Cal Women's Basketball vs. Stanford Open Thread + Q&A Extravaganza!

When: 12:30 pm PST, 3:30 EST
TV: FSN/CSN Bay Area
Radio: KKGN 960
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Before Thursday night I was trying to make an argument in my head for why Cal might upset Stanford. Most of it revolved around how the Cardinal have struggled on the road, with two losses and two other relatively close wins in 5 games away from Maples Pavilion.

And then Stanford beat UConn. Badly. It wasn’t even very close.

I suppose you could make some kind of argument that Stanford is due for a let down after the high of beating UConn. Maybe there’s some credence to that, though personally I’d like to think that Stanford respects Cal enough that they wouldn’t lose focus like that. But the bottom line is that once again Stanford is one of a handful of teams that can realistically expect to be playing for a national title in March, and Cal isn’t there yet. A win in Haas would be monumental.

But in the face of long odds we pioneer onwards! And with that goal in mind CGB turned to the foremost experts on Stanford hoops: Rule of Tree and C&R's Stanford Women's College Basketball.  After the jump you will find their answers to CGB's questions and if you visit them you will find my answers on what to expect from our Golden Bears.

Jeanette Pohen has always been a good player, but after averaging about 10 points per game over the last two years, she's suddenly averaging over 15 per game and shooting around 45% from 3.  Is this just an isolated hot streak, or has her game taken a big step forward?

C&R: That is a good question. A great question. My what a handsome question… Any questions? Next question.
No, we were modeling a cartoon TV show’s smarmy politician to avoid answering that question because… we don’t know either. After the UConn game, you can say the new and improved Jeanette Pohlen is here to stay, with her career 31 points and her determined game face. She wants a championship, and has improved her game. But can she sustain it? Only time will tell. However, stats don’t lie (although you CAN manipulate the heck out of them) and she is averaging 17 points a game, which does show some consistency. C and R hope if it is a hot streak., it lasts until the championship game.

Rule of Tree: Pohlen has really taken a step forward as a senior and sets the tone for Stanford’s gritty and physical style. She’s running the offense well and looking for her shot on the perimeter more often, which was evident in Thursday’s win against UConn. The first of Pohlen’s five three-pointers gave the Cardinal a 3-0 lead it wouldn’t relinquish and Pohlen finished with a career-high 31 points. Pohlen’s confidence is higher than ever and I think she’s grown comfortable with her role as a leader on a relatively young team. I don’t think she’ll shoot 46% from three-point range all season, but I think the points will continue to pile up.

2. Chiney Ogwumike: talk about her strengths and weaknesses 11 games into her career.

Rule of Tree: Nneka’s younger sister boasts all sorts of offensive talent and has been very efficient as a freshman. She’s making 57% of her shots and averaging more than 10 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes per game. Her free throw shooting (63%) and assist-to-turnover ratio (8-to-14) leave areas for improvement. Some of Ogwumike's biggest contributions this season have come on the defensive end. Against the Huskies, she embraced the challenge of chasing Maya Moore all over the court and helped limit the UConn star to 14 points.

C&R: C and R, in particular C, had such high, high hopes riding on Chiney. She thought for sure she would lead the world in scoring by now! In retrospect, perhaps they were unrealistic. Her sister did not have a break out year until her sophomore year, and Chiney is about where Nneka was her freshmen year. It is a big adjustment to the college game. We saw her play in the SF summer league before she got any Tara tutelage, and she was still playing as a high school player, the best athlete on the floor which could let her gamble on defense and usually recover quickly. In man-to-man coverage in the games we saw, she often left her man and went for the steal. She would often miss, probably a new experience, and the other players with college experience found her wide-open man. We thought that was a weakness and coach Tara VanDerveer would "beat it out of her". Lo and behold, to our surprise, Tara took Chiney’s weakness and turned it into a strength and unveiled a new 1-3-1 defense, with Chiney on the point. Her job was to run around like crazy chasing the ball and use her long arms and leaping ability and go for a steal. If she missed, then there were 4 Stanford veterans behind her to make sure it did not result in a basket. Did we mention we think Tara is a genius? Weaknesses, how many games has Chiney fouled out of? UConn was no exception. She has to corral that instinct to reach out and touch someone. We think her biggest contribution to a disciplined Stanford team though, is her ability to create her own shot. Once Tara gave her sister Nneka the green light her sophomore year, even moving out established senior post Jayne Appel to give her room to create, she flourished. We believe next year Tara will do the same for Chiney and she will be incredible on offense.
PS sometimes big sis Nneka looks for Chiney and forces the ball to her inside where it is stolen, just trying to be all nice and sisterly and everything.

