Sunday, December 30, 2007

Men's Basketball vs Fresno State 12/29/2007

Stanford 55 Fresno State 48 Today was the last of our non-conference games and also the 10th last home game of my college career. It's really scary to think that there will only be 9 more games at Maples this year. With the expected reduced attendance due to the break, they wisely filled up much of the 6th Man Section with seats. I wonder whether that will be the case for the LA schools next week. There were many Fresno State fans in attendance. It was probably the best away showing we've had all year at Maples.

While we got the win today, it wasn't the best tune up for Pac-10 play. The optimistic side of me wants to say that we won't struggle as badly on offense as we did today (even against better defenses) and this game will motivate the players during practice over the next few days before UCLA. The pessimistic side of me is worried that we won't be able to get a split against the LA schools. While we played pretty good man defense for the most part, Mitch's guy blew by him with ease for several easy layups and dishes. I was surprised they didn't keep on giving him the ball. That being said, Mitch proved his worth as our point guard with many nice entry passes to Brook. He also had some nice steals and was able to bring the ball up and initiate the offense - something that both Drew and Kenny struggled with in their limited court time. I suspect we're going to see a lot of zone next week.

With Goods and Law struggling in the first half, thank goodness that Brook is back (and starting). He single-handedly kept us in the game in the first. I was surprised we didn't post him up more in the second half. If Fresno St was playing him differently, I didn't pick it up at all. In the first, Goods was cold and settled mainly for 3 pointers. It was nice to see him catch fire in the second and take the ball to the hoop. That step back shot of his is perfect for setting up a defender for the drive and I hope he takes it to the rack more. Law had lots of open looks but just couldn't convert. I'm sure everyone hopes he gets out of his funk soon. His stellar play in the post against UCLA last year was one of the main reasons we won.

Coming in as 20 point favourites, cold-shooting aside, we also struggled with turnovers and rebounding. The first half was turnover after turnover, many of the travelling variety. That's been a feature of the past two games. It doesn't lead to fast break points but definitely affects our offensive flow. We also didn't dominate the offensive boards as we are accustomed to (credit must go to Fresno St for doing a good job). Those are two key aspects for our success. Robin also needs to keep himself in the game by not picking up cheap fouls. Even though we have a deep bench and it's going to be interesting to see how Trent manages minutes, it's always nice to have at least one 7 footer in the game.

Today wasn't our finest game. In fact, it was probably one of our worst offensive performances at home this year. Hopefully, it'll only go up from here even when we face much better defenses. As I've said before, I wish we weren't playing the LA schools to kick off Pac-10 play. The students won't be back and it doesn't leave much room for error. But we are a veteran team and we definitely have the capability to beat both USC and UCLA, and for that matter every single Pac-10 team. Whatever happens these next 18 conference games, there will no longer be any ugly wins. It's going to be a fun ride and I can't wait.
~ Zhihao

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Men's Basketball vs Texas Tech 12/22/07

Stanford 62 Texas Tech 61 I got into Dallas on Thursday night and stayed with a friend while Albert drove down from Houston on game day. On Friday night, we were watching the Mavs-Clippers game which featured former Stanford point guard Brevin Knight. The commentators mentioned that they had met some of the Stanford players during the day. I wonder whether our team met up with Brevin at some point.

We met up with Albert at will call and picked up our 3 tickets. They were right behind the bench and probably the best seats we've had so far. There were quite a few Stanford fans in attendance and we saw a bunch of students from the Texas area. Kenny Brown apparently had a huge guest list for all his friends and family. I think one of our commits was present too. The Texas Tech band was right next to us. There was a fair amount of trash talking between our section and the band who played the same song over and over again. My favourite comment from them was "Way to be ranked" at the end of the game as the clock was running out. I'm not quite sure what they were going for. One of their cheerleaders also taunted us with her pom pom in the first half. It was all pretty entertaining.

It was good to see Fred back but slightly worrying when he played minimally in the first before coming out. I suspect it was because we wanted shooters on the floor since he played substantial minutes in the second and made a couple of his patented drives to the hole. He also grabbed some crucial offensive boards and was part of the great second half zone defense. We definitely need a healthy Fred for the Pac-10 season.

We started off the game well - moving the ball and getting some easy buckets. But then turnovers began to set in and Texas Tech got into the bonus as we picked up fouls. Brook wasn't able to get the ball in good position and struggled with his shot. He was visibly frustrated and committed an over the back foul which was his second of the half. When Robin picked up his second and had to sit, Texas Tech went on a run as our offense stagnated, Tech hit free throws and we didn't have a big man in the paint. Goods finally took it upon himself to drive to the hole to stem our offensive drought. Hopefully he'll do that more.

It was a pretty bad first half after a promising start. With Brook out of sorts, no one stepped up. We turned over the ball too much and didn't defend very well either. With our 3 point shot not falling, it was beginning to feel a lot like Siena. The only difference this time was that we had Brook and fortunately he stepped it up in the second. We started the second half with a Lopez, Lopez, Fred, Goods and Mitch lineup and played zone. Even though we gave up a bunch of offensive rebounds, our defense was excellent. We were also able to get the ball to Brook (who played all 20 minutes in the 2nd) in good position and he made some nifty moves on the baseline to either score or get fouled. It seemed like the few times we didn't get Brook a touch or at least swing the ball in his direction, we would miss. It was a complete role reversal of the first as we stayed out of foul trouble while playing solid defense and got into the bonus early.

