Cardinal give season adrenaline shot
Basketball in "paradise" places can result in some unexpected outcomes. Whether it's Hawaii or the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands or some other sand-and-sun distraction in November-December, favorites can fall unexpectedly.
So perhaps you can attribute No. 1 Baylor's 71-69 loss to No. 4 Stanford on Friday in part to the "Honolulu effect." Another factor? Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims played just four minutes because of a hamstring injury.
But, ultimately, credit the Cardinal, who seven months after losing to the Lady Bears in the NCAA semifinals in Denver, ended Baylor's 42-game winning streak and gave the women's hoops season an early shot of pure adrenaline.
After Baylor had looked like the Terminator in its crushing of No. 6 Kentucky on Tuesday, there was little to suggest the Lady Bears had vulnerabilities. But they clearly struggled Friday without the leadership and defensive presence of floor general Sims.
And it was also clear that Stanford -- despite having lost Nneka Ogwumike to the WNBA, where she won rookie of the year honors -- has no intention of taking a step backward after five consecutive appearances in the Final Four.
That does of course bring up a sore spot, of which even the staunchest, happiest Stanford fans are well aware. The Cardinal have not won an NCAA title since 1992, despite making it to the Final Four eight times since.
Over the last two decades, Stanford has beaten the other top women's programs at various times -- just not at the most crucial time. In fact, the Cardinal have defeated the defending NCAA champion three times in the last five years in the early months of the season.
In December 2007, Stanford did that against Tennessee (the Lady Vols then beat Stanford in the 2008 NCAA final). In December 2010, the Cardinal stopped UConn's 90-game winning streak (but Texas A&M beat Stanford in the 2011 NCAA semifinals).
Both the Tennessee and UConn upsets were at Stanford's Maples Pavilon. Friday at Hawaii's Stan Sheriff Center, the Cardinal -- behind little-sis Ogwumike (junior standout Chiney) -- knocked off 2012 defending champ Baylor.
Ogwumike had 18 points and eight rebounds. Stanford sophomore forward Taylor Greenfield (you've gotta love a kid from Iowa whose name is "Greenfield") scored 16. Junior Toni Kokenis had 15 points.
Senior Joslyn Tinkle scored 11 points, and redshirt junior Mikaela Ruef led Stanford with 11 rebounds, as the Cardinal rather surprisingly owned Baylor on the boards, 40-28.
Baylor got 22 points from Brittney Griner, and 16 each from Destiny Williams and Jordan Madden. But those three seniors missed their junior point guard, Simms.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey hates to lose, of course, but she may not really mind this loss so much. She said before the season that the worry of any defending champion is a loss of hunger and possible slide into complacency. The end of Baylor's winning streak may be a very good motivator for a team that didn't necessarily seem like it needed a kick in the pants, but got one.
And what about Stanford? It's good for the Cardinal to celebrate, but coach Tara VanDerveer and the longtime fans know only too well that big wins in November and December don't mean anywhere near as much as those in March and April. Stanford has come so close to a title during the last five years, but still didn't get one. This victory is important, and sends a message to those who underestimate the Cardinal. But VanDerveer won't overemphasize it.
Stanford hasn't lost a Pac-12 regular-season game since January 2009, a streak of 67 in a row. But the Cardinal expect to be challenged this season by the likes of Cal and UCLA, which also got a big win this past week at No. 11 Oklahoma.
And before Stanford starts league play, the Cardinal still has games at Tennessee (Dec. 22) and at home against UConn (Dec. 29).
It was a great night for Stanford, but the Cardinal will be the first to say, "It's only November."
For women's hoops fans looking for drama and surprises, though, upsets like these are welcome any time of the year.