STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike launched her player-of-the-year candidacy at Tennessee’s expense Tuesday night.
The Cardinal’s All-American senior forward tore through the Lady Vols for a career-high 42 points in a 97-80 women’s basketball victory before a crowd of 7,329 at Maples Pavilion.
Ogwumike had capable assistance from senior guard Toni Kokenis, who scored a career-high 26 points for No. 4 Stanford (8-1), which pulled away during the final 10 minutes to extend its home winning streak to 68 games.
Ogwumike also grabbed 17 rebounds. She shot 19-for-27 from floor and still found the time to dish out three assists.
“I thought she brought a lot of energy to her team, whatever she was doing’’ UT forward Glory Johnson said. “When you have that much energy on the floor, it spreads throughout the team.”
Shekinna Stricklen had a career scoring day for No. 6 Tennessee (7-3) with 27 points. Johnson backed her up with 18. The Lady Vols shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and were lurking within three points with 12 minutes left.
But they never found a defensive answer for Ogwumike and suffered the painful consequences.
“You score 42 points on anyone, especially Tennessee – where we take a lot of pride in our defense – that’s huge,’’ UT associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “She plays with a lot heart and desire. If we can learn one thing from Nneka, it’s her heart and desire and it carries over to her team.
“She played like a player of the year tonight.”
The ripple effect from Ogwumike’s performance was reflected by Stanford’s point total, which was the most by a UT opponent since Louisiana Tech scored 98 on Feb. 24, 1997.
The Cardinal shot 53.6 percent from the floor (37-for-69) and had a 35-29 rebounding advantage. It had the edge in all the pertinent statistics except bench scoring. And UT’s meager 11-6 advantage in that category was made meaningless by Ogwumike’s production.
“I feel like when they needed a big play, they made a big play,” Warlick said. “They just kept making big plays. Us making a run didn’t bother them one bit.”
The Lady Vols’ start didn’t foreshadow a humbling finish. They weren’t far off their torrid shooting pace of last Saturday against UCLA, hitting at a 61.5 percent clip from the floor for the first half.
Their problems revolved around defense as the Cardinal recovered from an early nine-point deficit to lead 48-41 at the break.
Early fouls contributed to UT’s plight. Center Vicki Baugh picked up two fouls and sat down inside the first six minutes. Freshman reserve Isabelle Harrison picked up a technical foul when she mistakenly took the court after a timeout.
But the biggest problem of all for UT was Ogwumike, who had 19 points at the break. She was scoring on everything from putbacks to pull-up jumpers.
Kokenis was her surprise accomplice. Her 14 first-half points were six more than her per-game scoring average.
“I think it was a big step for me and our team,’’ she said. “We had better pace today. We played more aggressive.”
The prevailing storyline carried over to the second half. The Lady Vols, particularly Stricklen, were making their share of shots. But they couldn’t come up with enough stops.
Ogwumike resumed her impressive work with Kokenis again serving as her sidekick. They scored consecutive baskets to push Stanford’s lead back to 63-55 with 11:44 left.
Tennessee freshman Ariel Massengale, who had missed the last three games with a hand injury, played 11 minutes in the second half.
DeMoss Hurt: Tennessee assistant coach Mickie DeMoss was wearing a cast on her right hand after falling on Monday and suffering ligament damage.
Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS