Ben Howland has already led his team into a hostile arena to battle a formidable low-post sibling tandem this season against Kansas, and now it’s Nikki Caldwell’s turn.
She will lead the Bruins into Maples Pavilion to face off against the Ogwumike sisters of the No. 4 Stanford women’s basketball team.
It will be a battle between two top 10 teams, and the sisters will pose an imposing interior challenge to the undersized Bruins, who will have to rely heavily on the 6-foot Jasmine Dixon.
A junior All-American last year, Nnemkadi is the elder sister and averages 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting an absurd 60 percent from the field. Last week’s Pac-10 Player of the Week, Nnemkadi scored 20 points in a 94-50 rout of the Washington State Cougars.
Chiney, the younger of the Ogwumike sisters, has already broken into the starting lineup as a freshman, and she too is shooting at a 60 percent clip, chipping in more than 10 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds.
To the casual observer, Stanford was the underdog team that ended UConn’s streak of 90 consecutive wins. The Bruins think otherwise.
“We’re not looking at Stanford as the team that beat UConn; we’re looking at them as a team in our way,” Dixon said. “It’s just another Pac-10 game; we just have to chop them down one by one.”
But All-Pac-10 players like forward Kayla Pedersen and guard Jeanette Pohlen ““ who had 31 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the Cardinal’s 71-59 victory over coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies ““ would like to contest that notion.
“We don’t want to get into a quick-shooting jump-shot type of game,” Caldwell said. “We need to be able to work the ball, make sure Dixon gets some touches and share the basketball.”
Led by coach Tara VanDerveer, who passed the 800 career win mark earlier in the season, the No. 4 Cardinal (14-2, 5-0 Pac-10) is scoring about 80 points a game, winning by an average margin of nearly 24. Stanford’s offensive dominance at times overshadows its defensive ability ““ the Cardinal holds opponents to a miserable 33 percent from the field.
“If we looked at what Stanford has been able to do, that’s one of the best programs in the country,” Caldwell said. “We’re a program on the rise, so hopefully this team can understand that when we go to Stanford and play there. It’s only going to be us and our game plan; we need to stick to it as much as we possibly can.”
It would be a much-desired victory for Caldwell’s No. 8 Bruins (15-1, 5-0), who look to earn further national exposure and continue the program’s best start since 1977.
“When you play Stanford, it’s a great gauge to see where we’re at,” Caldwell said. “It’s an opportunity for our team to go into a hostile environment and see what we’re made of and see if we’re going to bring that true competitive spirit.”
The Bruins brought the heat against one of the country’s top-scoring teams, the Oregon Ducks, this past Saturday, limiting their attack to roughly 30 points under their average in an 87-57 demolition.
It will take a similar unified effort to take down a perennial Pac-10 power.
“To get a victory up there would be big,” senior guard Darxia Morris said. “But if we play together and stick to Coach’s system and get after it offensively and defensively ““ finishing easy shots, rebounding and taking care of the ball ““ I think we have a good chance to beat them.”