We finally got back into the lead as Mitch hit a big 3 pointer (our only of the game) off a Fred offensive rebound and we managed to get some nice stops and hit key free throws - 2 by Robin when we were down two and 2 by Brook to put us up two. After Texas Tech missed a 3 that would have tied the game, we managed to put the game away. While the first half wasn't something to write home about, I liked the adjustments we made at half time and the zone that really stifled Tech in the second. I'm pretty confident that we'll see a lot of that in the future. With Fred back, our team is finally at full health (minus Prowitt who doesn't seem like he'll get much playing time anyway) and hopefully everyone can stay healthy and we'll have some time to gel on the court.

While our out of conference schedule hasn't been spectacular, it's given us a chance to work out some kinks. Texas Tech was a solid victory, as was UCSB at home. I'll take 11-1 (assuming we beat Fresno State) going into the UCLA and USC games. While the Pac-10 season is going to be competitive, if we can stay healthy, keep up the defensive intensity and take care of the ball, we can definitely do some damage. Go Card!
~ Zhihao
Since it's been so long since I've posted, I decided to add some of my thoughts on the game. I was unfortunately not in Dallas, as I will be heading to Texas on the 30th (after Fresno State but back morning of the 3rd for UCLA), but watched the game at the Old Pro with maybe 10 other Stanford fans (although 6 of them were not watching the game as much as chatting but would cheer every once in a while). It was frustrating to listen to the tip-off in my car and then get to the bar and have the football game on ESPN2 not over yet. It finally got started about three minutes later with the score already at 10-9. Despite only having two points in the half, Brook's presence on the floor was clearly essential to our team's 7 point lead in the first ten minutes. Most notable was our final field goal before going on a nearly 6 minute drought, when we got the ball to Brook in the paint, drawing not two but three defenders and leaving Taj open under the net for the easy layup. I hope we see some more of that in conference play, especially once Law returns to his usual playmaking-self. We have a lot of guys who should be able to take advantage of the double-team, and I think with Brook back there is a lot more potential, because he has shown that he is really capable of taking care of the ball under pressure.

Without the Lopi on the court, how were we possibly going to keep the game going? It says something about the improvement of our offense over last year- we are actually using the post in order to make plays, instead of swinging the ball eleven times until Fred or Anthony drives in or someone finds an open jumper. However, with Brook not scoring and the threes just not falling, followed by Brook sitting on the bench, the 21-8 run was not at all surprising, and really disappointing heading into halftime. All credit goes to Anthony for ALL SIX of our points in the last eight minutes of the game.

This was our chance to prove that we can be clutch... and I knew at halftime that this would be that game. We were not going to let them run us over, but at that point there was certainly no-way we were going to run away with it. Could we fight tooth and nail? It's certainly been a trademark of Stanford Basketball for three years running, and I was waiting to be shown that this year's big games have as much potential for amazing basketball as ever.

My thoughts on the second half are scattered... Brook stepped up on offense, obviously. The zone looked great. I kept expecting them to break through it and it just never happened. They got a few nice jump shots in... but never got into a rhythm and the Lopi in the post were clearly not to be challenged- Brook's enormous block on Voskuil at the end of the game was great evidence of that. Unsung hero of the game was indisputably Mitch Johnson (ok, you're welcome to dispute). However, Mitch not only keyed the offense, he completely stepped up his D in the second half, after letting shots fall uncontested in the first, he left no shot unchallenged. The only moments at which I felt we had a defensive weakness in the 2nd half were when Mitch was out and Kenny was in. I am pretty sure it was their second-to-last missed three (because I remember the last one was a prayer- they said he got a good look but he certainly wasn't open), with us up by 1, when Kenny was MIA and Singletary got a wide open look which he really really fortunately missed.

But back to Mitch, in ADDITION to keying the offense and great defense, he also scored four of his six points in absolutely clutch situations. The three to take the lead and the free throw to put it out of reach. Those were both absolutely huge... who knew six points could be huge? (The answer- KB's 3 points vs. UCLA in January...). So I'm singing Mitch's praises for getting us back in the game and scoring where it really mattered.

Everyone came up big in the last few minutes- Fred had a couple big plays (assist on Mitch's 3 and a layup) before sitting for the last five, Brook with a jumper and three of four free throws, Robin with a pair of free throws, and Kenny and Taj both with big defensive rebounds (Taj's clinching the game). We played really smart in crunch time, and I was really excited to see that. It was an exciting win! Bring on UCLA! (Right, let's take care of business with Fresno State first).

I bought my dad and brother lower section tickets for $30 a piece for the Fresno State game- whoever is selling them for so cheap is wonderful!!
~Alex

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Men's Basketball vs Santa Clara 12/19/2007

Stanford 74 Santa Clara 48 Today marked the first game that Brook was back from academic ineligibility and I (along with everyone else) was excited to see how he would look. I was also able to coax a friend, who had said that she wanted to go to a basketball game since freshman year, to attend the game. That in itself was a victory. And with the luck that she had, things looked promising.

After last year's disappointing loss at the hands of the Broncos, I'm sure our team was fired up. With Fred still out, Taj started and Brook was the first off the bench. Taj brought his usual hustle and rebounding to today's game. There was one play when Santa Clara boxed out well and it looked like the ball would go out of bounds in the corner but Taj found a way to get around his man and save the ball to Mitch who unfortunately had his shot blocked. Taj also brought his shooting stroke for good measure and found nothing but the bottom of the net on some long jumpers.

Robin had the job of guarding Santa Clara's top scorer, John Bryant, a wide center who used his girth very well in establishing good position. Even though he let Bryant get great position, Robin used his length to bother his shot and did a great job on him, especially in the first half. He also had a well-timed swat where he came out of nowhere to block what appeared to be an easy dunk. Offensively, he struggled somewhat in the post, but did have one incredibly sweet spin move that left Bryant completely flat-footed. He managed to pass out of the double team with reasonable success. Even though it didn't always look pretty, he was usually able to find someone in a good position.

