Sunday, December 13, 2015

Into the Storm

By Wally Mersereau

The forecast for Saturday night in Austin was for heavy thunderstorms, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the city dry when I arrived. The temperature at 9 pm was 74 degrees. Will things be this benign in the UT arena tomorrow?

The Texas game is the toughest matchup the team has had so far. Stanford lost to the Longhorns last season and was the underdog going into Sunday’s game at Frank Erwin Center on the campus. At this point in the out-of-conference season undefeated Texas is nationally ranked 5/6 with Stanford at 12/14. My limited pregame research suggests the Texas edge will primarily come from its two excellent post players, 6-7 Boyette and 6-5 Lang. Can the Card keep them under control while finding a way to score against one of the best defensive teams in the country? On a day of possible thunderstorms outside, the Stanford women will be up against a potential tornado on the court.

Texas beat Tennessee 64-53 two weeks ago at Knoxville. Tennessee is currently ranked 16/15. Stanford will play Tennessee on Wednesday at Maples. If we can hang with the Longhorns on the road we should be ready for the Vols at home.

My observations at the Florida tournament two weeks ago were that Stanford has lots of improving to do—across the board. The Cardinal had a bye last week because of final exams. I am hopeful the team will be rested, but not rusty, and will show growth and broad improvement. To win this one will take a strong team effort, especially on defense. This is going to be a test. The players have just finished dealing with finals in the classroom, presumably passing their academic tests.

On Sunday morning the temperature was in the low 50s and the sky was gray, but there was only a light rain as I walked past the state capitol to the arena from my downtown hotel. I hoped for a strong Stanford showing against the home team, including a smart, well executed game plan. Tara and the team had two weeks to prepare for this one.

Well, it turned out the deciding factor was not the two Texas posts, although they played well enough. The Texas Tornado Stanford was not able to tame was composed of the quick, dead-eye Longhorn guards. They put Stanford in a hole from the start and the Cardinal never was able to claw its way back. Texas led by 4 at the end of the first quarter, by 7 at the half, by 11 at the end of the third quarter and by 8 at game’s end: 69-77. Stanford made an especially game effort in the end, but it was not enough. The closest the Cardinal could get was two points on two brief occasions before it quickly fell back. One major difference was the rebound margin, where Texas had 8 more O-boards than Stanford. This is an area where improvement should be achievable.

Any Stanford improvement since Florida was negated by the overall superiority of the Longhorns. The greatest weakness was defense. For most of the game the teams traded goals. Stanford needed some unsuccessful Texas possessions, but got only an occasional stop. Texas is a strong team, ranked just out of the top four. It played outstanding defense today that it combined with its stellar guard play and superior rebounding. Stanford was not embarrassed at Austin, it just couldn’t put together enough to come away with a win.

Here is a sampling of some player evaluations at this point:

Lili – the heart and soul of the team. The most reliable. The only player able to consistently convert dedication into effectiveness. Sometimes a bit slow to start, but always strong down the stretch. The one player at or near her potential, game after game: today was the fourth time this year that she scored 21 points.

Erica – able to achieve consistent double-digit scoring -- today she had another double-double -- but still lots of room for improvement in finishing and rebounding.

Bri – her strength is also her weakness. Her speed and effort often results in solid or even brilliant play, but occasionally puts her out of control on offense and defense.

Karlie – smart, with a balanced game, but not yet consistent enough.

Kailee – improving enough to be a starter -- as she was today -- and to stay in for major minutes. Beginning to score a few points -- today she had four, on one basket and two free throws -- but better scoring needed. Seems to be gaining confidence.

Brittany – for some time she has seemed tantalizingly poised to breakout, but still short of her potential. Had a very good game today, shooting 4 of 4 from three.

Alanna – shows flashes of brilliance, but lacks consistency. Has improved a lot in staying out of foul trouble. Almost certain to be an excellent player, but not there yet.

Kaylee – has lost her starting spot and played only 3 minutes today. Seems to lack confidence.

Marta – after not looking like a freshman, she now looks like a freshman.

This is a young team with diverse talents. It has stayed nationally ranked in the mid-teens. I think it will slowly and steadily improve, but it isn’t there yet.

Lili had a nice rooting section in her Texas homeland. Alex, another Texan, was given two brief appearances, her first of the season.

Tennessee lost to Texas by 11 points. Stanford lost to Texas by 8 points. Wednesday’s game looks like a toss-up. Maybe that game will show us some clear improvement. Hope springs eternal. Go Stanford!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tournament Champion

By Wally Mersereau

It was not pretty. It was not impressive. It was not encouraging. It was lackluster, non-urgent, maddening and frustrating. Maybe the team was tired in this third game in three days. There was an abundance of sloppy play by both teams and a general lack of vim and vigor by Stanford.

But the job got done, completing a 3-game Stanford sweep of the Florida tournament and bringing the tournament championship home to the Farm.

The final game on Sunday against Purdue was won in overtime 71-65 after regulation play ended at 59-59.

Some aspects of the game were remarkable, such as free throw shooting, such as Kailee making a crucial 3-point shot in overtime to keep Stanford in the game, such as Alanna going scoreless after putting up 22 points in the previous game, such as Bri making five of six 3-pointers.

Stanford got off to a fine start and led most of the game. But after the start it was touch and go with Purdue hanging doggedly just a bit behind. Lili was the most consistent player, in keeping with her being selected as tournament MVP.

Looking back from the end of the tournament, Stanford bounced back from its loss to Santa Clara to prove itself the best of the 8 tournament teams in Florida. There were some fine performances, but there was plenty of evidence of the need for improvement by the team and by each player.

The three games were a good test and should serve as a guide going forward for coaches and players.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Two Thrilling Games in Florida

By Wally Mersereau

Fort Myers is the largest city in Southwest Florida, the term the locals here use as we do Bay Area. The primary airport is known as the Southwest Florida International Airport. The population of the city is about 65,000. The fort named Myers was established on the Caloosahatchee River immediately after the Civil War as part of the national campaign to control Indian tribes, in this case the Seminoles. Fort Myers is the county seat of Lee County, located northwest of the Everglades. Thomas Edison first visited in 1885, liked it so much he established a winter home in Fort Myers and spent the last 40 winters of his life in the town. Edison’s buddy Henry Ford set up a winter home for himself next door. By the start of the 20th century Fort Myers was well known as a winter resort. Edison paid to add many palm trees along city streets, helping to establish this place as the City of Palms.

The Germain Arena, where the tournament is being held, and the Hyatt Regency resort are actually located in the city of Bonita Springs, a suburb of Fort Myers about 20 miles south. The arena is the home of the Everblades ice hockey team. Bonita Springs also is the home of Miromar Outlets, a collection of 140 outlet stores and assorted supporting retail uses in a center next to the arena. On Black Friday the center was crowded and was providing a shuttle bus to connect to overflow parking at the arena.

A resident told me yesterday that Snowbirds from the frigid north pour into this area in the months of January through April, substantially increasing the population and traffic congestion. In advance of this influx area freeways and major boulevards are more than adequate and seem to always be free-flowing. This apparently changes during the first months of the year. I didn’t ask where these seasonal visitors are housed, but I presume in various ways including hotels and resorts and, to some degree, in winter homes. There are quite a number of upscale, gated communities here, many built around golf courses. There is a lot of new residential construction of various types evident in Lee County. It seems to be a boom time in Southwest Florida.

During the tournament the weather has been perfect, with highs in the low 80s, lows in the mid-60s and no humidity. There has been a light wind each day.

Further up the west coast of Florida, roughly west of Orlando, is the large metropolitan area of Tampa-St. Petersburg, the dominant urban area on the coast.

Rita VanDerveer, Tara’s mother, is attending the tournament with Tara’s sister Beth. If you haven’t talked to Rita up close and personal, you should do so. You will be struck by the strong resemblance between Rita and Tara in appearance, in facial expressions and in voice and manner of speaking. The mother-daughter resemblance is inescapable. Rita often attends games at Maples and is happy to talk with any Stanford fan, or anyone else for that matter. She currently lives in Colorado Springs. She and Tara’s father were teachers in Chautauqua in western New York State where Tara and her siblings grew up. Tara often remarks that she considers herself to be a teacher, carrying on her family’s traditional line of work.

