Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - December 28, 2012

It's more than just No. 1 vs. 2

UConn at Stanford women features a showdown of 'frenemies'

by Rick Eymer

Chiney Ogwumike and Bria Hartley share a friendship that transcends basketball. They've worn the same USA uniform and played together for various U.S. Junior National teams in addition to playing against each other in AAU and college competition.

When the two junior All-American players take the court Saturday for No. 1 Stanford's nonconference game with No. 2 Connecticut at Maples Pavilion, Ogwumike said they will be "frenemies."

For the third time in the past four years, Stanford (11-0) and Connecticut (10-0) meet as the top two teams in the country. The game, to be televised on ESPNU at 1 p.m., has been sold out for over a week.

Stanford remained undefeated thanks to last Saturday's 73-60 win at Tennessee, in which Ogwumike scored 21 points and grabbed 19 rebounds and earned the Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.

The Cardinal men (8-4) also play Saturday, hosting Lafayette (5-9) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets remain available for the nightcap, which will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

"Bria is one of my closest friends in life," Ogwumike said Thursday. "We've played the same AAU Nike circuit and developed a friendly rivalry. With USA, I always competed with her and always had so much fun."

Being in the same recruiting class, they often spoke with each other during the process. They thought they might play together before deciding on their respective schools.

"We talked about how great it would be to play together," Ogwumike said. "We have different interests, of course. We're friends everywhere except on the basketball court when we play each other. That's when we're best frenemies."

Hartley said that once they step on the court, it's all about winning.

"We're both competitive," she said. "Before and after the game we'll still talk and laugh."

There's plenty at stake when two of the women's heavyweights square off beside the No. 1 ranking. Two years ago Stanford snapped the Huskies' NCAA-record 90-game winning streak with a 71-57 victory at Maples Pavilion.

"Any loss is frustrating and that one stuck with us," Huskies' senior guard Kelly Faris said. "We all thought we were unstoppable and that opened our eyes. I want to leave here with a different feeling and a lot better record."

The Cardinal brings an 82-game home winning streak into Saturday's contest, a streak that Connecticut would love to end. Stanford's last home loss was to Florida State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2007.

"To end their streak is not why we came out here," Faris said. "Sure, we want to win and the streak is in the back of our minds, but you just hope you learn from it. The whole streak thing — if you're focusing on that you're focusing on the wrong thing."

The Huskies are 13-3 in games featuring the nation's top two teams, including a 3-0 record against Stanford, all three when the Cardinal was ranked second.

Connecticut is 4-5 all-time against the No. 1 team, including 2-4 on the road. The Huskies have lost their last three games against the top-ranked team, including Stanford in 2005. They have not won on the road against a No. 1 team since 2004, at Tennessee.

Stanford is 6-7 in its all-time series with the Huskies, including 3-0 at Maples Pavilion. The Huskies also visited in 1988, 1993 (when ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo was playing for UConn) and 2010.

"We're not going to get on a plane and fly 3,000 miles just to play anybody," Huskies' coach Geno Auriemma said. "We're here to play Stanford. For the three freshmen and three sophomores who play a lot, this is an important game for them win or lose."

The Cardinal is 1-7 in games featuring the nation's top two teams, with its only win coming against Alabama in 1996 at Maples Pavilion. The Huskies represent the second time a No. 1 vs. No. 2 match-up will be held at Maples Pavilion.

"We're excited to get back at it," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "There couldn't be a better way to get it restarted than with UConn. The last time UConn played here, the word electric would describe it."

While Stanford plays well at home, Ogwumike said it would be a mistake to expect to win.

"You have to work to win," Ogwumike said. "Every year you get new players and the streak is different for them. For me it's like being back in a comfort zone here at home. It is sort of a relief to be at Maples."

The men's team is probably thinking the same thing. Stanford is 5-1 at home this year and is coming off its first true road win last Friday, a 70-68 victory at Northwestern.

Josh Huestis stepped up with a career-high 18 points and 12 rebounds in the victory, while walk-on freshman guard Robbie Lemons made his first career start and added 12 points, all on 3-pointers.

The emergence of Lemons gives the Cardinal a lot of depth in the backcourt, while Huestis' ability to fill in when Dwight Powell (8 points on 4 of 12 shooting and 6 rebounds) has a rare off night will also prove important as the season progresses.

Powell continues to lead the team in scoring with his 14.9 average. Chasson Randle, who leads the team with 41 assists, is next at 13.6. Huestis averages 9.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and leads the team with 30 blocked shots.

Lafayette is coming off a 75-60 loss to Minnesota, a team that also beat Stanford. The Leopards have three players who hail from Northern California.

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