3. A 20 point loss to DePaul was shocking to see, particularly that Stanford allowed DePaul to go for 91 points.  But they bounced back by routing Xavier.  Was DePaul a fluke?  How much did missing Kayla Pedersen impact things?

C&R: Geez, you ask good questions! If you strictly compare the DePaul game to Xavier and UConn, you can easily vote fluke. But in context, having one player go down, in this case Kayla Pedersen being out of the DePaul game and not 100% for Tennessee, Stafnord is just not the same team emotionally. She is their security blanket because she can rebound on both ends of the floor, make a big defensive stop, create a shot or handle the ball. Last year when teams pressed us because our guards were suspect on ball handling and were running for their lives in the back court, if they got a pass into Kayla’s hands, no matter where Stanford was on the court, you could see them visibly relax. Oh good, Kayla has the ball, we’re okay. That is a huge dependency to take away. And we didn’t count on the team feeling the same way about Jeanette this year. When she fouled out of the Tennessee game early in overtime, the team just deflated. So we rely on one or two people, much like UConn relies on Maya Moore. If you can stop or limit a team, any team’s "security" you have a shot in beating them (Witness the UConn victory).

Rule of Tree: I think the DePaul game was a wakeup call more than it was a fluke. Stanford definitely missed Pedersen’s veteran presence as things started to unravel early in the second half and the defensive effort was lacking. The Blue Demons shot 60% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc, while Stanford committed 18 turnovers. Perhaps the Cardinal was looking ahead to Tennessee.

4. How has Stanford been coping with the losses of Jayne Appel and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, paticularly from a defensive perspective?

Rule of Tree: With the exception of the DePaul game, Stanford has played well defensively and is outrebounding opponents by a healthy margin. Chiney Ogwumike has helped fill Gold-Onwude’s defensive presence, while 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore Sarah Boothe and 6-foot-3 sophomore Joslyn Tinkle have combined to fill the void left by Appel. Boothe leads the team with 11 blocks.

C&R: Well, we were going to say it’s hard to replace PAC-10 defender of the year in losing Ros Gold-Onwude, but after the Uconn game, our defense is juuuuuuust fine. What that says is Tara has great defensive schemes, teaches the fundamentals well, and can tailor a game plan to any individual team like no body’s business. And smaller Nneka was on tall tall Xavier’s post players, and gave up about 3-6 inches, yet her quickness allowed her to play deny defense and her leaping ability took away the back door pass. Tinkle (Jayne Appel’s doppelganger) also looked really good in her defense at the UConn game.

Ed Note: This questions was asked prior to Stanford holding the returning national player of the year to 5-15 shooting on the year.  Sigh.

5. Predictions for Sunday?

Rule of Tree: I think Stanford will come out a little flat, hung over not from any New Year’s Eve festivities but the incredible high that Thursday’s win gainst UConn provided. Pohlen and Nneka Ogwumike should be able to settle things down and Stanford’s depth will eventually prove too much for the Golden Bears. I predict a comfortable Cardinal victory.

C&R: Oh, let’s not spoil our friendship with a little thing like picking sides, now shall we?

However, a different question would be who will win the rebounding battle? We are picking the Stanford Trees.

Thanks to both blogs for helping us out!  Comment away and Go Bears!

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