March 27, 2011
By Michelle Smith, GoStanford.com
SPOKANE , Wash. - "Ben-ergy". What a concept.
Last year, the Stanford men's volleyball team won an NCAA title and the Cardinal men came in last Thursday, as the women's basketball team prepared to depart for the NCAA Regional in Spokane to share the wisdom of their experience, their insight on what it takes to win it all.
The men talked about `Ben-ergy", loosely defined as a team's ability to gather momentum and contributions from the players who are outside of the starting lineup. The Stanford women might not have had a name for it, but the Cardinal have already embraced the concept.
As Stanford prepares for Monday night's game against No. 11 seed Gonzaga at Spokane Arena, a trip to the Final Four at stake, the Cardinal are getting valuable minutes off their bench, minutes that will likely determine whether a fourth straight trip to the Final Four is in the offing.
The Cardinal has eight players on their roster averaging more than 14 minutes a game. A tenth, sophomore Mikaela Ruef, is on the verge of double-digit minutes at 9.9 minutes a game.
Stanford's bench has outscored the opposing bench in 23 of 34 games this season and in both games of the Pac-10 Tournament and the first three games of the NCAA Tournament.
Opposing teams talk often about "the waves" of big, talented Stanford players that come at them, and often, wear them down.
"I think we've had a tremendous amount of help coming off the bench, people really coming in and making big plays or having great games and it gives us a spark," said Cardinal senior guard Jeanette Pohlen. "I think it helps our team a lot knowing that we have people who can come in and really contribute."
Sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle is one of those players.
Saturday night against North Carolina, a nip-and-tuck game in which the biggest lead by either team was a mere seven points, Tinkle played just eight minutes.
But she had seven points, hitting three shots, including a big second-half 3-pointer.
"We feel like it's just so important, whenever the time may come, to go in there," Tinkle said. "To get where we want to be, it needs to be everybody coming in and contributing. For me, it's coming in, and getting my team excited."
Fellow sophomore Mikaela Ruef has also come up with some key minutes in the postseason. Ruef played 22 minutes against St. John's in the second round and finished with five points, four rebounds and four assists. Ruef has impressed as a rebounder and a strong passer, particularly when getting the ball inside to Stanford's post players.
"With our bench, Tara always tells us `Do what you're good at and know your role'," Ruef said. "So I think we are going at knowing what we are good at and what we need to do when we come into games. I think this year our bench is really comfortable with our roles."
Senior Kayla Pedersen is grateful for the waves of talent that check in at the scorer's table.
"People are hitting open shots, Jos comes in and is posting up down low. Mikaela, her passing is incredible," Pedersen said. "They are playing their roles extremely well. Nobody is trying to force things and defensively, people know the scouting report and they know what to do. It's crucial for us."
Meanwhile, freshman guard Toni Kokenis has become the team's adjunct starter.
She's often the first player off the bench and she's become an offensive key. Coming back on Saturday night against North Carolina after suffering an ankle sprain the previous week against St. John's, Kokenis scored nine points and played 28 minutes.
She also played tough perimeter defense against the Tar Heels' quick guards.
"Toni is as much of a starter as any of the five," VanDerveer said. "I'm really excited for Joslyn, how well she came in and knocked down some big shots for us. Mikaela came in and rebounded. Sarah Boothe didn't score (against North Carolina), but I thought she had a really good presence on the court and last night was a physical game.
"I really feel comfortable with five people right now coming off the bench."
And that depth, as a team goes farther into the tournament, can end up being a very important thing.
"You can't depend on five people to play the whole game, make all the points, make all the stops," Pohlen said. "We don't. And that's kind of something that's special about our team."