The last Friday game produced a win by Purdue over LSU, putting the Boilermakers into a semi-final game against Louisville on Saturday. The first semi-final game was between Stanford and Dayton. Both games turned out to be thrilling with both ending with outcomes highly desirable for Stanford fans.

Dayton brought a 30-piece pep band, male and female cheerleaders and a burly Flyer mascot wearing early aviator goggles, the only one of the eight tournament teams to do this. About 60 Dayton fans were present along with about 20 Stanford fans. Because there were few unaffiliated fans, total attendance was less than 100 at the start of the game. Attendance grew during the game as Louisville and Purdue fans arrived.

The Stanford game started poorly with a discouraging first quarter that ended with Stanford trailing Dayton 14-24. Stanford shot poorly, had too many turnovers and showed only a fair defense. It was not apparent until the end of the game, but the Stanford turnaround began in the second quarter and accelerated slowly through the rest of the game with each quarter better than the previous one.

Stanford was outscored by 10 in the first quarter and then outscored Dayton in each of the remaining quarters--by 3 in the second quarter, by 6 in the third quarter and by 9 in the fourth quarter. The cumulative effect of this superior play by the Cardinal was to gradually shrink the Flyer lead. At the half Stanford was down by 7, at the end of the third quarter it was down by 1, after briefly taking its first lead with 4 ½ minutes left in the quarter. The fourth quarter was the opposite of the first. Stanford built an 8-point lead with 7 minutes left that turned out to be the final winning margin with the final score being 74-66.

The turnaround was another excellent team effort. Lili had only four points in the first half, but racked up 15 points in the second half, a truly heroic effort. Alanna had the hot hand through out the game with six 3s contributing to her game total of 22 points. Erica had 16 points for the game. Karlie had clutch shooting at the end to put the game out of Dayton’s reach. In the second half Stanford improved its defense along with its scoring gains and was able to get some drives to the basket. After the dismal first quarter the Cardinal outplayed Dayton more and more to the final splendid win.

The final game of Day Two was Purdue vs. #22/26 Louisville. All four Stanford coaches scouted the entire game. Louisville is a dangerous, aggressive, opportunistic, disruptive team with strong teamwork. It is well-coached and does really well at the free throw line. Purdue is a more “normal” team, much to be desired as an opponent rather than Louisville.

Louisville led at the end of the first quarter 11-9, at the half 28-20, and at the end of the third quarter 42-38, setting the scene for an amazing upset by Purdue in the final minute. In the last 1:20 of the game the lead changed 7 times with Purdue somehow able to make two free throws with 21 seconds left to win the game 62-60.

And so the final game on Sunday will be between Stanford and Purdue. This is much better than having to play Louisville. Purdue has played well in this tournament, beating LSU and Louisville, but I’m convinced the Boilermakers are the opponent to be desired in the championship game of this tournament. Stanford will need to play really well tomorrow, but its task was made easier by Purdue’s great win tonight.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Raining Threes in Florida

By Wally Mersereau

I devoted most of Thanksgiving Day to flying eastward from SFO, beginning before daylight. Arrival and departure boards showed a normal number of flights and my two flights were full, but the three airports involved were not crowded. I did not reconcile these somewhat conflicting observations. By late afternoon I was on the west coast of Florida riding in a taxi from the Fort Myers airport to the exotically named Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort, the hub of the Gulf Coast Showcase College Basketball Tournament. The weather was reminiscent of Hawaii, sunny and warm, with a gently blowing trade wind.

Eight teams and supporters of one sort or another were in residence. The initial event was a Thanksgiving buffet dinner held outdoors on a lawn with seating at many round tables. Debbie Antonelli, freelance basketball analyst, briefly interviewed each coach about aims for his or her team in the tournament. One coach said one of his goals was not to peak too early. Thinking of Monday’s game with Santa Clara, my first thought was that Stanford clearly had not peaked too early, but then I realized it was possible it had peaked in its home opener with George Washington. I decided that was unlikely and concluded the Cardinal could reasonably expect to resume its goal of progressing toward a late-season peak. Stanford’s three games in this tournament will reveal more about the team’s strengths and weaknesses and its progress toward its peak.

