Feature: Leave it to Stanford

Dec. 24, 2007

By Dick Rockne

Leave it to Stanford.

As the school with the most successful women's basketball program in the Pac-10 since the sport became part of the Conference in 1986, what the Cardinal did in beating No. 1 Tennessee in a memorable Maples Pavilion game was provide a positive finish to what collectively had been a so-so non-conference season for most Pac-10 teams.

Going into the start of league play, member teams have a combined record of 64-47. The .577 non-conference winning percentage is the lowest since 2001 (52-44, .542) and is responsible for a No. 6 RPI ranking for the league. During the first coaches' conference call of the season factors mentioned that are thought to have contributed to the low-win total included a rash of injuries, young rosters and tough scheduling.

Stanford and California seemed immune to the problems.

The Cardinal lost two players - Melanie Murphy and Michelle Harrison -- to ACL injuries, had a freshman (Kayla Pedersen) playing a key role, scheduled tough and still won nine of 10 games, including the 73-69 overtime decision over Tennessee.

California didn't have the Pac-10 player of the year from last season, Devanei Hampton (knee injury), for eight games, but still won nine of 11 (the two losses were to highly ranked Baylor and Rutgers).

Elsewhere, records ranged from 7-4 (USC and Oregon State), to 6-5 (Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon), to 5-6 (UCLA), 5-7 (Washington) and 3-8 (Washington State). Big wins were hard to find.

There were none bigger than Stanford beating Tennessee in the latest installment of a rivalry that had been dominated by the Volunteers (11 straight over the Cardinal).

What Stanford revealed to a national television audience was a well-balanced team featuring the Pac-10's two-time player of the year, Candice Wiggins (22 points), sophomore center Jayne Appel (19 points, 14 rebounds), the freshman, Pedersen (nine points, five assists and impressive defense against reigning national player of the year, Candace Parker). The overtime hero was sophomore guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who scored nine of Stanford's 10 extra-session points.

'I know that there is something special about this team,' Wiggins said after the Tennessee game. 'We are so tough and we stayed together the whole game, and we have a special chemistry that you can't really explain.'

If Stanford is going to be challenged for the Pac-10 championship the team that appears to have the best chance of doing it is Bay Area neighbor California. Those outstanding freshmen from two years ago - Hampton, Ashley Walker and Alexis Gray-Lawson - are juniors, a maturity factor no one can overlook.

'I'm pretty happy with where we are,' Cal coach Joanne Boyle said. 'I think for the most part we've done a good job with a short bench and Devanei being out for most of the preseason.'

Along with Stanford and California, the only other Pac-10 team that has been ranked consistently in the top 25 polls is Arizona State. Count the Sun Devils among those teams that have been hit hard by injuries while playing a tough schedule. Juniors Sybil Dosty and Kate Engelbrecht missed the entire preseason; junior guard Danielle Orsillo scored 21 points in the season-opener against North Carolina, hasn't played since (bone bruise) and might be redshirted.

Still, coach Charlie Turner Thorne said she 'feels good' about her team.

'We're not satisfied because we want to win,' Turner Thorne said. 'We didn't close out a couple of games we thought we should have. We're hungry and wanting to get back to consistently wining games.'

USC, which lost freshmen Jackie Gemelos and Stephanie Gilbreath to ACL injuries before the season began, has been 'up and down' according to coach Mark Trakh, who hopes to see more consistency.

'We played great defense against Virginia Tech and Georgia in the Bahamas,' Trakh said. 'We held Georgia to 59 points and 30 percent shooting. And then we play Cal State-Fullerton and they shoot 54 percent in the next game.'

Oregon State is learning to live without Casey Nash, last season's Pac-10 scoring leader who graduated, and rebounding standout Judie Lomax, who transferred. Helping take up the slack is senior Ashley Allen, Pac-10 scoring leader this season.

