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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Ogwumike's supporting cast have come long way for Stanford

Mikaela Ruef, Lili Thompson and Bonnie Samuelson have played
key roles during Stanford's run to the Final Four
Geno Auriemma said it feels like 12 months have elapsed since that mid-November game between UConn and Stanford.

For many of the Stanford players, it seems as if they have aged about 10 basketball years since that game which was won easily by the Huskies.

“I think that seniors definitely feel a different sense of urgency,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Obviously, Chiney's been playing just incredibly well all season long. But between Sara James and Chiney and Mikaela (Ruef), I think that we have great leadership with our seniors. They're going into it, I think, with like really two good things in their mind. First of all, they've been there before, so they know what to expect. We didn't go last year I think people are very hungry.”

The only time this season that Ruef scored in double figures in back to back games came in the last two contests as she averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds in wins over Penn State and North Carolina in the regional hosted by the Cardinal.

Bonnie Samuelson, who had only two points in the November meeting with the Huskies, has averaged 12 points per game during the NCAA tournament while Amber Orrange is contributing 12.3 points per game in the tournament and Ruef contributed 10 points and 8.8 rebounds. However, no player has made more of a jump since the beginning of the season as freshman Lili Thompson who has been in double digits in the scoring column in each of the last six games.

While Orrange had 22 points and Ogwumike 16 in a 76-57 loss to UConn on Nov. 11, the quartet of James, Ruef, Samuelson and Ruef combined for just 15 points. UConn coach Geno Auriemma is expecting to see much more from Stanford’s role players when the teams meet on Sunday in the national semifinals.

 “I think early in the year you're trying to fit all the pieces together,” Auriemma said. “I think there was an inordinate amount of the load placed on Chiney, and maybe rightly so, because the kid can carry her whole team for a whole season if she has to. But based on what I saw (in the regional final against North Carolina) they seem to be much more well-rounded in terms of other people are doing more things. You saw players step up and make big plays. It wasn't just let's stand around and watch Chiney. That means their team has grown, their team has evolved. They're certainly experienced enough. It's not like they're playing four freshmen and Chiney, so they've got people around here. If anybody thinks we're going to play the same Stanford team that we played in November, they're kidding.”

While her teammates have raised the level of their play, Ogwumike has continued to produce like the national player of the year candidate that she is. Ogwumike is averaging 23.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in four NCAA tournament games to lead the Cardinal to the Final Four for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

“If Stanford wants to just rely on Chiney, they're a really, really, really good team, just by she doing what she does,” Auriemma said. “She's so good at scoring the ball, rebounding the ball, playing defense, running the floor. She's a great emotional leader. But I don't think that's enough to win a national championship.

“What I think has happened is Ruef has become, I think, a much, much better complement to Chiney. Amber has become much a more aggressive offensive player, much more consistent offensive player. Watching last night the kids on the perimeter, Bonnie Samuelson and Karlie (Samuelson), they look very confident. They look they know that they're good and that they know that they can provide the other things that you need to win a championship, that it's not just let's put three guys on Chiney and let's see if Stanford can win. So I've been impressed watching them and how much their other players have evolved, and I think that's what's going to make the matchup, for anybody to play Stanford, a difficult one.”

Of course it is a two-way street as Auriemma pointed out that Moriah Jefferson is playing at a different level, especially with her offensive aggressiveness, than she did in the first Stanford game when the Cardinal players were instructed to back off of her and allow her to take open 3-pointers while Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis has played better during the NCAA tournament than at any other point in her collegiate career.

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