Although Stanford's 75-66 victory over the USC women at Maples Pavilion on Sunday provided evidence that Sara James can give the Cardinal some extra offense and that Joslyn Tinkle can produce a much needed outside threat, the game had to be a concern for coach Tara VanDerveer in some ways.
The victory kept the Cardinal (16-5, 5-1) tied atop the Pac-12 standings with Cal, which knocked off UCLA on Sunday to push the two Los Angeles schools out of the top spots they occupied before coming to the Bay Area.
Stanford and Cal both swept UCLA and USC, and are again ranked No. 6 and 7, respectively, in this week's Associated Press poll released Monday. And for the first three-quarters of Sunday's game, the Cardinal played the way it wanted to play against the Trojans (7-10, 4-2).
The Cardinal led by 13 points at halftime, and pushed the margin to 19 with 12:47 left in the game. Typically, Stanford will squeeze the life out of opponents in that situation, especially at home.
But the Cardinal suddenly lost its way, as Trojans players drove through Stanford's defense like it wasn't there, beating Cardinal defenders off the dribble frequently. Stanford finally went to a zone defense to cut down the penetration, but that did not prevent the Trojans from cutting into the lead further.
USC got as close as five points at 66-61 with 2:42 left, at which point VanDerveer called a timeout.
"We got a little too sloppy," VanDerveer said.
The remedy was to get the ball to Chiney Ogwumike on Stanford's next two possessions and she delivered each time, as she finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds.
And when Amber Orrange drove all the way to the basket for a layup with 1:07 to go, the Cardinal had a safe 10-point lead again.
Those final 12 minutes were not a thing of beauty as far as Stanford was concerned, as it let a blowout win turn into a nervous victory.
James helped put the Cardinal in position for an easy win with her offense. She made her second straight start and third of the season, and came up with 13 points on Sunday. She's likely to stay in the starting lineup in place of Mikaela Ruef in the upcoming home games against Utah (on Friday) and Colorado (next Sunday). The Buffaloes (15-2) are back up to No. 20 in this week's AP poll.
Tinkle has suddenly developed a hot hand from long range and was perfect from behind the three-point line against the L.A. schools. After going 4-for-4 on three-pointers against UCLA, she went 3-for-3 from long range against USC while collecting 15 points. This comes immediately after Tinkle had gone 0-for-5 on three-pointers in the two games against Cal. Outside shooting is one of Stanford biggest weaknesses, and if Tinkle can continue to hit from the perimeter, it will be a significant factor for the Cardinal, especially since she is doing it from a power forward spot with the Cardinal using a three-guard lineup now.
Meanwhile, Toni Kokenis did not seem to be herself this weekend. She is wearing a brace on her knee and has missed playing time this season because of an unspecified health issue. She was 1-for-8 from the field while scoring five points on Sunday after going 1-for-7 and scoring six points in Friday's victory over UCLA.
Ogwumike continues to play at an extremely high level. She scored 23 of her 29 points in the second half on Sunday, and when things started to get desperate as USC was making its run, the Cardinal reclaimed command by getting the ball to Ogwumike, who consistently makes the right play.
She ranks ninth in the country in scoring at 22.0 a game and eighth in rebounding, averaging 11.9. Her 57.6 shooting percentage ranks 12th in the nation.