Brook came in to cheers after the first media timeout and if I'm not wrong, our lineup was Lopez, Lopez, Taj, Goods and Mitch. He missed his first close range shot but then made a short jumper off an assist from his brother. Brook was back! He looked pretty good out there on offense and had a couple of offensive boards that he converted for layups as well as one nice spin move in the post. He faced the usual Santa Clara double teams and like his brother, passed out of them with reasonable success. It would be nice if both of them could find the cutter or kick it back out quicker but they definitely look better than they did last year. On defense, Brook picked up cheap fouls and had some difficulty guarding Bryant. Santa Clara also wisely went to Bryant when Brook was in foul trouble and clearly trying to avoid picking up another foul. On the whole, it was great to see Brook back and ready to go.

Law and Good were solid offensively. Law had a nice one handed dunk which rattled in, and also hit some 3s. He's been struggling somewhat from the 3 point line this year and so it was nice to see him regain his long range touch. On defense, he had a couple of breakdowns, losing his man on an inbounds play (much to Trent's chagrin) and a screen or two. It clearly bothered Law but I'm not too worried about him since I'm sure he'll work on keeping his defensive focus. Mitch uncharacteristically struggled with ball handling tonight. Usually he has pretty good handles but tonight was called for palming and lost the ball while driving at the end of the first half. He did have a nice drive and pull up where he looked completely under control, something that I usually see in practice but not always during the game.

All in all, it was a good effort by the team. We started out slow offensively in the first half but played solid defense. Santa Clara turned the ball over quite a bit due to sloppiness but we pressured them and forced some steals too. The one that stands out is Anthony's steal and breakaway dunk right after Robin's imposing block that sent the ball out of bounds. In the second half, our offense was clicking and we were getting and making good shots. Hopefully, we can sustain this play against Texas Tech, a good but not great team. I'll be flying in to Dallas tomorrow. Should be fun!
~ Zhihao

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Men's Basketball vs College of Idaho 12/16/2007

Stanford 81 College of Idaho 53 After last year's post finals embarrassment against Santa Clara, I was glad that an exhibition game had been scheduled to let us shake off the rust. The turn out at Maples wasn't that spectacular but who could blame anyone for skipping what was essentially an open scrimmage. The students had also been chased out of the dorms the day before. There were about 60 people in the 6th Man Section - many not even wearing 6th Man shirts. The red coats tried to regulate initially, but were told to back off, perhaps in line with the holiday spirit.

The first thing that struck me when I glanced at the Idaho team was that they were tiny. A couple of the players looked like they were in freshmen in high school. They also had purple jerseys with Albertsons on the front. This prompted some "Safeway's better" cheers from the 6th Man Section. With Fred out after having one of his knees scoped, Taj entered the starting lineup. It wasn't very necessary for this game where the average height of Idaho's players was probably 6 feet 3 but might be a sign of things to come for the upcoming matches. Brook wasn't dressed and I suspect his TA's/Profs hadn't got the message to grade his finals and enter them as soon as possible (for the record, I hadn't received grades for any of my classes either). It would have been nice to get him some action but I guess it'll have to wait. More intriguingly, Will Paul was also not present.

We started the game on an 8-0 run with Robin hitting another 3 pointer to make him 2-2 on the season (although this game doesn't count). It looked like it would be another Harvard like massacre but Idaho's coach called a quick time-out and they hit some outside shots to tie it up at 8 a piece. Idaho played zone exclusively and we threw in some zone looks on defense as well. With our size advantage, they were content to shoot long jumpers and hit at a pretty good rate to keep the score from getting out of hand. We cleaned up on the offensive boards with Robin and Taj. We also tried to get it in to Robin in the post but his close in shots were simply not falling. I'm not too worried though.

In a game like this, it's really hard to get a feel for our team. I suspect that we were using it to work on our zone offense. Kenny was also given the chance to play point guard (with Drew on the floor). He's looked decent whenever he's had to in the past but didn't do himself that many favours this time. Defensively, we could have closed out on their shooters better and stopped helping as much when they penetrated since one big body inside was usually enough to deter them from shooting and kick it out to the perimeter instead. Some of the highlights included a nasty Landry dunk (and the foul) in the first half when Idaho was still keeping it close, a Robin offensive board followed by a spin and authoritative dunk, and Landry playing great defense on his man (granted this was against an NAIA player).

The game lasted 1 hour 30 minutes and I suspect the referees were instructed to swallow their whistles unless something egregious happened. There's not much else to say except I'm looking forward to seeing Brook (next game pending passing his classes) and Fred (hopefully soon) back in action and it would be nice if we came out sharp against Santa Clara on Wednesday.
~ Zhihao

Women's Bball vs Baylor 12/15/2007

Stanford 87 Baylor 63 With our first game after finals being against the #10 team in the nation, I was slightly concerned that we might be rusty. As I mentioned to a friend who was attending his first ever women's basketball game, home games are usually blow outs, but this one would probably be close. Good thing I was wrong!

With students being chased out of the dorms on Saturday, there were hardly any in attendance. It basically was my group of friends (all 6 of us) and the band. It's too bad that our two highest profile home games (Baylor and Tennessee) are during the break. In any case, what was supposed to be a close game turned into a rout when Candice and Kayla got it going. One thing that really impresses me about our women's team is how fundamentally solid we look. There were times when we just tore apart Baylor's half court defense for easy layups. Our bigs passed well, especially out of the double team. We ran the fast break well. Two of our freshmen, Kayla and Jeanette (who must have recorded a career high 10 assists), looked like veterans on the court. We were also very opportunistic in the passing lanes and forced a bunch of turnovers. With our up-tempo style of play, the game was so much fun to watch.

