Stanford's X-factor -- freshman Toni Kokenis

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Stanford's X-factor -- freshman Toni Kokenis

March 25, 2011

STANFORD PAGE NCAA SCOREBOARDNCAA WOMEN'S PAGE

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Toni Kokenis never generated much hype as Stanford's third-best incoming freshman last fall.

Chiney Ogwumike had the National Player of the Year pedigree and proven lineage as younger sister to Cardinal star Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Highly regarded Sara James had the All-American status and was considered the program's next point guard to succeed senior Pac-10 Player of the Year Jeanette Pohlen.

Lately, though, it has been Kokenis that coach Tara VanDerveer immediately turns to off the bench when Stanford needs a boost.

She has given the Cardinal key minutes in the biggest of games -- and that's been the case even after she sat out two weeks with a concussion.

Next up for top-seeded Stanford (31-2) in its quest for a fourth straight Final Four is a date with No. 5 North Carolina in the Spokane Regional semifinals Saturday night.

VanDerveer calls Kokenis her "sixth starter." The reliable Kokenis often plays more minutes than junior starter Lindy La Rocque.

In the Cardinal's 86-59 first-round NCAA tournament victory over UC Davis last Saturday, Kokenis knocked down three of her team's season-best 13 3-pointers on the way to 11 points in 25 minutes. She also dished out three assists.

Before that, she scored a game-high and career-best 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting as Stanford rallied in the second half to beat UCLA 64-55 in the Pac-10 tournament title game March 12.

"I just wanted to be able to come in and help contribute to the team to help us be as successful as we could be," Kokenis said of her expectations as a freshman. "I would say definitely (I have benefited from) more practice and getting more reps and playing against pressure and taking advantage of the reps you get when you are out on the court."

Her comeback has been impressive to say the least.

Kokenis was sidelined after getting fouled in the head in the closing minutes of a 64-38 win over UCLA on Jan. 20. She returned at Arizona State on Feb. 3. Then, facing the Bruins again exactly a month after her injury in Los Angeles, Kokenis scored 13 points and made three steals in 37 minutes -- her most playing time yet.

"Toni has played extremely well for us. Once she came back from when she was hit, she has really finished strong," VanDerveer said. "When you look at a lot of the top teams, it's really amazing the number of freshmen who are huge contributors. So many young players are coming into situations and playing so well."

Kokenis checked in at the 16:47 mark of the first half in a 75-49 second-round NCAA win against St. John's on Monday night, only to leave late in the half with a sprained left ankle. X-rays were negative and VanDerveer hopes to have Kokenis at full strength for Saturday's game in Spokane.

She has shown already that she is resilient and a student of the game. After the head injury, Kokenis spent more time watching video to ensure she didn't fall behind.

"Being out with my concussion was a bit of a bummer," she said. "And then coming back, I have great teammates and they really helped me feel more comfortable -- so it's just feeling more comfortable in general with our offense and what I can do to contribute to our team and what I can bring off the bench."

There's a good chance Kokenis will be in the starting lineup next season after Stanford loses Pohlen and do-everything senior Kayla Pedersen.

The departing players feel as if the program is in good hands with returners such as Kokenis to complement star sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike inside.

"She definitely has stepped up," Pedersen said of Kokenis. "I don't think she lets any of that affect her, like any of the hype or anything. Toni just comes in and she is fearless. She doesn't really care about anything besides getting the job done and how she can help us. If that means stepping up big for us in a game, like she did at UCLA, then that is what it is. Or if it means making the pass to the post, that is what she does. I just think that selfless mentality is really making her stand out right now."

College Football Roundup: Wilcox the right choice for Cal; Stanford raising ticket prices

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AP

College Football Roundup: Wilcox the right choice for Cal; Stanford raising ticket prices

The Golden Bears may have gotten it right this time.

Cal moved quickly to replace fired head coach Sonny Dykes with Justin Wilcox, one of the most respected defensive minds in college football. And judging from the early returns, it looks like an excellent hire.

Wilcox has earned high marks as defensive coordinator at a number of the top programs in the country -- Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, USC and most recently, Wisconsin. This year his Badgers’ defense ranked No. 7 in the nation in total defense. Cal’s, by contrast, was No. 125.

The hiring sends an important message that defense, which has been an embarrassment at Cal for the past four years, is of prime importance. For the Bears to move into the elite in the increasingly-competitive Pac-12, they can’t survive with offense alone. Witness Dykes’ 10-26 record in conference play, the ascent of defensive-minded Colorado this season, and Chris Petersen’s championship blueprint at Washington, which features one of the nation’s top defensive units.

Wilcox also is a much better fit culturally than Dykes, who’d spent most of his career in Texas and the South. Wilcox knows the Pac-12 very well. He played at Oregon and coached the linebackers at Cal from 2003-2005 prior to his recent stints at Washington and USC. Wilcox clearly understands the conference, the West Coast, and the cultural and academic environment at Berkeley, which he called the “most dynamic place in the country.”