The tournament provides four games each day, with winners advancing to play other winners and losers playing consolation games against other losers. The Sunday result will be two undefeated teams playing for the tournament championship while other teams play for third, fifth and seventh place. Buses take teams, parents and fans the three miles or so between the hotel and the arena.

On Day One Stanford was in the second game against the Missouri State Lady Bears, preseason favorites to win the Missouri Valley Conference. This was the Cardinal’s first chance to redeem itself after the Santa Clara loss and it did so in fine fashion, the highlight being 15 three-pointers. The Stanford record for most threes in a game is 16. Today there were 8 threes by halftime, but long baskets made in the second half came up one short of the record. Lili and Karlie had five each, Bri had four and Brittany had one. This was a satisfying and reassuring win. The final score was 82-65.

Kailee was given an unusual amount of playing time: 21 minutes, despite scoring no points. Lili led in scoring with 26, Bri had 18 and Karlie 15. Erica had 9 points and 10 rebounds, Kaylee 5 points and 8 rebounds. This was another good team effort.

Today’s win advances Stanford to a Day 2 matchup with the Dayton Flyers who won their opening game today over the Maine Black Bears. Dayton plays a flexible zone defense that will present another test for the Cardinal that struggled against Santa Clara’s zone. Against Maine the Dayton defense was very effective, with a final score of 58-37. All four Stanford coaches intently watched the Dayton-Maine game. At the hotel, before the games began, I asked Amy if the team was ready for a zone defense and she replied “I hope so.” I hope so too. Tomorrow will reveal the answer.

There were about 150 watchers in the arena at the start of the Stanford game, including 11 Stanford fans. This shrank to about 100 when a block of Dayton supporters left before the second half.

The third game was a hard battle between the Louisville Cardinals and the Marist Red Foxes. The first half was close with Marist ahead 32-28. In the second half both teams were tired from their strenuous efforts. In the end the more aggressive Cardinals wore down the nice girls from Marist to win 65-53.

I did not stay for the final game between LSU and Purdue. The winner of that game will play Louisville tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tournament Ticket Pre-Sale

The PAC-12, through host Seattle Storm, is selling Tournament passes starting now. Click the following link: Storm ticket sales. (If the seating chart does not appear, you may be blocking Flash plugins as many do; you need to unblock it for this site.)

There are lots of seats available as of this posting.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Toughing it out at Gonzaga

By Wally Mersereau

Spokane is a pleasant city of modest size that is the urban center of a large area of eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana. Sadly, airline consolidation trends have made Spokane one of its victims. A decade ago air service to and from Spokane was far superior to what it is today. Non-stop flights now are mostly gone. From Bay Area airports a change of planes in Portland or Seattle is generally required, adding to travel time by Stanford fans attending road or NCAA regional games in the Lilac City.

Those who accept the challenge of getting to Spokane are rewarded with a pleasant experience and a relaxed pace. The Falls on the Spokane River are adjacent to downtown. The river is a tributary to the Columbia. Railroads were the primary cause of Spokane’s growth as a city. Today, Burlington Northern trains roll, seemingly continuously, east and west through the city center on a long viaduct, a constant reminder of why Spokane exists.

I flew in on Saturday afternoon to attend the 1 pm Sunday game at Gonzaga. On Saturday skies were overcast, the temperature was in the 50s, but there was no rain, allowing for some casual strolling and a fine dinner. I again stayed at the historic Davenport hotel.

Wayne Tinkle, father of Jos and Elle, grew up in Spokane, as did Bing Crosby. Crosby, the middle of seven children, probably is the most famous Gonzaga graduate. Elle is a senior on this season’s Gonzaga team.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs participate in the West Coast Conference along with Santa Clara and USF in the Bay Area, all three are Jesuit schools. Women’s basketball at Gonzaga became highly successful under head coach Kelly Graves. When Graves was hired away by Oregon, his top assistant, Lisa Fortier, took over the program and led her team to the NCAA tournament last season. Spokane strongly supports its Zags.