Without a doubt, the play of the day went to Candice. She stretched to catch a high and long outlet pass, got her first defender up in the air with a vicious pump fake and then took it straight at her second defender for the bucket and foul. She converted the 3 point play with the crowd on its feet. That play alone was worth the price of admission. What a special player. Kayla was no slouch either and made some nice catches and finishes in the paint. Albert likened her to Brooke with so much more upside since she's a freshman. JJ had a nice all around game too and could challenge for the starting point guard position. She stepped in comfortably for Ros who forced a couple of bad passes and got into foul trouble trying to keep up with Baylor's speedy guard. Jayne also struggled with foul trouble with 2 fouls being called on the offensive end - one for a questionable illegal screen 60 feet from where the ball was and the second for an offensive foul while battling for position in the post. It was nice to see us perform so well even without a stellar performance from her. One big reason was Jillian who had a nose for the offensive rebounds and passed the ball extremely well.

All in all, it was a great game to watch. Baylor wasn't bad. We were just better. We shot and moved the ball well and there was no apparent rust after the long layoff. Hopefully we can take care of business on the road against New Mexico and get ready for the big showdown against Tennessee. I'm not sure when was the last time we won one of those, but I'll definitely be watching it on TV.
~ Zhihao

Women's Vball NCAA Championship Game 12/15/2007

Stanford 2 Penn State 3 (25-30, 26-30, 30-23, 30-19, 8-15) With my long week of finals finally ending early Saturday morning (with a paper), all that was left was volleyball. We were kicked out of the dorms for break and so I had to pack all the stuff that I would lug around during my travels. Needless to say, there was a lot of red. I traveled separately from Albert and Alex today due to car space constraints (maybe that's why we lost) and arrived in Sacramento early. I ended up going to a sports bar to kill some time and saw a couple of Nebraska fans enjoying their basketball victory over Oregon.

When we arrived at Arco, I was pleased to see lots of cardinal. Seeing as I only had uppers, I asked a scalper the going rate for a lower ticket. It was $40 - substantially more than the $15 that someone had received for his ticket on Thursday. I declined. I guess there's a reason why scalpers are in business. As we entered Arco, there was a line to get autographs from some of the AVCA All Americans who had shown up. Since we had time to kill, we figured why not. When they were later introduced during the break between games 2 and 3, Nebraska's players received some of the loudest cheers. Oh those Nebraskan fans!

As the clock ticked down to the first serve, it struck me. This was it. The whole season came down to 1 game. Coming into the game, I felt that Penn State had the edge. They hadn't dropped a single game in the tournament and looked spectacular against Cal. But at the same time, we'd shown that we were tough as nails, and wouldn't back down from a fight. The match that ensued captured just that.

While the first game was sloppy with lots of nerve induced service errors, we seemed tighter and let Penn State pull away. In Game 2, Penn State seemed unstoppable. Their defense was breathtakingly amazing and the variety of offensive weapons they had made our block redundant. It wasn't that we were playing badly. They were just at a whole other level.

Even though things looked bleak, I wasn't about to concede defeat, not with these girls on the floor. I knew that there was no way that any of them would give up, especially Bryn. At the same time, I felt that Penn State was the better team and if they didn't let up, we might not be able to beat them. Thankfully, they stepped down their level of play and we went on some nice runs. Bryn targeted their libero who had lots of difficult handling her serve. We'll miss her next year. The Stanford fans really started getting into the game and Bryn's setting was impeccable. She was setting it in all the right spots and our hitters were mowing down kills. The momentum carried over to the 4th where Franci played incredibly. Tonight was definitely one of her finest games. Our defense also got it together and confidence was high.

Going into Game 5, we had all the momentum. But as has been the case many a time in volleyball, it can turn at the drop of a hat. We played by far one of our worst offensive games in Game 5. Penn State's defense was good but we just ran out of gas. Even down 7-11, I still dared to dream that Bryn's serve which had been troubling them all night, would help us go on a run. We had the Penn State overpass but Alix was stymied as she tried to put it away and Cynthia's kill sailed a fraction long. In my mind, that was the ball game.

Wow, it's been a great journey. After last season's runners-up finishing and a great incoming class, expectations were high. We met them all and showed true grit and determination in many a game. I'm really happy that we didn't fold after being in a 0-2 hole. That would have been disappointing and totally out of character of this team. While it might sting slightly more that we came so close, the girls can be proud that they gave it their all. Penn State was definitely a formidable and worthy opponent. Full credit to them. They are going to be scary next year.

And so it ends. It was not quite the ending that we had hoped for. But you can't win them and all. All you can ask is that you give it your all. We did and the girls should hold their heads up high. Thank you fellow seniors for your contributions, and thank you women's volleyball team for a stupendous season.
~ Zhihao

Friday, December 14, 2007

Women's Vball NCAA Final 4: 12/13/2007

Stanford 3 USC 2 (23-30, 30-20, 30-25, 20-30, 16-14)

The road trip that we'd been hoping for materialised. All through the volleyball season, it had been on my mind, but I didn't want to jinx it and make plans too prematurely. Albert got done with his morning final and we left campus around 2pm with another friend, hoping to beat traffic. With 3 of us in the car, we were able to use the carpool lane and cut 20 to 30 minutes off our travelling time. It was a good sign.

