No. 1 vs. No. 2: Stanford Meets Top-Ranked Connecticut On ESPN2 Wednesday Afternoon
Dec. 20, 2009
No. 2/2 Stanford Cardinal (9-0)
- at -
No. 1/1 Connecticut Huskies (9-0)
STANFORD, Calif. - The eyes of a nation will be upon the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Wednesday, Dec. 23 as No. 2/2 Stanford, off to a 9-0 start to open the year for the first time since 1996-97, puts its perfect mark on the line against the most recent team to defeat it, the No. 1/1 Connecticut Huskies. Wednesday's No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle is set for a 2:30 p.m. PT tip, and will be broadcast on ESPN2, with Beth Mowins on the call, Carolyn Peck on color commentary and Rebecca Lobo reporting from the sidelines. The game will also be available on 90.1 KZSU with Sam CC calling the action.
Last Time Out
The Cardinal won its 35th consecutive game at Maples Pavilion and extended its season-opening winning streak to nine games, the longest since 1996-97, with a 67-52 victory over No. 3/3 Tennessee Saturday. Stanford captured the annual clash of the titans thanks in part to the play of its Big Three of Kayla Pedersen (16 points on 7-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds), Jayne Appel (10 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks) and Nnemkadi Ogwumike (14 points, 11 rebounds). Guards JJ Hones (10 points) and Jeanette Pohlen (seven points, six assists) rounded out the offense, while Pohlen and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude starred for a defense that held the Lady Vols to just 18 first-half points as well as to just a 32.8-percent shooting mark and four assists in the contest.
Connecticut (9-0), the defending national champion and owner of a 48-game winning streak heading into Wednesday's game, returned from a 10-day hiatus Sunday to defeat Iona, 90-35. With head coach Geno Auriemma at the helm for his 25th year in Storrs, the Huskies are led by the play of reigning Wade Trophy Player of the Year Maya Moore (19.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg), 2009 WBCA/State Farm All-American center Tina Charles (16.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and senior guard Kalana Greene (12.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg).
All-Time Against Connecticut
Stanford leads the all-time series against Connecticut, 5-4, and is the most recent team to have dealt the Huskies a loss. That victory for Stanford came on April 6, 2008, when the Cardinal captured an 82-73 decision against the Huskies at the Final Four in Tampa, Fla. Connecticut, though, had its revenge the following year, returning the favor with an 83-64 victory at the 2009 Final Four in St. Louis on April 5 of last year.
A Look At The National Rankings
Following a 9-0 start to the 2009-10 season, Stanford is expected to remain in the No. 2 spot in this week's Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Polls.
National Stat Rankings
Through Dec. 13, Stanford was ranked in the national top five in the following categories: rebound margin (+16.6 - second), scoring margin (+29.7 - second), fouls per game (12.7 - second), scoring (86.6 - fourth), field-goal percentage (48.9 - fifth) and assists (19.71 apg - fifth). Nnemkadi Ogwumike was fifth with a 63.9 shooting percentage.
Pac-10 Stat Rankings
Through Dec. 19, Stanford leads the conference in eight statistical categories: scoring margin (+26.6), field-goal percentage (47.7), free-throw percentage (74.5), rebounding (46.1 rpg), rebounding margin (+13.4), blocks per game (4.89), assist-to-turnover margin (1.21) and offensive rebounding percentage (47.8).
Individually, Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Kayla Pedersen are 1-2 in the the Pac-10 with 19.2 and 19.1 points per game, respectively. Jayne Appel is third in the Pac-10 with 9.8 rebounds per game, while Ogwumike is tied for fourth with 8.9 and Pedersen is sixth with 8.4. Pedersen is also third in the Pac-10 with a 46.7 percent three-point shooting mark. Ogwumike is second in the Pac-10 with a 63.6 shooting mark from the field and Appel is third at 53.6 percent. Jeanette Pohlen is second in the conference with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.05 and third with 4.56 assists per game. JJ Hones leads the conference with a 2.21 assist-to-turnover figure.
One Battle-Tested Unit
Wednesday's contest against top-ranked Connecticut in Hartford will mark the end of a brutal four-game, 11-day stretch for Stanford that includes games against three top-10 teams, another team that has spent time this season in the Top 25, as well as a trip to the East Coast. Yet despite the tough draw, Stanford is 3-0 so far with convincing victories over DePaul, No. 7/8 Duke and No. 3/3 Tennessee under its belt. Come March and the NCAA Tournament, the battle-tested Cardinal will be well-prepared both mentally and physically for the rigors of crunch-time basketball.
So Will Wednesday Be Stanford's Turn?
Stanford and Connecticut have met nine times prior to Wednesday's clash, including four times in the NCAA Tournament (three of those coming at the Final Four), and the series has been fairly even-matched with the Cardinal holding a 5-4 edge. In fact, in the past four meetings over the last four years each team has won twice, and neither team has been able to put together consecutive wins over that span.
JJ Gets Her Chance
Wednesday's game, the first meeting of Stanford and Connecticut since last season's Final Four clash, will feature a key factor that wasn't present in the Huskies' 83-64 win: Cardinal point guard JJ Hones. In two of the past three meetings against the Huskies, Hones has been out injured with a torn ACL (last year's national semifinal), or limited due to recovery from a previously torn ACL (Nov. 22, 2007 at the Paradise Jam), both Cardinal losses. Yet in the only meeting that featured a healthy Hones, the 2008 national semifinal on April 6, 2008, the Cardinal had its offensive quarterback at her peak form, and Hones responded with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting (including 3-for-6 from behind the arc) and six assists in Stanford's 82-73 victory. With Hones again healthy and averaging 9.6 points and 3.67 assists in 26.1 minutes per game while shooting 37.0 percent from behind the arc off the bench for Stanford this season, the Cardinal offense has been humming along nice and smooth.
Too Many Ways To Hurt You
The play of junior forward Kayla Pedersen has not only been vital to Stanford's early-season success but has also put her firmly into the national spotlight. Over the first three games of Stanford's post-finals four-game stretch, Pedersen is averaging 16.3 points and 7.7 rebounds a game and shooting 51.7 percent from the field. And like all great players are wont to do, Pedersen stepped her game up and saved her best efforts for the toughest opponents, scoring 22 points with eight rebounds and a pair of blocks in Stanford's 71-55 win over No. 7/8 Duke, then going for 16 points (on 7-for-11 shooting) and eight rebounds while playing all 40 minutes in the Cardinal's 67-52 victory against No. 3/3 Tennessee.
Back To Form
Jayne Appel, who came into the 2009-10 season off of an offseason knee surgery, has steadily sharpened back into her WBCA/State Farm All-America form from a year ago over the first nine games of the season. While she is still putting up her usual impressive numbers (13.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 53.6% FG), her efforts in Stanford's recent wins over No. 7/8 Duke and No. 3/3 Tennessee showed that she is still a dominant force to be respected. Appel fought her way to a pair of double-doubles over the victories, going for 10 points and 10 rebounds against the Blue Devils, then posting a 14-10 with three blocked shots against the Lady Vols despite facing near-constant double-teaming.
Ogwumike The Scoring Machine
Sophomore forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who rounds out Stanford's 'Big Three' underneath, has splashed onto the national scene with her jaw-dropping athleticism and soft touch around the hoop. Ogwumike's exemplary hops and wingspan have helped her average 8.9 rebounds per game this season, and combined with her moves in the paint has made her the Pac-10's leading scorer with 19.2 points per game and second in the conference with a 63.6-percent shooting percentage. Over Stanford's three wins last week, Ogwumike showed that she can step it up against the nation's elite teams, averaging 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 65.5 percent from the field.