Sunday, the 6,000-seat McCarthy Athletic Center, called The MAC or The Kennel, was sold out, creating a potentially hostile environment for the visiting Stanford women. The best single game tickets available when they went on sale to the public were in Row 32, the very last row in the arena. There appeared to be only a handful of Stanford fans at this game.

As it turned out it was the Gonzaga women, not the crowd, that gave Stanford fits. It was a sloppy game until the last 5 minutes and touch and go until then as to whether the Cardinal could pull out a win.

At the end of the first quarter the score was 12-12. At the half it was 27-27. At the end of the third quarter it was 41-38 Stanford. In the fourth quarter the crowd, sensing a Bulldog win, came alive with Gonzaga up 1, 46-47. The crowd began clapping as if to carry its team home to victory and I began to lose hope.

I don’t know why it happened, but that was the high-water mark for the Zags. Somehow Stanford began to play the way it should have from the beginning. In the last 5 minutes the Cardinal outscored Gonzaga 19-1. 19-1!!! For the last 5 minutes of the 40-minute game Stanford dominated while the poor Bulldogs who had the crowd and themselves tasting an upset became unable to score. I have no idea why this occurred. But it sure quieted down the crowd. It stopped clapping, it stopped cheering and instead sat in stunned silence as the Stanford lead soared upward to a final score of 65-48. The final score was about what you would expect before the game began, but the 17-point winning margin all came in the final 5 minutes. This manner of playing is not good for the emotional stability of Stanford fans far from home.

I was drained, but happy when the game ended. The closeness of the game and the rising spirits of the crowd pointed to a Stanford loss as the clock ticked down, but when it seemed almost too late the team came through. Three consecutive 3-pointers by Lili and Karlie gave crucial momentum to the late Stanford run.

It would be nice if this team would start stronger and not wait so long to take command.

Alanna and Marta were troubled by fouls and played less than 10 minutes each. The playing load in this game was carried by Erica with 23 points in 35 minutes and Lili with 21 points in 29 minutes. Six players, Erica, Bri, Kaylee, Lili, Karlie and Brittany played 21 minutes or more. No other player was in the game for more than 9 minutes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

OSU tickets - General Admission only

If you plan to go to the OSU game in Corvallis on 24 January, here is what we know about tickets.

Start by opening this OSU seating diagram.

You will see that a few sections are colored gray, including section D, which is behind the visitors bench, where you may have sat in seasons past.

These gray areas are sold out to season-ticket holders. No single-game seats are available in them at all. So this year, we aren't going to be sitting behind the bench.

Note that all other sections are various colors of orange. These are mostly general admission. That includes J-F, which are lower-bowl benches (not seats with backs) close to the floor. If you click around in this map you will find there are a few sections in the corners (like 2, or FF) that are actually reserved and have seats available.

Nevertheless it appears that the best policy for this game is to be at the door when it opens, zoom in and grab the best GA seat you can find. This will be expedited if you have the tickets in hand rather than buying them at the window. You can buy print-at-home tickets at the page you opened above.

The Travel page notes a decent hotel that is virtually across the street from Gill Coliseum.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Gonzaga's "Kennel" Nearly Sold Out - Also UCLA

If you have a notion of making the trip to Spokane for the Gonzaga game, as described in our Travel Page, you best buy tickets quickly.

Tickets only went on sale today, 10/26, and at 10AM there remained only scattered seats in the upper tiers. You can try this direct link to the sales page. Or call the Zag's ticket office at 509-313-6000, while looking at this seating chart.

Alternatively you can keep an eye on the Stubhub page for this game. Closer to the date you might catch season ticket holders selling a few. (The entire lower bowl and much of the upper bowl is sold out to season ticket holders!).

Finally, you can hope to buy from a scalper outside the arena on the day. There will surely be some. Here's advice from one who's been burned by scalpers before. One, print out the above-linked seat plan and have it in your pocket, so you can evaluate the ticket location you are offered. Second, look long and carefully at the tickets before handing over any money. Especially make sure they are for the actual date and game—not last year's game or last week's game. Yes, certain people, in the adrenaline rush of dickering in a crowd, have actually paid for obsolete tickets.