'Considering the new faces that we have and what we're blending them with it seems like every day we get better,' coach LaVonda Wagner said. 'We're a very young program but we're making strides.'

A recent four-game winning streak helped make coaching fun again for Joan Bonvicini at Arizona, where the Wildcats have struggled the past two seasons.

'It feels good,' Bonvicini said. 'It feels good to really coach. It feels good to have the players have that confidence in themselves and have fun again and feel like they can win every game.'

Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Washington State all have young players in key roles.

'It's been a little bit of an up and down for us in the preseason, but I think we're very strong,' said Oregon coach Bev Smith, who has been starting two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior. 'I think we've got some wins that show that.'

UCLA coach Kathy Olivier said developing some consistency with her young team is the main goal.

'We've played some tough opponents and we've shown that we can play with the best, but we just need to learn how to do that on a consistent basis no matter who we play or where we play.'

Several injuries have hindered Washington's new coach, Tia Jackson, from developing her young team. She said she feels good about the players' efforts.

'What makes me proud of our team is how we've responded to those injuries and with players playing out of position and doing it with energy and without complaint,' Jackson said. 'Our record is not indicative of how hard this team has been working.'

The Washington coach for the previous 11 seasons, June Daugherty, is now at Washington State, where she is proud of 'her kids.'

'We're in a situation where we're not only a youthful group but we're treating them all like freshmen with the coaching change,' Daugherty said. 'They've done a great job in responding to the new system at both ends of the court. We've seen improvement every practice, every game.'

Daugherty adapting well to change

During 11 years in Seattle, June Daugherty, as the women's basketball coach at Washington, battled basketball foes and traffic woes and, along with her husband, Mike, raised twins from infancy to puberty.

But, the lifestyle the Daugherty family seemed to enjoy took a dramatic turn last spring when the Husky athletic director, Todd Turner, decided not to renew June's contract. Other dramatic turns quickly followed - she was hired to replace Sherri Murrell by Washington State, her previous employer's archest rival, and she suffered a cardiac arrest and nearly died.

Now, months later, Daugherty, 51, seems to be adapting well to both life-altering situations.

'Each day I feel blessed to have this second chance at life,'' Daugherty said the other day. 'Obviously it was a very difficult situation to have a cardiac arrest and be on life support for a few days. I can't say enough about my peers, in the Pac-10 and across the country, and how supportive all the coaches, administrators, fans and even some referees have been towards my recovery.

'Each week I feel a lot stronger. It's about a year recovery when you go through this. The biggest thing is making sure you give yourself some time to relax a little bit and recover a little bit more. Obviously, the adjustment to taking quite a bit of medicine has been a little bit of a challenge. But I've got a great staff and delegating to them has been something I've done with ease.

'In the long run it's going to be a blessing in disguise.'

As for her new job, Daugherty said 'it's neat to have a fresh, new beginning.' She said it's been 'exciting' to learn about her team, the WSU administrators and Cougar fans.

'The Cougar nation has embraced myself and my family,'' Daugherty said. 'It's actually been a lot of fun.'

As for Pullman, a town of 27,000 that couldn't be more unlike Seattle, Daugherty said it's different.

'There are a lot of great things about Seattle that I enjoyed in my 11 years over there.'' Daugherty said. 'It is different than Pullman. We're five minutes from anything. It's nice to go home and have lunch with your kids. I think it's a town that has a little bit of everything. And I've enjoyed that.

'The people have been absolutely phenomenal. There's a sense of pride in Pullman like none other than I've every seen towards a university, whether it's athletics or the academic side. It's really been refreshing to be around people who get excited about the student-athletes' progress no matter what it is, on the court or in the classroom.'

Daugherty's first Cougar team finished its non-conference schedule with a 3-8 record, a reflection of its lack of maturity and depth. There have been games, Daugherty said, when she's only had seven players available.

But along with her health and her feelings about new and different surroundings, Daugherty has a positive attitude about the future. There is only one direction the Cougars can go.

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