This was the first time either of us had been to Arco Arena. The only impression I had of Arco was the numerous Lakers vs. Kings playoff battles where Arco was reputed to be loud. The outside of the arena was impressive. It was well designed with multiple points of entry. Upon stepping inside, however, I was surprised that it was an NBA Arena. It seemed rather small and the floor area compact. That probably explains why fans are able to get right up in the faces of players.

In any case, it was a nice cosy venue that accommodated a less than sell out crowd. While the official attendance was recorded at 13,000 people, I doubt that many people showed up. Albert was far more impressed at Omaha last year where the atmosphere was electrifying. Speaking of Nebraska, I was surprised to see a sizable contingent of Nebraskan fans in attendance. They'd probably made plans long in advance, figuring that they'd be a shoo-in for the Final 4. It was amusing to hear loud cheers erupt when they showed highlights of last year's final. There was also a Nebraksan fan who had a sign: "Nebraskans for Cal".

Both Albert and I had purchased our tickets through the Block Party. They weren't able to guarantee which seats we'd get (upper or lower) and so we found out at will call. Albert had lowers and I had uppers. Albert had gotten 4 tickets (for friends with finals on Friday morning who made bets worth the price of tickets that we'd beat USC), and so I was saved from the nose bleeds. Our seats were excellent. They were right behind some of the players' families, with a mid-court view. I thought it was cute that two girls who I presume to be Alix and Gabi's younger sisters were decked out in Stanford gear and wearing their older sisters' numbered jerseys. A couple of people tried to sneak down from the upper levels but were shut down by the attendant patrolling our section. She was unrelenting, continuing to check tickets during Game 3 of the Cal-Penn State game. A guy who had snuck down with his family tried to give her cash but she refused the bribe, telling him to go back up while calling a fellow attendant over when he initially didn't budge.

There was a decent showing of Stanford fans. Not including the band, I'd say that there were around 30 students. Hopefully with finals done by Saturday, the turn out will be better. There were numerous families with kids. My favourite sign of the night was:

I have to admit that I was pretty nervous coming into the game. We hadn't looked that great against UCLA and USC was a much more formidable opponent. When we struggled and lost Game 1, I felt that our title chances might be slipping away. We simply came out flat and out of sync, struggling with pass receiving, setting and blocking. USC (especially Asia Kaczor) looked phenomenal. The turnaround in Game 2 when we looked phenomenal and USC terrible really shocked me. Reading post game quotes from the coaches, it seemed that the match ups were in our favour for Games 2 and 3. It's funny how volleyball is a sport where the momentum can change so easily from game to game.

In any case, I was proud to see our girls fight back after the poor showing in Game 1. But even with a 2-1 lead, I still wasn't completely settled and anticipated a hard fought Game 4. I was clearly wrong as USC proceeded to destroy us in Game 4. While we were sloppy, they played inspired defense and it was clear that our outside hitters were getting frustrated. As I heard someone comment, Game 5's (first to 15) are a crapshoot. At that point, I might have taken a coin toss to decide the match because we looked frazzled and USC had all the momentum. When we were down 1-4 with Foluke in the front row, I thought it was over. Albert and I still have trouble figuring out how we managed to win that game. It seemed like we just willed ourselves to victory. I also noticed how eerily similar it was to our victory against Cal (that gave us the overall #1 seed). We staved off a match point at 13-14 (thanks to Asia's service error, whew!) and then won the next 2 off Bryn's serve. The first point was heart stopping, as Asia hit the ball (thank god she was in the back row) off our block and time seemed to freeze as everyone stared at it fall just in bounds on USC's court. Match point was equally exciting as Cynthia hit the ball off USC's block and out of bounds. What a game!

While we definitely did not play the best game we are capable of, just like UCLA, we gutted it through for another victory. Against UCLA, we raved about Alix's offense. Tonight, it was her defense. It's a pity that Arco's scoreboard was not able to keep track of any volleyball statistics and so we didn't realise that Alix had 30 digs, but wow! Hopefully, both her offense and defense will be clicking against Penn State. Foluke was amazing as usual. She won the game for us on offense and we really struggled when she wasn't in the front row. The other attackers really need to step up when she's not in. Gabi was great on defense as usual and we needed every dig we could get, especially with our block not being that effective. The block did come through in the 5th though. I just wish we could get a consistent block for the whole game, which is arguably hard to do when you're up against a hitter like Asia who was breathtakingly good, although we did a much better job on her as the game progressed.

At the end of the day, there are no ugly wins at this stage of the tournament against teams of such high calibre. USC was 8-0 in Game 5's coming into this game. We somehow pulled this one out of the bag. Judging from how Penn State demolished Cal (Cal's setter was awful), they are the real deal. Even though we beat them in 5 early this season, I would say that they'd be the slight favourites on Saturday. I do know, however, that if we play to the best of our abilities, we can beat anyone. And this year, we don't have to worry about peaking too early in the Final 4! Go Card! 1 more win. Let's bring it home!
~ Zhihao

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Women's Vball NCAA Elite 8 12/8/2007

Stanford 3 UCLA 1 (28-30, 30-28, 30-26, 30-27)This was game #50 for us. Not too shabby for a quarter! One game away from the Final 4, I was taking nothing for granted, especially after Cal's 3-0 dismantling of Nebraska. I was also not about to repeat yesterday's mistake of not going early to get the free student tickets. I got to the ticket office as it opened, and managed to persuade a couple of fellow seniors to come to the game. What better time to attend your first ever volleyball game than the last "home" game of the season?

It was unexpectedly, a rather pro Stanford crowd, but I was surprised that there were so few Bruins fans in attendance. Their band didn't show up either (maybe they were at the UCLA-Davidson basketball game). In any case, the atmosphere was great and I was excited. While I wasn't that impressed with UCLA the day before, I had this nagging feeling in my mind that we might come out flat after our great performance yesterday.