And UCLA, Too!

Single-game tickets for the UCLA game on Sunday Jan. 26th are also on sale, and according to the ticket sales page there are "Not Many Left". In fact, there are only a scattered few seats left in the lower bowl in any section, perhaps a dozen in section 101 behind the visitor bench and almost none elsewhere. (Note that at Pauley, unlike Gonzaga, the upper-bowl seats are general admission, so buying GA at the door and going in as soon as the doors open is a valid "plan B".) See our Travel Page notes on this trip for times.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alumni sponsoring mixer, special seats at UCD

The first away game (and only second game at all) of the new season is at UC Davis on November 13th (oooh, Friday the 13th!)

The Stanford Alumni have organized a group buy of reserved seats, and also a no-host mixer at a nearby sports bar preceding the game.

Go now to the Travel page and find out how to get seats in the special section and RSVP for the mixer.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The 2015-16 Travel Page is Up

The 2015-16 Travel page is up, with comments and logistic plans for 10 away trips through the PAC-12 tournament.

There is a new section "The Experienced Traveler' with some tips compiled from various online travel forums. And a couple of new tourist attraction links for Los Angeles and other venues.

Will you be making any of these trips? If so—or, if you see a mistake or want to add a pointer—add a comment to this post.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bashing Bears in Berkeley

By Wally Mersereau

Lest I forget, the game ball for Wednesday’s come-from-behind Stanford win before 5,000 fans in Haas Pavilion goes to Brittany McPhee. Not for the most points or rebounds, but for bringing a spark from the bench that started Stanford’s comeback in the first half after getting down by 13 points. Brittany’s hustling and inspired play lifted the team from a depressing downward spiral.

Stanford had led by 7 points in the first half when it’s scoring ability began to fade as the Bears got hot. The Cardinal struggled to score and then went cold, stuck at 17 points. Then entered McPhee to score the last 6 Stanford points of the first half and cut the Cal lead from 13 to 9.

Tara took note of the freshman’s performance by starting her in the second half. Brittany scored only 3 in the second, but she continued to be everywhere on the court, ending with 9 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block in 23 minutes.

Once Brittany showed her teammates how to score they began to do better, tying the game with 11 minutes remaining and romping on to win by 12, 59 to 47.

Amber was high scorer with 19 points in 35 minutes along with 5 rebounds. Lili was close behind with 18 points in 40 minutes plus 7 rebounds. The Samuelsons did not bring their 3-point shooting skills to Berkeley. Bonnie made only one and Karlie none. Stanford did manage to make 4 of 15 threes to Cal’s 4 of 20. Cardinal free throw shooting was a decent 7 of 9 for 77.8% compared to the Bears’ 13 of 18 for 72.2%.

The Stanford defense was excellent in the second half as it outscored the Bears 36 to 15. Cal’s occasional pressing and trapping was sometimes effective, rattling Stanford that once failed to get the ball across the half-court line in time. The Cardinal eventually figured out how to deal with this.

Kaylee played for 23 minutes, recording 5 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal and 2 blocks. Erica McCall was in for 15 minutes, did not score but had 6 rebounds and a block.

Stanford held Reshanda Gray to 9 points and 9 rebounds. Brittany Boyd had 6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block and 6 assists to 2 turnovers. High scorers for the Bears were Jefflo with 14 points and Green with 10. Cal shot 27.3% from the floor to Stanford’s 45.3%. Stanford out-rebounded 43 to 27.

The Battle of the Bay moves to Maples on Sunday. Stanford needs to win its remaining three games to be able to get a piece of the Pac-12 title. Both Stanford and Cal will need to beat Oregon State for this to happen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Oregon Brunch, Seattle Hotel Deal

Teressa Trusty, current president of the Stanford Alumni in Eugene, writes to invite all visiting fans to join local alumni for a brunch prior to the Stanford-Oregon game. The game is at 1pm on Sunday March 1st. Brunch will be from 11am at the Wild Duck Cafe, 1419 Villard St., just across from Matt Knight Arena.

