Chiney Ogwumike suggested she wanted to be marginalized by a complete team performance. She wanted her Stanford teammates to maximize their play to a level that would diminish her presence.
She got her wish in Tuesday’s 74-65 win over North Carolina, sending No. 2-seeded Stanford to the Final Four. Well, kind of.
“I like to be an afterthought sometimes,” Ogwumike said. “I think (Tuesday night) I was an afterthought a little bit, which is good because other people were being aggressive.”
But the depth of Stanford wasn’t the only thing on display. It wasn’t just that guards Amber Orrange and Lili Thompson, forwards Mikaela Ruef and Bonnie Samuelson also scored in double figures. It was the dimension they brought to the game: tempo.
The Cardinal is known for its methodic approach. Boasting one of the best post players in the nation, Stanford loves dumping the ball down low and pounding opponents into submission.
North Carolina is the opposite. It speeds up the pace. It shoots quickly, is aggressive defensively and wants to get in the open court. And slowing it up wasn’t working.
Stanford’s patient, half-court offense was rest for the Tar Heels, at least for the guards. The North Carolina inside players were hanging on Ogwumike like tree ornaments.
“You’ve got to be physical with her,” said associate head coach Andrew Calder, filing in for legendary coach Sylvia Hatchell, who is in remission from a battle with leukemia.
“She is too athletic. She is not as good the further away you push her out. She’s outstanding down low. Outstanding.”
North Carolina did as good a job as any bottling up Ogwumike. But the game changed when she got her wish, and the supporting cast took the lead.
Orrange started using that smooth ballhandling and calming poise to go at the pesky Carolina defense. She started looking for her shot, knocking down her midrange jumper.
She almost single-handedly kept Stanford in the game after it got into a 13-point hole early.
“Even though we were down, she was playing so well,” Thompson said. “She’s our point guard. We’re going to follow her. She kind of kept us in it until everyone got going.”
Then, instead of forcing the ball into Ogwumike, Ruef and Samuelson started taking those open 3s North Carolina begged them to hoist. They made 6 of 12 combined, sending North Carolina’s defense into a tizzy of confusion.
On the defensive end, Thompson matched the intensity and peskiness of the Tar Heels formidable guard crop. She forced Diamond DeShields, the best freshman in the country, to rush her shots and settle for difficult jumpers. DeShields — daughter of longtime major leaguer Delino DeShields — missed 10 of her 15 shots.
Orrange was also aggressive on the perimeter. Alisha Gray, DeShields’ sharpshooting backcourt mate, was 2 of 5 in the second half after not even touching the rim en route to 15 first-half points.
Midway through the second half, the pace, the floor spacing and the aggressiveness favored Stanford. The Cardinal turned an eight-point deficit early in the second half into a six-point advantage. And it did it by making Ogwumike kind of an afterthought and going right back at the Tar Heels.
–Marcus Thompson II, Bay Area News Group
Mike Montgomery tried extremely hard to keep up the act. You know, the Mike Montgomery act.
“I guess some people really did want me to retire,” he wisecracked at the podium after being introduced to assembled reporters and Cal staff members Monday. “They clapped when I walked into the room.”
Montgomery then proceeded to reel off sharp-edged jabs at reporters, certain Cal employees and himself as he explained why he had decided to leave the college basketball coaching racket at age 67, after 31 winning seasons and just one that ended with a losing record. He was rolling along with his patented snark until he looked up and saw his wife, Sarah, in the third row of chairs.
“I will say this,” Montgomery said at a podium inside Haas Pavilion. “Don’t ever marry a coach … ”
At that, his voice caught and he paused to collect himself. He blinked a few times, bowed his head and paused before resuming. The same thing happened when he mentioned how much he had appreciated Cal allowing him to coach alongside his son, John, who served as one of his assistants.
The leak of emotion showed how much, beneath his cynical surface, Montgomery really was feeling sentimental about leaving his profession.
“I could do it some more,” he said. “I could. But it’s time. I feel like we’ve got the program in a good place. It’s time for a younger person to put in all the time and energy it takes to do this job.”
If college sports were bigger in the Bay Area, which is chiefly a pro market, perhaps more people would have appreciated the work Montgomery did during all those hours. Not that he was unappreciated. But during each of those winning seasons at Stanford (where he worked from 1986-2004) and at Cal (where he coached from 2008-14), the general viewpoint from the average Northern California sports fan was: Yup, Monty’s got another pretty good team. Not a surprise. Now, when’s the NFL draft?
