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January 24, 2013

Notebook: Stanford women ready for conference newcomers

It was just another week in the Pac-12 for Stanford junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, the conference's best player. In the Cardinal's victories over visiting USC and UCLA, Ogwumike combined to score 54 points and grab 29 rebounds and help Stanford bounce back from a loss to Cal.

But though it may seem counter-intuitive, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is hesitant about shifting even more responsibility Ogwumike's way, even if the junior from Texas is second in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage.

"In some ways we're trying to not get her more shots," VanDerveer said. "We want people to look for her when she's open and get her the ball more, but we are so Chiney-centric already that we're really looking for other people to help us. She's been doubled in situations. We don't want to just be all about Chiney."

That doesn't mean VanDerveer wants the Card to stop feeding the ball to Ogwumike when she's open, however.

"We're looking for her, but we need to look more, "VanDerveer said. "I thought Sara James got the ball inside pretty well. Mikaela (Ruef) looks for Chiney a lot. I think Jos (Tinkle) could look at Chiney a little bit more. I think the out-of-bounds plays where the ball sailed off of Chiney's hands one time, Mikaela just fired it at her. We do want to look for her more when she's open but we're not going to run more things for her."

Ogwumike, Ruef, James, and the rest of the Cardinal will host the two newest additions to the Pac-12 this weekend. Stanford will face Utah on Friday and Colorado on Sunday. The Cardinal beat the Buffaloes and Utah earlier this season on the road, but neither game was a blowout.

Though Utah is tied for 11th place in the Pac-12 at 1-5 in conference, they did win seven straight games to open the season, including a lopsided victory over now-No. 23 Michigan.

"They're a lot better than their Pac-12 record indicates," VanDerveer said. "They're very physical, they have big Canadian kids, [Michelle] Plouffe and [Taryn] Wicijowski, they have an excellent point guard with [Iwalani] Rodrigues. They played us and Cal first, they played Colorado, some of the top teams first. They played us, Colorado and Cal and kind of got down, but they had a big win against Arizona State. I was surprised they lost to Arizona. But they're a lot better than their record indicates."

At 15-2, one might say that Colorado is exactly what its record indicates - or perhaps even a bit better. The Buffaloes' only losses have come to a pair of top-10 teams in Cal and the Cardinal.

"[Chucky Jeffery] is really good," VanDerveer said. "They are extremely aggressive. They are a very quick, very athletic team, they have an excellent freshman with [Arielle] Roberson. Her brother plays for the boys' team. He's one of their best players too, isn't he? She's a really outstanding freshman. Both teams are both really good. Obviously they've played each other and Colorado beat Utah twice. They're different in that Colorado is maybe more athletic, quicker, whereas Utah is bigger. Both teams are very physical.

"Colorado has had the advantage of playing I think five of their first six games at home in the Pac-12. I also think that they only play the L.A. [schools] once [this season]. With the four top teams, they're only playing the L.A. schools once. Not having the balance, or the mirror schedule is advantageous for some teams in different years."

Offensive emphasis: While Stanford's offense fared better last week than it did in losses to Connecticut and Cal, there's still plenty of room for improvement. As it has been all season, playing with aggression on offense is a continued priority for the Card.

"We're working on pace, our offensive pace, and trying to get people to set better screens," VanDerveer said. "We're working on getting on the o-boards better. I showed our team the Pac-12 statistics where we're working being more aggressive. We're 12th in the Pac-12 in steals, we're 11th I think in o-boards. We're living a lot on what Chiney does and we need some people to carry more of a load. I really think the blueprint of our team is Sara James, how well she's done and how well she's contributing. So for other people it's if she can do it, you can do it, that's been our message. We're just hoping to get more contributions from more people. We think we have capable players that are spectating. We have to make more happen."

Injury Report: Stanford does have a few bumps and bruises headed into the weekend, but is relatively healthy.

"Alex Green is getting there," VanDerveer said. "She's not cleared yet but in practice half-court. Jos' ankle is a little sore, she was out today. Toni's knee was a little sore, she was out today. Everybody else was going 100 percent. Toni felt fine. She has [a brace] on her [right] thumb. She has a lot of dings. It might be affecting her shot, she hurt it right before UConn. It's on her shooting hand, a little brace for her thumb, and her shooting is way down from last year. Maybe she has to adjust to it."

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