It is late February, and that can mean only one thing in women's college basketball: Stanford is once again running away with the Pac-12 conference.
Coach Tara Vanderveer's Cardinal is ranked second and headed for a 25th straight NCAA tournament berth. Stanford has been a fixture at recent Final Fours, with four straight appearances.
Alas, all the Cardinal have to show for those Final Four visits is a series of agonizing defeats in the semifinal and title games.
Forget the past. Want some superlatives on this year's team? The Cardinal are ranked second nationally and have demolished the Pac-12 en route to a 17-0 conference record and their 12th straight conference title.
Stanford has a 26-1 overall record, marred only by a loss last November to UConn in Hartford.
The Cardinal look to make it five Final Fours in a row beginning next month. They have the nation’s longest home court win streak as they steamrolled conference newcomers Colorado and Utah by 22 and 27 points, respectively, to extend their winning streak at Maples Pavilion to a gaudy 74 games.
The Feb. 25 Senior Day win over an outmatched Utah team, the 700th W of Coach Vanderveer’s illustrious career, was typical of this season for Stanford. The Cardinal raced out to an early 15-4 lead, led by a comfortable 31-9 late in the first half and coasted to a 69-42 victory.
The amazing Ogwumike sisters, Nneka and Chiney, again led the way. Nneka, a 6’2” senior forward, had 15 points, giving her 2,245 for her career, second all-time at Stanford behind Candice Wiggins. Nneka added seven rebounds and five blocks against the Utes.
Little sister Chiney, a 6’3” sophomore and—like her sister—a former Gatorade National High School Player of the Year, was highest in points with 16 and pulled down 12 boards. Junior forward Joslyn Tinkle and freshman guard Amber Orrange added 12 points apiece.
For the season, both of the Ogwumikes have averaged a double-double, with Nneka checking in with nearly 22 points and 11 rebounds per game, while Chiney has averaged 16 and 10.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal have limited opponents to under 55 points and 34 rebounds a game.
Which means, if the sisters hit their scoring averages, then all of their teammates combined need only score a total of 17 points for Stanford to win.
Luckily for Coach Vanderveer, the teammates have been doing much more than that, as the Cardinal are averaging nearly 78 ppg and have barely missed a beat despite losing stars Kayla Pedersen and Jeannette Pohlen from last year’s team.
Sophomore point guard Toni Kokenis has 100 dimes and only 43 TOs, for a sparkling assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4.
How will Stanford do in the NCAA tourney?
A pair of 6’3” freshman forwards, Bonnie “the Bomber” Samuelson and Taylor Greenfield, have led the team in three-point shooting.
Samuelson has 33 treys and an NBA-like 36 percent accuracy beyond the arc, while Greenfield has 28 threes, at an even better 39 percent clip.
All of which bodes well for yet another deep NCAA tournament run.
It’s been 20 years since Vanderveer and Stanford last won the NCAA title. This year’s team will face a deep and talented field, but could make it all the way to Denver and maybe finally win the elusive NCAA title if the Ogwumike sisters keep playing out of their minds and their teammates continue to contribute.
Oh, and even though Nneka graduates after this season, no worries. There are two younger Ogwumike sisters, still in high school in Texas. Can you say p-i-p-e-l-i-n-e?