Chiney Ogwumike’s performance spoke volumes Saturday against third-ranked Tennessee, but it was a clutch play from soft-spoken point guard Amber Orrange that made the loudest impact on Stanford’s 76-70 victory at Maples Pavilion.
Tennessee (10-1) put together a 9-0 run to narrow what had been a 70-59 Stanford lead to just two with 1:03 to play, but Orrange responded with a driving layup that drew a foul and resulted in a three-point play which put the Cardinal up 73-68 with 28 seconds to go, effectively icing the game.
Orrange finished the game with nine points and five assists, many of those passes setting up Ogwumike, who scored 32 points and pulled down a season-high 20 rebounds to pace the Cardinal (10-1). Four Tennessee players scored in double digits, led by Ariel Massengale’s 17 points while Meighan Simmons added 15, Bashaara Graves 14 and Isabelle Harrison 10 to go with 13 rebounds.
“This was a really big win, a great game by both teams. This game really boiled down to [us having] Chiney. I can’t imagine that there’s a better player in the country. She is just a warrior,” said Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women’s Basketball Tara VanDerveer.
Ogwumike set the tone right away Saturday, scoring Stanford’s first six points and eight of its first 13 as the Cardinal answered Tennessee’s opening four points with 13 to force a timeout. The national player of the year candidate solidified her case by posting a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds in the first half, then continuing to score at will inside to keep the Cardinal out in front over the final 20 minutes.
“[The game] was officiated very well. It was a competitive basketball game, people were attacking the rim,” Ogwumike said afterwards. “It was physical, but in the way that basketball should be. I’ll take those games, they allow you to be aggressive.”
Taylor Greenfield, playing just her third game since returning to action from a foot injury Dec. 14, hit a trio of 3-pointers in the half as the Cardinal continually held off Tennessee rallies. The biggest of those triples came after Tennessee pulled to within five on a three-point play from Graves with 13 seconds to go, as Greenfield, who scored a season-high 11 points in the game, cashed in from the corner to beat the buzzer and give Stanford a 37-29 lead heading into the break.
“Taylor’s threes were huge for us, we’ve really missed her,” VanDerveer said. “We’ve been searching for a ‘3’ player that can knock down the threes, and Taylor’s been out.”
Freshman guard Lili Thompson also supplied three triples as she scored a season-high 14 points. She hit one early in the second half to give Stanford a 44-33 lead with 17:34 to play, then hit her third six minutes later to get the Cardinal back ahead by double digits at 54-44.
“Lili’s threes were huge. She played with tremendous confidence and took care of the ball,” VanDerveer said. “We’re not winning without Lili’s great play. Lili’s not a freshman for us. She’s very poised, made big shots, made great defensive plays.”
Tennessee, however, would not go down without a fight. After Mikaela Ruef hit a pair of free throws to get the Cardinal in front by 11 at 70-59 with 4:32 to play, the Lady Vols began to press the attack. The Lady Vols held the Cardinal without a field goal for a span of 4:26 while making its nine-point run that cut the Cardinal lead to two and force a timeout. But the Cardinal would remain poised, and following Orrange’s crucial three-point play, the defense made a pair of stops while Ruef and Ogwumike added free throws to make it 76-68 with six seconds to play.
“Coach always says ‘don’t get too high on the highs or too low on the lows,’” Ogwumike noted. “The game was getting close, but so did the last game at Tennessee. We just had to stick to what we knew. Coach was calling a great game plan, so we just needed to trust the offense, trust the system, and everything would end up alright. And we have Amber Orrange, which helps, too.”The Cardinal takes a seven-day break for the holiday before returning to action next Saturday, Dec. 28 for its non-conference finale at Fresno State.