Freshman Kokenis Rises To The Occasion

by Michelle Smith

Toni Kokenis is a freshman. It is not necessarily supposed to be her job to rise to the big moments.  But that is exactly what happened Saturday in the women's championship game of the Pacific Life Pac-10 Tournament.

With the top-seeded Stanford Cardinal on the ropes against No. 2 seed UCLA at Staples Center, Kokenis, the Cardinal's first-year guard, turned the game and another title in the Cardinal's direction.

Kokenis put together a run of 10 straight points to propel Stanford back into the lead, and ultimately to a 64-55 victory.

"She's a big-time player and she's aggressive and it was a great game for her," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She was recognizing what was open and she has speed getting out on those lay-ups and she made big shots."

Kokenis's quickness was just what Stanford needed in the face of UCLA's aggressive defense. She scored twice in transition, helping her team claw back into the lead, and then she hit a pair of 3-pointers - one of which bounced around the rim five times before it fell - that provided Stanford with a 57-48 lead with 2:54 to go.

"I was basically playing on instinct," Kokenis said. "It all started on defense and I just wanted to be aggressive. We were moving the ball around and I got some open looks and I was able to knock them down."

Kokenis came off the bench to play 23 minutes and finished with 17 points. She was 7 of 9 from the floor.

Cardinal junior forward Nneka Ogwumike had a bird's-eye view of Kokenis' heroics.

"We definitely needed that run," Ogwumike said. "They were taking away a lot of things we're good at, and she opened things up for us."

UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell has seen Kokenis play well against her team all season.

"She's been able to play some great games against us. She is a very aggressive player," Caldwell said. "Your number is going to be called and you need to be ready to answer the call and she did. The game doesn't know your age and she played older than a first-year player."

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