For all the players that Stanford has back this season, all the experience on the floor and off the bench, Sunday’s season-opener against Rutgers at Maples Pavilion showed off a very different Cardinal team.
Stanford senior Kayla Pedersen – Deb Gumbley photo
Stanford defeated the Scarlet Knights, 63-50 in an victory borne of strong rebounding and second-half defense. And it gave Stanford a first look at its new look.
“I think we did great,” said senior Kayla Pedersen. “I think our communication was outstanding. Everybody knew who was guarding who, what defenses we were in, what offense we were in. Actually we did really well.”
The starting lineup included freshman Chiney Ogwumike and sophomore Joslyn Tinkle. Chiney and big sister Nneka occupied the low-block.
Tinkle, a post player much of last year, started the game out on the wing, hitting 3-pointers.
Kayla Pedersen moved between the ‘2? and the ‘3? spots. Sometimes Jeanette Pohlen was a point guard, other times, she was a ‘2? when freshman Toni Kokenis came into the game.
The Cardinal offense, didn’t run through the low-post, as it did when Jayne Appel was on the floor.
Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer is still working on her rotations and combinations of players on the floor.
“I think it’s going to take some time,” VanDerveer said. “Chiney and Toni and Sara James, all three freshman are doing exceedingly well, but when you get into a tight game, like in the beginning here, they don’t have the margin for error. A lot of their development will come very quickly, but in the meantime, they are not really playing behind seniors. They are getting thrown into the deep end of the pool.”
VanDerveer made it clear that she needs more from her more inexperienced players, including sophomores Sarah Boothe and Tinkle and the freshmen.
“They are not playing the easy schedule, so a lot of it is that they are going to have to be quick studies and put in a lot of extra time and really listen to the coaches,” VanDerveer said.
Nneka Ogwumike led the way with 20 points and nine rebounds, playing all 40 minutes on the sore ankle that limited her playing time in the two exhibition games.
Chiney Ogwumike ended with nine points and a team-high 12 rebounds in 21 minutes on the floor.
“Of course, having your first college game, I was a little bit nervous,” Chiney said. “Just getting into the tempo of the game was a little bit difficult too, but the great thing about this team is the seniors and the veterans and the leadership they show to us freshmen.”
It was not a great offensive day for either Pedersen or Pohlen, who were a combined 1-for-9 at one point in the game in the first half. Pedersen rallied and finished with 13 points to go with six rebounds and four assists.
“I started with four missed 3-pointers or something and I knew, for me, I wanted to get to the basket a little more and go inside,” Pedersen said. “So Tara had me at the high post, to try to get a rhythm going. Once that happened, things started flowing. I don’t think we ever really got offensively into a good flow.”
Pohlen finished with seven points, eight assist and six turnovers.
Tinkle contributed 10 points and six rebounds.
Kokenis played 18 solid minutes, but went 1-for-6 from the floor.
VanDerveer said the freshmen need more time to adjust. But that may be a luxury with a difficult schedule. Next up is a road trip to Utah and Gonzaga.
It was a physical test to open the season for the Cardinal. Rutgers is athletic and willing to bang around and get up your face to pressure the ball.
“We talked about it in the locker room. You have to tough it up no matter what,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “It’s definitely a game that we needed to think about what we need to work on.
“The future isn’t going to be told from this game today. Playing Rutgers today definitely helped us figure out what we need to work on. But also today helped us realize what we can be good at.”