The first few points of the game assured me that we were the better team but then things started to fray in Game 1. Full credit to UCLA who played some tenacious defense and made our block look non-existent at times, but we just weren't on our A-game with service errors in Game 1, receiving errors in Games 3 and 4, mistimed sets and a lack of block for most of the match. Nonetheless we managed to gut out the victory and as people like to say, the true mark of a great team is one that manages to eke out the win when things aren't going their way. Bryn and Franci struggled early on but ultimately came through in the end. I wonder whether it was the emotion and pressure of knowing that this would be the last game they ever played in Maples.

There were many positives from the game. As Albert texted to me in Game 3, Alix played out of her mind. From the digs on defense, to the kills on offense which blended both power, finesse and her amazing court vision, it was extremely fitting that she got our match winning kill. What a performance!

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Erin was amazing too. It seems that she always steps up her game come post-season play. Not to dismiss her solid play during the regular season, but she's like the Robert Horry of women's volleyball. Foluke was on fire as usual and it was a pretty sight whenever she and Bryn managed to connect. Cynthia was targeted incessantly by the UCLA servers and even though she struggled on her serve reception for stretches, she didn't let it affect her attacks. Franci who I thought had an extremely rough night, stepped up her blocking in the 4th and was a wall at the net. Cassidy was rock solid on serve reception. Finally, I liked Dunning's rotation adjustment coming out in the 3rd which gave us more front row balance with Franci struggling.

I'd like to go on, but finals week is upon me and the trip to Sacramento on Thursday + 6 finals and a paper does not leave me with that much spare time. All I will say is that USC is going to be a tough match up and we'll need to play some solid volleyball. It's definitely well within our capabilities and I'm ecstatic that after scheduling my classes/finals such that I'd have Thursday off, it was not all in vain. Now, we just have to win it all, one game at a time.
~ Zhihao

Women's Vball Sweet 16 12/7/2007

Stanford 3 Cal Poly 0 (30-15, 30-24, 30-20) I arrived around 7:20, hoping to catch most of the UCLA-Oregon game, and snagging the free tickets they had for the first 100 students. Lo and behold, the student tickets had run out and there was a long line outside the ticket office. I was happy, and somewhat surprised, that there was so much student interest. Judging from the students in the stands, I would say that it was the regular volleyball crowd + fellow athletes. The men's volleyball team was there as were members of the men's cross country team. I also saw Josh Owens of the basketball team and Tavita Pritchard of the football team.

Neither UCLA nor Oregon really impressed me with their play. After seeing UCLA up one game when I got there, I was hoping that they would sweep Oregon so our game would start and I could get back early for a holiday party. It was not to be as Oregon (down 0-2) pulled out a lucky win in the 3rd after getting a block that looped straight off one of their player's head and onto UCLA's side, as well as the final game winning kill that barely trickled over the net. At that point, I wouldn't have minded Oregon winning since a 5th game wouldn't take that much longer, but UCLA clinched the match.

Cal Poly brought over a nice contingent of fans who were pretty loud. It didn't really matter that much since we were all over them once the match started. There isn't really much to say. We looked absolutely dominant tonight. It kind of reminded me of how we played against Washington in last year's Final 4 match up. If we can sustain this level of play (minus the few sloppy plays at the end of games when it looked like we weren't paying attention), I'm highly optimistic. Everything seemed to be clicking. Our attack was on fire and once Franci (who started semi slowly) warmed up, we were unstoppable. The percentage we were hitting was ridiculous. I believe that it was 0.741 at one point in the 3rd. That's crazy!

If there is one thing I could possibly pick on, it would be our blocking. I couldn't really tell whether it was Cal Poly being good or us being a step slow, but we didn't seem to get the block going in the 2nd and 3rd although Bryn made some nice solo blocks. Some of the better hitting teams might give us trouble but our offense, when firing on all cylinders, will give them some trouble too. In any case, we have UCLA up tomorrow. We've beaten them pretty handily the past 2 times we met and we looked awesome tonight, but you never know. One last game for Bryn and Franci at Maples. Let's hope it's special and we'll be going up to Sacramento on Thursday, just like I had planned at the beginning of the quarter.
~ Zhihao

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Monday, December 3, 2007

Men's Basketball @ Colorado 12/2/2007

Stanford 67 Colorado 43 This trip had special significance to me because it was the very first one that we booked back when we decided to embark on this journey. The timing wasn't great with finals approaching and it being the day after Big Game, but how could one possibly turn down a Sunday one-day trip to Colorado. As mentioned in my previous post, post Big Game celebrations which included an impromptu but shortened band run with the axe that Albert and I sadly did not partake in, were crazy. Neither of us got any sleep before we left for Oakland airport for our 6am flight to Denver. We didn't really want to sleep either for fear of not being able to get up. Both of us were exhausted and slept through the entire 2 hour flight.

Before the trip, I was terrified that it would be freezing cold in Colorado, especially since it had snowed the previous day. My fears were allayed when we were greeted by clear blue skies. It was a beautiful day - not cold at all and definitely nicer than it's been at Stanford this past week. We took a bus from the airport to CU's campus. A friend from Boulder had kindly lent me his bus pass and so I rode for free. I definitely owe him a meal or beer. I suspect he'll take the latter. We got to Boulder in about 75 minutes, tired and hungry. We found a nice breakfast/lunch place ala Stacks or Hobees, except more reasonably priced. The service was great and the servers friendly. After a hearty breakfast, we wandered around the campus. CU has a pretty campus with the Rockies as the backdrop. It was very serene and quiet. There was hardly anyone around. With its reputation as a huge party school, I wondered whether everyone was still hung over from Saturday night.

