It was like the appetizer in a four-course dinner. No. 2-ranked Stanford took the court Sunday after a two-week break for finals exams, facing a DePaul team that was No. 15 in the nation just a couple of short weeks ago, before the Blue Demons best player went down with an ACL injury. But like the other good-but-not-quite-great teams the Cardinal have faced this season, it was not really a contest. Stanford won 96-60, adding DePaul to the list of decent teams that have been easily dispatched. Rutgers, Utah, Gonzaga, now the Blue Demons.
What’s so exciting about the next stretch of games for Stanford is that they might actually be games. Enter No. 7 Duke on Tuesday night, the first time the Blue Devils have followed four days by the arrival of No. 4 Tennessee.
“Every game is important, let me start by saying that,” said Stanford fifth-year senior Roslyn Gold-Onwude, who had her best all-around game of the season with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists. “But these next three upcoming games are going to be so huge. We needed to set the tone on our home court with Duke and Tennessee coming in.”
How’s this for tone? Five players in double-figures – led by Nneka Ogwumike’s 24 points; 21 assists on 35 baskets; a sterling defensive effort (holding DePaul to 32.9 percent shooting); and an opposing coach willing to predict pretty emphatically that the Cardinal will be able to handle both the Blue Devils and the Lady Vols on their home court. The Cardinal broke open the game with a 19-2 run that bridged the first and second halves.
“I reminded the team before the game, ‘We defend Maples’,” said senior center Jayne Appel, who pulled down the 1,000th rebound of her career early in the game and finished with 15 points. “I just reminded them, you do anything to defend your home court, you do anything for each other.”
Stanford dominated a DePaul team that isn’t the same team it was even three weeks ago. Losing point guard Deirdre Naughton to an ACL injury just before Thanksgiving has cost the Blue Demons their scoring and assist leader and floor general.
“She just cemented things for us,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said.
DePaul is starting a freshman, a sophomore and three juniors, and is being tested by a run of 9 of 11 games on the road, a schedule Bruno put together when he thought he’d have Naughton and senior China Threatt, who has not returned from a knee injury sustained last year.
The Blue Demons tried to pressure Stanford. They tried to push them around inside. They tried to get their own offense into a rhythm.
But the Cardinal were – as they’ve been all season so far – too much.
“We were excited about taking our team against a team as good as Stanford, and we obviously weren’t up to that test,” Bruno said. “There are too strong for us in every area.”
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer lauded her team’s post-finals first effort.
“We are not playing against DePaul or Duke, we are trying to be the best Stanford team we can be,” VanDerveer said. “I thought it was Jeanette (Pohlen’s) best game, it was Ros’ best game, she always gives us great defense and today she gave us great offense. We depend on 20 and 10 from Nneka and the same from Jayne. Kayla struggled a little and picked up a couple of quick fouls. JJ came in and it was great to have Joslyn in the rotation. I’m seeing improvement and I like the attitude.”
Stanford got some important minutes for freshman forward Joslyn Tinkle, back after missing four games with a stress fracture in her left foot. Tinkle played 11 minutes, scored two points and pulled down three rebounds.
Senior Michelle Harrison missed the game with a concussion she sustained in practice earlier in the week, while reserve point guard Melanie Murphy is probably a week away from being able to play.