- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every Monday of the women's college basketball season.
The evidence was in long ago: Chiney Ogwumike has a number of talents.
Rebounding has long been near the top of that list. Listening might be a close second. Put those two together in one of the biggest games of the season and you get a performance for the ages from one of the most consistent players the game has ever seen.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer called for her team to give a special effort on the glass against one of the nation's best in that department -- Tennessee -- coming to Maples Pavilion on Saturday. Rebounding has always been one of the Lady Vols' biggest strengths, and Stanford would need to combat that in the clash between top-10 teams.
Ogwumike heard her coach loud and clear, executing the command to near individual perfection. She grabbed a season-high 20 boards to go along with 32 points, marking the first 30-20 game of her already outstanding career. Thanks largely to that performance, the No. 6 Cardinal became the first team to beat the third-ranked Lady Vols (76-70) this season, and Ogwumike is the unanimous recipient of espnW's national player of the week honors.
Stanford also became the first team all season to outrebound Tennessee (43-40), which had been on the plus side in that area by 15 per game coming into Saturday. Ogwumike did nearly half the damage; 11 of her 20 rebounds came on the offensive glass, keeping possessions alive for the Cardinal and helping Ogwumike hit 15 field goals, which tied her career high.
In fact, the All-American had secured her seventh double-double of the season by halftime (18 and 11) after scoring eight points in an early 13-0 Stanford run that established the tenor of the game, which resulted in the Cardinal's third straight win over Tennessee. In the past two, Ogwumike snared a combined 39 boards against one of the biggest, deepest and most athletic frontcourts in the country.
Since losing to UConn on Nov. 11, Stanford has won nine consecutive games.
Monday's performance against New Mexico might have merely been a warm-up for the collision with Tennessee, but it was nearly as impressive. Ogwumike had 32 points and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes. In that 75-41 rout of the Lobos, Ogwumike also became the eighth Cardinal player to surpass 2,000 career points.
That is just one of a number of milestones she is about to pick off. By the time Stanford is into Pac-12 play the first weekend of the new year, Ogwumike will likely have passed Nicole Powell and Val Whiting to climb to fifth on the all-time Stanford scoring list. But as those numbers against Tennessee on Saturday indicate, rebounding is her specialty. Ogwumike is just 19 boards away from passing former teammate Kayla Pedersen as the best rebounder in Stanford and Pac-12 history.
With Stanford younger than usual, Ogwumike has carried a heavy burden in the first part of the season -- probably heavier than that of the other top players in the nation -- and she has been up to the challenge. She has led the Cardinal in scoring in 10 of their 11 games and is averaging 26.3 points and 11.5 rebounds while shooting 62.2 percent from the field.
But not only was this one of the best weeks in Ogwumike's career, Saturday offered a view into the growth of her teammates. She got some significant help from juniors Amber Orrange and Taylor Greenfield, and freshman Lili Thompson has come on of late. That kind of assistance wasn't there when Stanford was dominated by Connecticut, but thanks largely to Ogwumike, the Cardinal are one game away from surviving the nonconference season with just that one loss.
Saturday's win was the highlight, a potential game-changer come NCAA tournament selection time.
20dBonnie D. Ford