She was not the leading scorer, nor did she play the most minutes, or hit the game-winning shot.
But on Sunday, Stanford freshman Toni Kokenis’ performance was quietly one of the most important parts of third-ranked Stanford’s 93-78 win over No. 16 Texas at Maples Pavilion.
Kokenis is starting to take on the look of a starting point guard after an afternoon in which she played 32 minutes and finished with eight points (on 3 of 6 shooting) and three assists. She turned the ball over once and spent major minutes on the floor when senior Jeanette Pohlen’s time was limited because of fouls.
Of the Cardinal’s two freshman guards, Kokenis and Sara James, Kokenis is the one who is breaking immediately into a lineup in need of consistent guard play and depth.
“The story for me today was Toni,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “We went right away with Toni and Jeanette as our two guards and I think her speed and her quickness really helped us get into doing the things we wanted to do.”
VanDerveer said that Kokenis had a “very good experience” last week at Gonzaga. She played 14 minutes in that game and finished with three points.
“There’s a lot for a freshman point guard to learn,” VanDerveer said. “I was thinking about this, Andrew Luck, as great a player as he is, he redshirted his freshman year. We’re throwing Toni right in there. In some games, when she can play with Jeanette that’s good, but today she had to be out there on her own and I thought she really stepped up.
“It’s hard when you have two freshman out there together when it’s Toni and Chiney, because you saw some mistakes between the two of them. They don’t know what we’re doing just yet. But we need her speed, we need her quickness. She played defense, she hit some big shots. She really helped our team today and I’m excited for that. She has been working overtime with Kate Paye. She has been watching a lot of video and doing a lot of extra stuff to help our team.”
If Kokenis can spent significant minutes at the point, the Cardinal’s options widen.
For starters, Pohlen can be freed up to take more shots.
And Kayla Pedersen can move back to the ‘3? spot, where she can pick up her scoring average.
Pedersen came into Sunday’s game averaging 11.3 points, well off last year’s average of nearly 16 points a game.
But she busted out Sunday against the Longhorns, scoring 19 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in 25 minutes.
“We are doing a lot better than we were two weeks ago,” Pedersen said. “Today brought the toughness out of us and the will to persevere…other people stepped up. Toni stepped up. Chiney stepped up. I think people are learning their roles and learning how to play with each other and we are a lot more confident right now.”
Nneka Ogwumike led Stanford with 22 points on 10 of 14 shooting from the floor, propelling the Cardinal to a 57.4 percent shooting game against one of the nation’s best teams. Chiney Ogwumike added 14 points in 24 minutes, going 7 of 8 from the floor and Sarah Boothe came off the bench for 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting.
The Cardinal persevered through foul trouble – with Nneka Ogwumike, Pohlen and Pedersen all nursing two fouls in the first half and going to the bench.
Stanford owned a 38-32 rebounding advantage against Gail Goestekors’ team, playing without a lot of depth in the post with 6-foot-4 sophomore Cokie Reed sitting out the season with a foot injury. With only Ashley Gayle and Anne Marie Hartung in the post, Texas is a guard heavy lineup that was outsized by Stanford.
The Cardinal put together a good weekend, finding some offensive rhythm and a better sense of their rotations.
Now comes a two week break for final exams and the gear-up for the most compelling part of the schedule – a stretch that begins Dec. 12 against Fresno State, followed the road trip to DePaul and Tennessee, followed by USF, Xavier and of course, UConn.
“After these two games, I would definitely say we are closer, but not close to the end, so to speak,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “What we’ve been focusing on is doing the little things right…I think what we are trying to figure out, is what our identity is. I see us as being a high-execution team, a team that does everything right, that hustles on every play. I think we are working step-by-step towards that.
“Tara tells us in practice, ‘Do what you do best’. And that will help everyone succeed as a whole.”