The PAC-12 tournament starts just four days later in Seattle, on March 5th. If you haven't booked your hotel for that trip, consider the Hotel Five, a boutique hotel under the Monorail. If you enter the promo code SALE in this online booking form you will find rooms from $150-$170. The hotel is just under a mile walk to Key Arena, but they offer complementary bicycles for guests, and a free shuttle service which unfortunately stops at 5:30pm. (But you know what works? There are usually pedicabs hanging around Key Arena evenings, and a pedicab ride would be a fairly cheap way to get back to the hotel after the evening session.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Sweep in LA

By Wally Mersereau

The starting line-up in Galen Center on Sunday was the same as at UCLA, but this time the Cardinal tried something different. Instead of starting out in a deep hole it chose to start in a shallow one and it began climbing out earlier than in recent games despite Kaylee picking up two early fouls.

Kaylee was replaced by Bird who made 6 quick points and then made another bucket to increase her first-half total to 8. McCall’s above-average shooting when she entered the game was crucial to putting Stanford in front. Tess was put in to face USC’s maulers, primarily Simmons, and to reduce fouls on Kaylee and Bird. I think this was a good decision by Tara.

Lili regained her shooting ability and had scored 13 points by halftime. Despite an assortment of missed early lay-ups, by the mid-point of the first half the Cardinal was up by 10 and kept this lead relatively steady to achieve a halftime lead of 36-27.

Stanford held a lead of from 10 to 15 points throughout the second half. The final score was 71-60.

The Cardinal had to deal with rough play by big-bodied Trojans while having to endure ear-splitting noise during time-outs from an over-the-top DJ who seemed intent on trying to cause hearing impairment. Fans should have been given ear-plugs.

Lili’s improved shooting gave her a team-leading 21 points, followed by Bird with 11 and Amber with 10. Bonnie and Kaylee had 8 points apiece and Bri contributed 7.

Fortunately, USC’s maul-ball play resulted in a larger share of foul calls on the Trojans while Stanford’s free throw shooting improved wonderfully and this helped to maintain the lead. Lili was splendid from the line with 12 of 14 and the team made 20 of 24.

Based only on watching both LA teams this weekend, my opinion is that UCLA is the better team with more skilled players and consequently is more dangerous. The Trojans played rougher. Current Pac-12 rankings appropriately reflect the difference in the LA schools.

This was a challenging weekend and winning both games was a splendid accomplishment, allowing Stanford to share second place with Arizona State.

Attendance was higher than Galen’s usual 500 or so, although a significant number were groups of children.

Friday, January 23, 2015

True Grit

By Wally Mersereau

The Daily Bruin today had a story on today’s women’s game against Stanford headed “Team looks to establish new tradition”. The story tells of Stanford’s 14 consecutive Pac-12 championships and quotes coach Cori Close as saying “Stanford has an incredible tradition”. The article notes that the UCLA freshmen “have never faced a Tara VanDerveer team” and says the Bruins “see a chance to topple a wobbling empire and start a new legacy in Los Angeles for women’s basketball”.

The first quarter of tonight’s game made this speculation seem plausible as UCLA jumped out to a 26-13 lead and a similar pattern to last week’s ASU game seemed to be taking form. But this time the Cardinal didn’t wait until the second half to begin battling back. Stanford started to understand how to defend the free-scoring Bruins and began to find its own basket. At the half Stanford was down by only three points, 37-40.

The second half found Stanford in control from the get-go. The game was quickly tied on an Amber bucket from beyond the arc and once Stanford took the lead it never gave it back, outscoring the Bruins in the second half 42-30, for a final score of 79-70.

Briana started this game in place of Karlie and was the initial point guard. Her full-tilt play was occasionally out of control, but generally she was effective and she tied as high scorer with 21 points. Also with 21 points was Bonnie who had her greatest game ever by contributing in so many ways and doing so with determination and effectiveness. Her defense was exceptional. She had 7 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Close behind was Amber with 20 points, 5 assists to 1 turnover, 4 steals, 4 of 4 free throws and 2 of 4 threes. Amber played hard from the opening tip.

