September 09, 2008

Lynx vs. Monarchs

Story: Judy Richter
Photos: Don Anderson & Dave Cortesi

It could have been called Stanford night Sept. 7 when the Sacramento Monarchs hosted and defeated the Minnesota Lynx 78-71 as the WNBA entered its last week of competition.

In the stands at Arco Arena were 126 Fast Break Club members plus other Stanford women’s basketball fans who had journeyed to Sacramento on a hot Sunday afternoon to watch two of the program’s most illustrious alumnae -- forward Nicole Powell, ’04, of the Monarchs and guard Candice Wiggins, ’08, of the Lynx.

Seated on the sidelines across from the Stanford section were coach Tara VanDerveer and junior center Jayne Appel. They both watched the game closely and appeared to comment on it with each other.

The game also had an Olympics flavor with two players from this year’s gold medal-winning USA team -- guard Kara Lawson of the Monarchs and forward Seimone Augustus of the Lynx. VanDerveer, who was introduced to the crowd, added to the Olympics flavor, having coached the USA team to a gold medal in 1996.

“She’s the best coach in the world,” said Ruthie Bolton, a member of that USA team as well as the 2000 gold medal team. A former Monarchs player, she now works for the Monarchs’ organization. She was speaking to the FBC at a dinner in the arena preceding the game. Citing some gems of VanDerveer’s advice, Bolton added, “She’s an amazing person who really helped me a lot.”

Bolton also had some good words about Wiggins: “She plays every possession like it’s the last.”

FBC member Otis Watson arranged the event with the Monarchs after he and others realized that the game would be the only time the two teams would meet within a reasonable distance of the Bay Area.

Besides the short talk by Bolton, the pregame dinner featured a raffle for Lynx and Monarchs items signed by their respective Stanford grads.

The menu included hot dogs with the usual trimmings, chicken tenders, cookies, popcorn and soft drinks – not even a salad to appease vegetarians.

Although I have watched WNBA games on TV, this was my first in person. Here’s part of my notes: “LOUD, LOUD.” Luckily I had earplugs, which I carry in my purse to protect my hearing at some musical theater productions, but I felt sorry for other fans. I also wondered about the effect on the players and coaches who have to endure the din game after game. Not only is there loud music during timeouts, but the beat continues during the game itself and distracts from the action. We can only hope that college venues don’t follow suit.

As for the game itself, veteran Powell is a starter for the Monarchs, but rookie Wiggins traditionally comes off the bench fairly early in the game, then plays significant minutes thereafter. This one was no exception. She entered the game with 4:53 left in the first quarter – much to the delight of the Stanford contingent. Her first basket was negated by an offensive foul on a teammate. The first quarter ended 20-13 in the Monarchs’ favor.

The first Wiggins basket that counted came in the second quarter, when she made one of her patented drives between defenders. Defensively, she focused mainly on Lawson.

The half ended with the Monarchs again on top 36-32. By then Powell had scored nine points.

Both Wiggins and Powell made significant contributions in the second half. Powell ended as the game’s high scorer with 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 27.56 minutes. Wiggins contributed 13 points and three assists in 31.37 minutes. The final score was 78-71 in the Monarchs’ favor, knocking the Lynx out of playoff contention in the WNBA’s western division but keeping the Monarchs’ hopes alive for the fourth and final spot in the division.

After the game, Stanford fans returned to the reception area to await a visit by Powell, who was delayed by the demand for interviews after her game-leading performance. Wiggins couldn’t make it because the Lynx had to leave right after the game and travel to San Francisco for a red-eye flight. (Unlike the Stanford team, which usually enjoys charter flights, WNBA teams fly commercial.)

As the crowd dwindled, Powell finally arrived. “Before there was Candice Wiggins, there was Nicole Powell,” Watson said in his introduction. Powell answered a few audience questions, speaking fondly of her Stanford experience. She then noted that she and another Stanford alum, center Kristin Newlin, ’07, will be teammates on a Turkish team in Istanbul during the offseason.

Next up for the FBC: the Sept. 14 wine tasting in Palo Alto.

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