 72% of the games have been played and only three remain. Eight teams have been eliminated. The semi-final games on Saturday will be Stanford vs. USC and Washington State vs. Oregon State. I’m looking forward to the three remaining games on a more humane schedule. I’m hoping Stanford will take care of business early on both days and come away with the championship. The WSU-OSU game tomorrow should be a good one. I have no prediction as to the winner. Washington State had to work harder for its win today than did the Beavers and has had to play an additional game. So Oregon State will be fresher. A deciding factor will be whether the Cougars can sustain their will to win into a third day.

Friday, March 7, 2014


By Wally Mersereau

Endurance is essential to survive certain challenging ordeals: running a marathon, persevering in the dog sled race to Nome, and being a fan for all of the first day of the Pac-12 Tournament. The latter event goes on and on. Fortunately, the seats in Key Arena are well upholstered.

In four games, eight teams went at it like cats and dogs, as if their very survival depended on it—which it did. Four teams won and will play at least one more game. For the other four it was one and done--their 2013-2014 season ended in defeat in Key Arena.

The competition began at noon and concluded ten and a half hours later.

Game 1

First up was #8 UCLA against #9 Colorado. The Bruins led slightly at the half, but the Buffs tied the game midway through the second half and then took the lead and held on to win 76-65. The Wilson sisters finished with 16 and 17 points each. Stanford will play Colorado at noon on Friday. Kate and Tempie scouted today’s game. A key Cardinal objective will be to control the Wilsons.

Game 2

Next up was #5 USC vs. #12 Arizona. This should have been an easy win for the Trojans. Arizona only came out on the winning end of one Pac-12 game this season. But Arizona fought like Wildcats and led at the half 30-25. The teams traded the lead in the second half and USC managed to do just enough to come away with the win 59-54. USC will play Arizona State on Day 2.

Game 3

This 6 pm tip-off game was the most fun to watch. #7 Washington State took on #10 Oregon. Oregon brought its run-and-gun offense and the Cougars matched the fast pace and then some, led by Tia and Lia. At the half the Cougs were ahead 59-55. In the second half the Ducks twice cut the lead to three, but the Paul Westhead era ended as WSU triumphed 107-100. Four players led the scoring: Presley and Galdeira for the Cougars with 31 points apiece and Rowe and Alleyne for Oregon with 29 and 28 points each. WSU will play Cal on Friday.

Game 4

I began yawning in this final game of the day as fatigue began to show itself. But the game was not a yawner. #6 Washington, the slayer of Stanford, met #11 Utah. The Huskies did not have their magic touch today and allowed the Utes to come away with the upset of the day. Utah led at the half 31-28 and at the finish 65-53. Plouffe scored 28 for Utah and Plum 20 for UW. The Utes are the lowest seed to progress to the second day when they will meet #3 Oregon State.

Most fans did not stay all day. Only a few of the hardiest or most foolish did so. The majority came to watch their team and then departed, usually arriving early or lingering to watch part of another game. My guess is somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people were present for at least one game. At any one time attendance varied from about 200 to 300 for the afternoon games and from 700 to 1,000 for the night games.

Friday will again be an endurance test for ardent fans with another slate of four games. The top four Pac-12 teams will arrive fresh and confident to meet the tired survivors of Day 1, all of whom were forced to give their all to earn the right to play another day.