Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 23, 2012

Stanford freshman guard is as good as gold

Cardinal coach VanDerveer says Amber Orrange compares favorably with 1996 Olympian Dawn Staley

by Rick Eymer

Stanford freshman point guard Amber Orrange received Tara VanDerveer's highest compliment yet. Her coach called her "the closest I've ever had to Dawn."

VanDerveer was speaking of South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who was the point guard for the 1996 Olympic gold medal team coached by VanDerveer, a team that won all 60 games they played during the 1995-96 season.

Orrange will get an up close look at Staley on Saturday when second-ranked Stanford (33-1) meets the 25th-ranked Gamecocks (25-9) at the Save Mart Center in Fresno in the NCAA Regional semifinals at 8:30 p.m.

"Dawn is incredibly competitive," VanDerveer said. "She was in the same vein as Amber. She was a great point guard and a winner."

Orrange was spectacular in Stanford's 72-55 victory over West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA tournament Monday, scoring a career-high 18 points, grabbing a career-best seven rebounds, recording five assists and a steal, and did not turn the ball over.

Orrange had a career-high 11 assists in the Cardinal's 73-51 opening-round win over Hampton.

"I think you're starting to see more of Amber," Stanford sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike said. "She is the quietest person on the team and her game is speaking volumes. You can see her evolving and see her personality expanding and we all really enjoy that."

Orrange was thrown into Stanford's starting lineup five games into the Pac-12 Conference schedule. The Cardinal had just survived a scare from Oregon State and was still smarting from the loss of freshman guard Jasmine Camp to a stress fracture.

"She has a great skill set and every freshman point guard goes through an adjustment period," VanDerveer said. "I sat down with Amber and told her 'I can't wait for you to be a sophomore. We need you to step up and you're in the starting lineup whether you are ready or not.' She's shown the bigger the stage, the better she plays. I guess that's better than the other way around."

Orrange, regarded as one of the top-rated guards in the country while in high school, had her own point of view.

"I didn't think I was ready but I had no choice," Orrange said. "Even with all the mistakes I just wanted to play as hard as I could. There were games where I did not have my head in it. I learned from those games to keep things steady."

Orrange gives Stanford an added dimension with her ability to spilt defenses, set up her teammates and crash the boards.

"The whole freshmen class has allowed us to expand our game," Ogwumike said. "We can play free, just play basketball. We have fun on every play."

As Orrange developed into a steady point guard. VanDerveer changed the offense to fit her skills, giving the Cardinal an added bonus of setting a fast tempo.

"I played that way a lot in high school," Orrange said. "Every time I can push it in transition, it helps me get easy baskets. The offense allows me to take advantage of that."

Ogwumike and Orrange played against each other for almost 10 years. They are both from the Houston area and both were stars on their respective AAU teams.

"I saw her play a lot," Ogwumike said. "I feel like Amber's confidence has grown. She believed in passing first, so this is progress for her. I always tell her not to be afraid of getting her shot blocked. We're there to get the rebound. I'd like to see her take about 10 shots a game."

Orrange, who has a 1.94-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, took a season-high 14 shots against the Mountaineers. She had not attempted more than nine shots in any of her 33 previous games.

"I think what we are seeing is something," VanDerveer said. "What Amber did against West Virginia, she was on the road to a triple-double. She was the player of the game."

For the first two NCAA games, Orrange scored 25 points on 56 percent shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and recorded 16 assists. She actually outscored Chiney Ogwumike and matched her in rebounds. Those are the kind of supporting statistics that could lead to a berth in the Final Four.

Junior forward Joslyn Tinkle was also inserted into the starting lineup with Orrange and has been a force inside. She also had 25 points and 12 rebounds in the first two NCAA contests.

Stanford, winners of a school-record 30 straight, is two wins away from its fifth consecutive Final Four, but VanDerveer said it won't be easy.

"They are a very good defensive team," she said of South Carolina. "Dawn does an excellent job. I'm feeling some extra pressure playing against her. I loved coaching her and I'm proud of her. I wish they were playing someone else so I could root for her."

NOTES: VanDerveer on Thursday was named a finalist for the Russell Athletic/WBCA Division I Coach of the Year Award. VanDerveer is one of eight finalists, along with Tom Collen (Arkansas), Brenda Frese (Maryland), Muffet McGraw (Notre Dame), Curt Miller (Bowling Green), Kim Mulkey (Baylor), Reagan Pebley (Utah State) and Coquese Washington (Penn State). VanDerveer has won this honor twice previously, first in 1989 and most recently in 2011.

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