Hiring a new coach so late in the game could pose problems with respect to assembling a staff and recruiting, but again, Wilcox is off to a great start. He lured Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin, architect of some high-octane offenses at EWU, to come aboard as offensive coordinator. He also nabbed Steve Greatwood, a former colleague at Oregon and one of the most experienced offensive line coaches in the country.

Wilcox has a reputation as a strong recruiter. Indeed, three highly-regarded recruits -- defensive lineman Gabe Cherry (Bakersfield), DB Elijah Hicks (La Mirada) and WR Taariq Johnson (Buena Park) arrived on campus this week as mid-year freshman enrollees.

At his press conference Wilcox appeared smart, poised, classy and businesslike. He refused to be baited into criticizing his predecessor. He also appealed to Cal fans to support the program and make Memorial Stadium a tough place to play. The stadium was pretty noisy during the Jeff Tedford regime, but lately it’s borne no resemblance to Autzen Stadium in Eugene, where Wilcox played, and Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, where he coached this year.

If he can turn the program around, I suspect Memorial Stadium will be rocking once again.

2017 Schedules: The Pac-12 has released its 2017 football schedule, and both Wilcox and Stanford coach David Shaw are looking at some tough sledding. Both teams open Pac-12 play in September against a loaded USC squad. Cal’s non-conference games include the season opener at North Carolina and home games with Weber State and Ole Miss, followed by USC in Memorial Stadium on Sept. 23. Wilcox also has conference road games at Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Stanford and UCLA. Ugh!

Stanford, meanwhile, opens on the road (probably in Australia) against Rice, then kicks off Pac-12 play at USC on Sept. 9. However, the Cardinal will benefit from having UCLA, ASU, Oregon, Washington and Cal on the home schedule, along with Notre Dame.

New ticket policy at Stanford: Speaking of the Stanford home schedule, the Cardinal brass notified thousands of season ticket holders this week that to retain their sideline seats, they must make a substantial donation to the Buck/Cardinal Club athletic scholarship program. The “Priority Seating Expansion” means that ticket holders in 10 sections of the stadium will need to cough up about three times as much money to keep their seats. For example, a fan with two season tickets who would normally pay $1,078 for two seats this season now must ante up an additional $1,000 per seat. Bottom line: a total tab of $3,078 instead of $1,078. With six home games, that translates to $513 per game for two tickets.

Although the home schedule is attractive this season, it’s hard to fathom the reasons behind the new policy. Stanford had no home sellouts last year, and there were plenty of good seats available for every game. A similar policy was implemented several years ago at Maples Pavilion, and the result has been lots of empty seats at Stanford basketball games.

Nationally, college football attendance declined this season for the sixth year in a row. Among the many reasons were rising ticket prices, the increasing number of night games, uncertainty over starting times, and the quality of the home viewing experience.

Greed, it seems, has trumped fan loyalty. Instead of raising prices and repeatedly asking the same people to spend more money, college athletic departments might consider rewarding loyal fans by lowering ticket prices. That way, they could fill some of those empty seats, improve the atmosphere in their stadiums, and give their coaches more of a home field advantage.

Beamer Selected: The College Football Playoff folks just added former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer to their selection committee. A better choice could not have been made. Beamer retired last year after 29 years with the Hokies, and he is widely regarded as one of the best coaches and finest human beings to ever grace the sport.

I can speak from personal experience as a bowl director. Virginia Tech played in our first post-season game in San Francisco back in 2002, when it was known as the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl. Coaches can bring a lot of baggage -- and ego -- to a post-season game. Some might have viewed a bowl game in its infancy as something of a comedown for Beamer, whose team had played in the national championship game two years earlier. But not Frank. He treated everyone associated with our bowl with the same warmth, graciousness and respect, enthusiastically did everything we asked of him, and was a total delight to deal with.

His wife, Cheryl, was another class act. A week after the bowl game, I got a thank you note in the mail from Cheryl, along with a $20 bill. She apologized for not having gassed up her rental car before returning it, and didn’t want to saddle me with the bill.

People like that just don’t come along every day.

After visiting sick grandfather, Thompson will start vs Thunder

After visiting sick grandfather, Thompson will start vs Thunder

OAKLAND -- Arriving at Oakland International Airport roughly two hours before tipoff Wednesday night, Klay Thompson hustled over to Oracle Arena and will be in the starting lineup for the Warriors against the Oklahoma City.

Thompson missed the team’s morning shootaround because he was visiting his gravely ill maternal grandfather in Portland, source told CSNBayArea.com.

Initially listed as missing the game, Thompson reached out to Warriors general manager Bob Myers late Wednesday morning and indicated he might make it back to Oakland in time for the game.

Thompson is the team’s third leading scorer, averaging 21.4 points per game.

His availability is particularly significant, as he’ll be the primary defender on Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who is averaging triple-double numbers this season.