Kaylee notched another double-double with 10 points and 17 rebounds. She missed her first four free throws, then made her next four. She ended with 6 of 12 successful trips to the line. She practiced free throws before each half, but this remains a weakness.

Karlie was first off the bench and contributed 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 of 3 three-pointers. She was effective on defense as were all of her teammates after the first 10 minutes.

UCLA is a dangerous team, Nirra Fields was hot with 22 points, but she did her worst damage in the first half.

Stanford’s early come-back and strong second half was a display of true grit. Six players accomplished most of this: the starters plus Karlie. These six players were magnificent, individually and collectively. They gave great effort with poise and courage once they started to cut into the Bruin lead.

UCLA started with a highly effective game plan and initially executed it to perfection, but as the game progressed the tide turned. UCLA fell behind and could never come back. Tonight’s game was not the start of a new tradition in Los Angeles but, rather, was a splendid demonstration of Stanford basketball at its finest.

The Cardinal not only had to face the talented, motivated and well-prepared Bruins, but also had to deal with some poor officiating. On several occasions, UCLA players were clear violators but fouls were called on Stanford. The Bruins play physical, aggressive basketball and get away with more than they should, although they were called for a lot of fouls in the first half.

There was a nice turnout of Stanford fans in Pauley Pavilion, but overall attendance was mediocre. I estimated it at about 1200. From a Stanford fan perspective this was a great game, well worth a trip to LA. The weather today was perfect with a temperature of about 70 degrees. I strolled the UCLA campus this afternoon and was impressed with it and with the students populating it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Whole Lot Better

I entered the Alaska Airlines Arena at the University of Washington tonight with trepidation. What a difference a year makes! Last year the U-Dub game in Seattle was a painful loss with Stanford unable to get its shots to fall—even with Chiney. I recall writhing in my purple plastic seat in agony as Bonnie’s long desperation threes clanged off the rim down the stretch as Tara figured threes were the only hope of getting out of the hole the Cardinal was in. Nothing worked. Stanford just couldn’t shoot and it seemed as if Washington couldn’t miss.

Tonight’s game was a whole lot better. The score was relatively close for the entire game and the final four minutes went Stanford’s way, thanks to clutch shooting by Lili, Bonnie and Amber. At the 4-minute mark Stanford was down one at 49-50. Lili got the lead back with a jumper at 3:39, Bonnie increased the lead to 55-50 with her fourth three at 2:39. Amber tossed in a jumper at 1:10 and Lili delivered the coup de grace with 27 seconds left with a magnificent three off the backboard to achieve a 60-55 victory. Whew! Way to go, Stanford!

Lili made 13 of her 15 points and Amber 12 of her 14 points in the second half. This dynamic duo has been getting the job done of late. Lili has left her slump behind and Amber is providing senior leadership. Kaylee continued her improved play with 5 points, 13 rebounds and only two personal fouls.

Stanford was down at the half 22-24, but outscored the Dawgs in the second half 38-32. Kelsey Plum had 16 points, Jazmine Davis had 13 and Aminah Williams 12. Stanford didn’t stop these Husky stars, but kept them sufficiently under control to come away with the win.

Seven Stanford players had 12 minutes or more—the starting five plus Taylor Greenfield and Brittany. All seven contributed. I found I was most comfortable with the starters on the floor.

This was a big win. Washington is a better team than either Colorado or Utah and Stanford won this game on the Huskies’ home court despite lots of fan support for the Dawgs. Official attendance was 2,677 and that matches my eyeball opinion. There were about 35 Stanford fans present. Brittany had a cheering section of a dozen or more and was identified by the game announcer as a local product.

It was a nice dry day in Seattle with the temperature only a few degrees cooler than in the Bay Area. I enjoyed my 75-cent ride on the light rail line from the airport to downtown. I discovered an upscale sushi place across from the art museum. It was almost full at 4:30 and I figured that was a better recommendation than a bunch of strong Yelp reviews and that proved to be the case.

If Stanford can do as well in Pullman as it did tonight in Seattle this will be a splendid road trip indeed. It would be nice to return home 4-0 in the Pac-12.