Deb Gumbley photo
So this is why Tara VanDerveer scheduled this season the way she did. Sure the Cardinal assembled their toughest slate of games in the history of the program to excite the fans, and provide some exposure to the program. But mostly, largely, let’s face it, this was about the experience. If Stanford wants to make the next step from Final Four finalist to national champion, being tough, being battle-tested, experienced in facing top talent and difficult situations will likely help them make that next step.
To that end, Duke was quite helpful.
Stanford won at Maples Pavilion Tuesday night, 71-55, in a game that was more of a challenge than the final score indicates.
Despite some serious offensive woes, the Blue Devils were indeed, as VanDerveer put it, “doing the kinds of things that give us trouble.”
They outrebounded Stanford, including collecting 25 offensive rebounds. They forced Stanford into 18 turnovers, including 10 in the first nine minutes of the game. They made a run that pushed a comfortable double-digit lead down to eight points late in the second half.
They knocked Stanford around and played assertive, aggressive pressure defense.
And they gave the Cardinal a pretty good preview of what to expect against a physical, athletic Tennessee team that will likely rebound and press even better.
“Tennessee, they are glass-eaters,” VanDerveer said. “They are probably going to look at those 25 offensive rebounds and be drooling. I thought we’d been doing a good job (rebounding), but we hadn’t been playing against this level of competition, that makes you pay for not putting a body on people.”
The Cardinal got the superior inside play that has become the team’s hallmark. Kayla Pedersen, Jayne Appel and Nneka Ogwumike joined for 50 points and 26 rebounds.
The guards hit big shots, but also made a series of ill-advised passes, trying to push too hard against a team that clogged passing lanes.
“I have higher expectations for our guard play,” VanDerveer said.
Pedersen left the floor with a quick foul early in the first half and the Cardinal suddenly became rattled and vulnerable, turning the ball over and struggling with offensive flow.
Pedersen came back in, hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and all was calm again.
She finished with 22 points. Appel may be this team’s star, but Pedersen is probably its MVP to this point.
Ogwumike got off to a slow start, but rallied to finish with 18 points, including 10 during a key 22-2 run that ended the first half and gave Stanford a comfortable lead, a lead that ultimately got them through a tough second-half start and the ability to withstand Duke’s second-half run.
No time to dwell, however, not with the Lady Vols – who moved up to No 3 in that national polls this week – bearing down.