We stumbled upon the basketball arena and got the tickets that the basketball office had obtained for us. The team was warming up as we arrived. I noticed Peter hadn't travelled with the team and was amused to see Kenny Brown and Robin doing the dribbling drill against each other during warm ups. Since the game was televised on ESPN U, they had some mini TV monitors. I was able to catch the second half of the USC-Kansas game. It was fast paced but sloppy. There was a stretch when USC was unable to get a single defensive rebound and Kansas pulled away. It would have been a nice win for USC and the Pac-10.

We met up with an alum who read our blog and e-mailed us a couple of days back. It was great chatting about Big Game (especially since he used to play on the football team). We also talked about the general decline in student interest at football games which he seemed disappointed by, since things were much better in his days. I recounted how I knew of people who left during half time of Big Game when we were winning! Hopefully a football program on the rise will turn things around. We also noticed a lot of Stanford alums at the game decked out in cardinal. It was great to see.

As for the game, we played good defense throughout although we didn't force a steal or block a shot. Offensively, we weren't that inspired in the first half and missed some easy shots. But at the same time, I was ecstatic that we weren't sloppy with our ball handling (we did travel and charge quite a bit but at least that doesn't result in a fast break opportunity). Taj played well and seemed to be the only one crashing the boards with success. We tried to establish Robin earlier on but he struggled with a couple of turnovers and missed shots. He also got into foul trouble after a charge (which I thought might have been questionable). Fred did a great job against Colorado's best player Richard Roby who was also plagued with foul trouble after Law stepped in to take a charge.

Colorado was pretty sloppy with the ball and turned it over quite a bit. Their 3 point shooting wasn't stellar either. Still, we weren't able to fully capitalise, clinging to a 3 point lead after a sloppy end to the half where we bumbled a defensive rebound off a missed free throw out of bounds and allowed Colorado to nail a 3. Nonetheless, it was good to see Anthony hitting 3s and Law making his patented jumpers. We were also able to break the press pretty easily and as mentioned earlier, took care of the ball.

The half time show featured dogs catching frisbees. It was pretty entertaining.

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In the second half, we took control - making shots, penetrating, dishing and hitting our free throws. Fred shut down Roby for stretches and seemed to anticipate his moves, always having a hand in his face as he shot. Kenny was a spark off the bench and seems to be earning playing time with his play. Goods and Law were solid and got their points. Colorado tried an aggressive trap off the inbounds, double teaming along the baseline. We didn't look very comfortable dealing with it, but didn't turn it over either.

I wouldn't say that Colorado is a great team, but definitely not a terrible team either. We looked far more composed on the road this time, compared to Northwestern and Siena. Hopefully dead week and finals week won't throw the guys out of sync and we won't repeat the embarrassing loss to Santa Clara. We'll also hopefully have Brook Lopez back and ready to raise his draft stock.
~ Zhihao

Women's Vball NCAA Round 2 12/1/2007

Stanford 3 Sacramento State 0 (30-23, 30-11, 30-28) While I would have loved to linger on the field after Big Game to soak in the atmosphere, there was a 2nd round NCAA tournament volleyball game to attend. I made it to Maples during player introductions and instantly noticed how small Sacramento's team was compared to us. The crowd wasn't as big as I would have expected but I suspect that people wanted to celebrate/eat after Big Game.

We went early and often to Foluke and after establishing her, distributed it evenly to Alix and Cynthia. My favourite part of going to Foluke early is that it is demoralising for the opponent to have her hammer down devastating kills, and does wonders for our psyche. Sacramento State looked pretty bad in the first, struggling with serve reception and setting. Our block wasn't working well though (maybe it took us a while to adjust to their timing of their attacks) but it wasn't needed at all. With a 29-13, we subbed in Alex for Alix. Sac State went on a huge 10 point scoring run as Gabi had some trouble dealing with serve. After a time out, Duning finally put Alix back in and we won. I felt sorry for Alex because it wasn't entirely her fault.

Any momentum that Sac State might have gotten after staving off 10 game points in the first was quashed in the second which we absolutely dominated. Dunning used what I think will be his tournament rotation of Cassidy in for Erin in the back row with Jessica spelling Alix occasionally. I don't think Gabi will be serving much either. Janet got some playing time in the second and contributed with 3 kills off 3 attempts.

I wasn't too worried about the 3rd but we started making some hitting errors and Sac State was able to get through our block with worrying regularity. They definitely raised their level of play. We traded points back and forth for most of the game but as 30 approached, had a clutch back row kill from Alix. It was a win against an outmatched opponent that fought hard, as we witnessed in the 3rd.

There seem to be several upsets in the tournament with seeds dropping like flies. Washington is out at the hands of BYU and USC was taken to 5 games. We have Cal Poly up next on Friday (a team we swept earlier in the season) and if we win, an all Pac-10 showdown against either Oregon or UCLA on Saturday.

What a day! Big Game and then volleyball. And the weekend was not even close to being over yet. Albert and I were leaving for Oakland airport at 4:30am to catch our 6am flight to Denver for the Colorado men's basketball game. With a Big Game concert featuring Roots (I heard they were great), celebrating in SAE and KA till the wee hours, and a Christmas party turned surprise birthday party for me (thanks guys), it was a busy but amazing night. December 1st - definitely a day to remember!
~ Zhihao

Big Game 12/1/2007

Stanford 20 Cal 13 This was the last chance for me to see us reclaim the axe as an undergraduate. Since freshman year, each Big Game had been progressively better, but with our performance against Notre Dame last week and the 13.5 point spread, I was not optimistic. That being said, Cal was slumping too - losing 5 out of their last 6 games - and was without star wide-out Desean Jackson. This was also the first Big Game in the new stadium. With entry to football games being free for all students this year, there were 2400 allotted seats for students based on a first come first serve basis, with a priority line for students who had attended at least two previous games. I personally felt that students who attended more games should have been rewarded but it is always hard to enforce administratively, as I would find out first hand later.

