Saturday: The 'Battle of the Bay'

Jan. 23, 2008

By Dick Rockne

It's more than just a highly anticipated women's basketball game between top 10 rivals based about 50 miles apart.

Saturday's televised (FSN) 'Battle of the Bay' matching the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal against the No. 8 California Golden Bears at 2 p.m. (PST) will give the left-coast Pac-10 Conference rare exposure of quality member teams in eastern time zones when fans (and poll voters) will still be awake.

What they are expected to see is validation of the beliefs of present and past Pac-10 coaches who long have said the quality of the league's women's hoop product is often under appreciated nationally because of its time-zone handicap and because teams' competitive penchant for beating each other up mar win-loss records.

When Stanford scored a late-night win over Tennessee, ranked No. 1 at the time, earlier this season, those who saw it had to be impressed by the Cardinal.

California vs. Stanford at the Cardinal's Maples Pavilion home should provide a similar impression for a potentially larger audience.

The basics: first-place California (17-2, 8-0) has won nine straight games en route to building a two-game lead over second-place Stanford (16-3, 6-2) in the Pac-10 standings. A Cal win would put the Cardinal, which lost back-to-back road games at USC and UCLA, three games behind with nine to play in the regular season.

Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said this week the situation that has Stanford being the pursuer instead of the pursued, as is usually the case at this point in any season, 'in some ways' makes the game more fun.

'There is an excitement when something is on the line,' VanDerveer said. 'We know that to have a shot at winning the regular season Pac-10 title we need this game. For us what's good about it is that it's (created) kind of a tournament atmosphere.'

Charmin Smith, a former Stanford player and assistant coach for three years who is now in her first year as an assistant to Joanne Boyle at Cal, downplayed the significance of what a three-game-lead-producing victory would mean.

'No one is going to be crowned Pac-10 champion in January,' Smith said. 'We do like the fact we control our own destiny. It has created a buzz for our program. I'm sure in sparks a little more interest in the people we're trying to recruit. But, it's still January and there's so much basketball to be played.'

Smith said that sitting on the visitor's bench and being in the visitor's locker room in Maples Pavilion 'will be a little weird.' Sitting on the home-team bench at Maples a year ago was a little weird, too, as the Bears shocked their arch rivals, 72-57.

'As I recall Devanei Hampton (Cal center) had a great game and they had some great outside shooting,' Smith said. 'We (Stanford) struggled shooting from the perimeter.'

Hampton, who would become Pac-10 player of the year, scored 22 points as the Bears made 46 percent of their shots (23 of 50) while Stanford made just 17 of 64 (26.6 percent). The Cardinal missed all but six of 35 three-point attempts.

'If anything,' Smith said about last year's outcome, 'it's given the players here at Cal some confidence, knowing they can go in there and compete. At the same time I'm sure it's given the Stanford players some motivation.'

Each team has similar strengths, said Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne, whose third-place Sun Devils experienced being swept by Cal and Stanford last weekend. She said both teams play good defense, have strong inside games and consistent perimeter shooting.

'They can beat you in transition; they're great rebounding teams,' Turner Thorne said.

Stanford's home-court advantage might be the difference.

'Obviously, Cal beat them there last year and the whole team is back,' Turner Thorne said. 'But, Maples, gosh, what a tough place to play.'

Cardinal's Pedersen heads freshman class

Tall, smart and talented, Kayla Pedersen has established herself as the leading candidate for Pac-10 freshman of the year.

One of the first to vote for Pedersen, if she could, might be Tennessee All-American Candace Parker, who had difficulty working her offensive magic against the 6-foot-4 Arizonan in the Cardinal's December victory over the Volunteers.

'We depend on her,' Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.

For a lot of reasons.

Pedersen is averaging 12.1 points and 8.5 rebounds for the No. 7 Cardinal going into Saturday's showdown against California.

Pedersen, however, is not the only freshman having an impact in the Pac-10 this season. Yearlings, including Oregon State's Talisa Rhea, are contributing on nearly every team.

Rhea, a long-distance shooting guard from Juneau, Alaska, was named Pac-10 player of the week for averaging 21 points, four rebounds and 3.5 assists in the Beavers' sweep of the Washington schools.

Against Washington State, Rhea bettered the OSU single-game record for 3-point shots made when she connected on eight, one shy of the Pac-10 record. She scored 24 points in 24 minutes against the Cougars.

In a come-from-behind win over Washington, Rhea made four 3-pointers, had seven rebounds and four assists.

At UCLA, five freshmen playing prominent roles are Nina Earl (10.6 points per game) of Pomona, Darxia Morris (9.9) of Pasadena, Doreena Campbell (8.9 points, 4.5 rebounds) of Alexandria, Va., Regina Rogers (7.1, 4.9) of Seattle and her high-school teammate, Christina Nzekwe (3.2, 3.4).

At Oregon, two freshmen -- 6-4 Ellyce Ironmonger (8.4, 5.3) of Perth and 6-2 Ellie Manou (7.2, 8-1) of New S. Wales - are key players for coach Bev Smith.

At Arizona, Ify Ibekwe (11.6, 7.8) got a late start due to an injury but is catching up fast.

At Washington, Katelan Redmon (12.1, 4.6) of Spokane is the team's leading scorer and 6-5 Jess McCormack (8.6, 4.6) of New Zealand is No. 3 in scoring despite having to battle injuries that have limited her playing time.

At Washington State, Jasmine Williams (5.6, 4.0) of Kent, Wash., is proving to be a key element in coach June Daugherty's rebuilding plan.

But the star of the group is Pedersen.

'She's obviously come in and had a great impact for them, which I knew she would' ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. 'She's a prodigy, a great player from the time she was in the fifth grade.'

USC, UCLA: No suspensions

Coaches Mark Trakh of USC and Kathy Olivier of UCLA have learned that they will have all their players available when they play home games against the Oregon schools this week.

The topic became an issue in the wake of the wild finish to USC's 64-56 victory over the Bruins last week at the Galen Center. In the final 2 ½ seconds officials called four technical fouls and ejected three players.

Had the players -- Moniquee Alexander and Candice Brown of UCLA and Jacki Gemelos of USC - been ejected for fighting they would have had to serve a one-game suspension.

But, said a Pac-10 spokesperson, the league determined the incident was 'not a fight but a skirmish' and no suspensions will be imposed.

'There was just a lot of pushing and shoving,' USC coach Mark Trakh said. 'I know these kids are friends and have played against each other and grown up with each other and they respect each other. It was a heated rivalry. It was unfortunate.'

UCLA coach Kathy Olivier said it was 'a very physical game played 'in a tough environment. It was unfortunate it had to end like that.'

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