The shrugs were partially understandable because Montgomery was so consistent in his success. But it wasn’t easy.
There was a lot of heavy lifting involved at Stanford, where Montgomery performed a culture transplant at a place where many were convinced basketball might never succeed in a big way–and coached the school to four conference championships, 12 NCAA tournament trips and one Final Four.
There was similar heavy lifting at Cal, where Montgomery coached the Bears to their first conference title since 1960. He is unquestionably the most successful Bay Area men’s college coach of the past 50 years.
His last game was a loss in the National Invitation Tournament at SMU last week. Montgomery still wasn’t 100 percent certain he’d retire as he walked off the floor. He’d thought about it the past few years, after feeling so drained following each season. But after a few days of reflection, he always decided to re-enlist.
Last weekend, the reflection yielded a different decision. Montgomery said his health is fine. He underwent surgery for bladder cancer in 2011 with a successful outcome. And there was certainly no pressure to resign from Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour, who had hoped Montgomery would stay.
In fact, those circumstances may instead explain Montgomery’s choice. Chief among his goals was to retire on his own terms. He didn’t want to be pushed out by angry alums, or scandal, or a string of lousy seasons or health issues.
Something else: Montgomery very much did not want his final seasons as a head coach to be the ones he spent with the Golden State Warriors, which were an undeniable flop. He took that job in 2004 to scratch his NBA itch but was fired after two years. After doing some television commentary for awhile, he showed interest in the Cal job when it opened up and Barbour quickly made the hire. Montgomery can now admit he needed the gig.
“It was my wife who told me she’d thought I had lost a lot of my confidence,” Montgomery confessed about those post-Warriors years. “You know, confidence is a big thing, for everyone, coaches included. I guess I would have felt bad if the last thing I did was that, the Warriors. I probably think I was a little ill-suited for that … It was pretty important to get back and feel good about something. And I appreciate the University of California for allowing me to do that.”
There was a time, Montgomery said, when he was driven to prove he could be the best coach ever. But growing older, he downgraded that obsession to merely become one of the better coaches in his era. Ultimately, last week, he decided it would be just fine to be remembered as the Pac-12’s third most winning coach of all time, behind John Wooden and Lute Olson. And that’s exactly what the numbers show Montgomery to be.
–Mark Purdy, Bay Area News Group
Only the hopelessly optimistic fans can see the Giants as serious postseason contenders this year. Finishing at .500 may even be an unreasonable goal.
Pitching has been the secret to the Giants’ two World Series championships, but this year’s staff is one big question mark. Madison Bumgarner is the one bright spot, probably the second-best left-hander in the National League. Of course, No. 1 is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, this generation’s Sandy Koufax, so the gap is a considerable one.
Behind Bumgarner, manager Bruce Bochy is counting on veterans who are all coming off bad years or injuries: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Hudson.
Of that group, the only one I think will bounce back is Cain, who suffered last year from pitching so many innings under intense pressure in the 2012 postseason.
Otherwise, Lincecum has to adjust with his fastball velocity down from what it was early in his career. He has to rely on his other pitches. Occasionally, he’s shown signs he can do that, but mostly, he’s been lit up.
Ryan Vogelsong was a feel-good story when his long odyssey brought him back to the Giants, the team which had first drafted him, and he won a combined 27 games in 2011-12. But last year, he was injured and ineffective when he came back. I don’t think there will be another chapter in his comeback story.
Tim Hudson has had a great career with the A’s and Atlanta Braves, but he will be 39 in July and he’s coming off a fractured ankle in July of last season. Hudson can probably help younger pitchers, especially Lincecum, with his advice. Just don’t expect the Hudson you may have seen when he was with the A’s to surface with the Giants this year.
The Giants have a strong and deep bullpen. Unfortunately, they’re going to be called on very early in games not pitched by Bumgarner or Cain. The only good news is that Barry Zito is finally gone. He’s said he’s taking a year off, which is code for “nobody wants me.”
The Marco Scutaro story has dominated spring training news. He’s on the disabled list, but is eligible to return shortly, though that seems very unlikely. Realistically, his career could very well be over.
It’s Freddy Sanchez all over again.
The Giants have no replacement for Scutaro, who is truly the thinking man’s ballplayer. He positions himself perfectly in the field and his bat control is extraordinary, making him a perfect if the Giants want to try a hit-and-run.
Joaquin Arias may get most of the starts at second base and he’s a slick fielder, but lacks Scutaro’s bat control. He’s also one of those players who looks good in short stints but flames out as a starter.
–Glenn Dickey, San Francisco Examiner