Since it was pretty easy to qualify for the priority line and it was a first come first serve, a couple of guys camped out the night before so that they could ensure themselves front row seats. Now, that's the spirit that is sorely lacking at Stanford. With kick off at 4pm and doors opening at 2, I got there just before 12 and was dismayed to find a couple of freshmen and their staff ahead of me. Judging from prior experience, this was a sure sign that the rest of the dorm would show up minutes before doors opened and cut in front of me, as was the case. When doors finally did open, they opened up multiple gates and let people behind to jump ahead. It was rather poorly done and many people who arrived early and waited for a couple of hours were frustrated. The students who designed the whole priority system should have regulated the lines better because it wasn't the event staff's job to figure it out.

In any case, I managed to get 3rd row seats and was pleased to see the student section slowly fill up even though it was more than 60 minutes to game time. I thought the band did a pretty good job with the "Big Game" hunting themed field show. Speaking of the half time field show, a Cal student was made to leave the stadium during it. I'm not sure why but I think they were yelling "Take off that Red Shirt" to event staff and someone might have thrown something or gotten out of hand. The drum major's raptor costume made me laugh when I saw it (freshman hall inside joke).

As kick off approached, the student section and stadium as a whole swelled. I still feel that that more Notre Dame than Cal fans showed up at our respective games, which is an impressive achievement on Notre Dame's part. The honoring of seniors on senior day is always one of my favourite moments as they are joined on the field/court by their parents to recognise their contribution to the program. Today was no different. By kickoff, the student section was packed. The first few rows of my section were doubled up and more people were streaming in (I don't think they really capped student entry at 3400).

When our defense forced on a fumble on Cal's first possession and TC found Bradford wide open on a crossing route for the easy score, I was pumped and it crossed my mind that today might be one of those days where things would go our way. The game was also broadcast on Versus. The last game that was on Versus was the USC game and we all know how that turned out. Cal responded with a score but we held them during their next possession after our intercepted trick play. Nevertheless, I liked the creativity, and according to Albert, the double reverse Bradford to Moore throw worked a lot more effectively when they ran it on the practice fields. During warmups, my eye was on Belch and he looked significantly better than during warmups against Notre Dame (and we all know how that turned out). He came through with two field goals in the first half that really made the difference from a strategy point of view. Full credit to him for bouncing week after last week's debacle and playing through his injury.

Offensively, I liked how we were able to sustain drives and keep the defense off the field in the first half. I also liked how we rotated our QBs with 2 series for TC and 1 for Tavita to keep the Cal defense off balance. I didn't even realise when Tavita was inserted for the first time, until we pulled out the naked bootleg that TC would never run. I don't think Cal was ready for him either although they adjusted much better as the game went on. Our O-line did a phenomenal job for the whole game (picking up blitzes superbly) despite playing without two original starters Fletcher and Mattran. If I'm not wrong, they only gave up 1 sack (which was a coverage sack). McBride and Phillips, who took their place really stepped up. TC played really well too and I liked how we played to his strengths by focusing on a short passing game (and avoiding sacks). The receivers also made key catches to sustain drives (except for Sherman although he did draw that crucial pass interference) instead of dropping the ball as they have been prone to do. Tyrone was huge for us with Kimble out. His ability to catch out of the backfield and turn the corner was crucial although I cringed every time he was hit. Finally, I loved the play-calling, especially the play action roll out at the goaline which was set up by Tyrone's run (that was the play that USC used against us last year to much success).

Our defense won us the game in the second when our offense stalled thanks to the adjustments made to defending screens and two great picks by Sanchez. They struggled somewhat against the run and were bailed out by several drops, but they wrapped up pretty well at the line of scrimmage (Snyder was a stud) and did just enough to slow down the offensive player when they missed, allowing the rest of defense that was in pursuit to catch up. Maynor had some huge hits on Longshore which shook him up enough to throw him off in the 2nd half. I also liked the fact that we committed so few penalties while Cal seemed to get a holding or personal foul every other series (I also felt that they were holding much more than was called). Their ill disciplined plays and drops were definitely keys to our victory. When time expired. the rushing of the field was a foregone conclusion. We had finally reclaimed the axe.And it wasn't just that. During the critical last few minutes of the 4th quarter, when we were on defense after Stewart's fumble, the whole stadium was rocking. It wasn't just the student section (an achievement in itself) and the people on our side of the stadium, but the "old people" on the far side too. I had never experienced such noise from our own fans. I think Albert sometimes wishes that he had gone to a football school in the SCC, but for one game, one critical juncture, we were a football school. The atmosphere was electrifying. As the fans and players celebrated on the field, I saw the joy on players' faces and felt especially happy for the seniors like TC, Bradford, Evan and the list goes on, who underwent 3 coaches, 5 losing seasons and futility against Cal. I can't even being to imagine what having this as the last game of their college careers means to them. I'm glad they did.

Thank you seniors and Jim Harbaugh's coaching staff. Harbaugh has definitely grown with the team, improving alongside them. He's far from perfect but I really feel that the program is about to take off under the Harbaugh era. At the beginning of our odyssey, I wrote: "In Harbaugh I trust". In my wildest dreams, I never imagined wins against USC and Cal. 4-8 never felt this good.
~ Zhihao