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STANFORD (AP) — Kiki Iriafen scored 16 points to lead No. 2 Stanford to an 86-48 victory over San Diego State on Monday night in the season opener.
Iriafen was one of four players to have double-digit points for the defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal, including Elena Bosgana (15 points), Cameron Brink (13) and Indya Nivar (13). Iriafen and Bosgana set personal records in points.
“I’m very excited about our super sophomores,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said, referring to Iriafen and Bosgana. “They were reserves a lot last year, and now they say, ‘It’s my turn.’ … We have a pretty deep team. Many different people can contribute.”
Iriafen and Bosgana attributed their race nights to the leadership of Stanford seniors.
“Last year, we had great players by our side,” said Bosgana. “Learning from that and learning from observation has really helped me build my confidence.”
“We feel more comfortable playing college basketball, which our coaches want from us,” Iriafen said. “Seniors are always motivating me, telling me I can do anything on the court, so the motivation from my seniors and juniors is really helpful.”
Brink led off the scoring with a 3-pointer, sparking a 10-0 game-opening run for Cardinal on their way to a 25-4 lead after the first quarter. Stanford shot 51.6% (32-for-62) on the night, including 36.7% (11-for-30) from deep. AP preseason All-American Haley Jones was held to just six points but led the team with a plus-32 in her 23 minutes on the floor.
“He looked good, and the ball didn’t fall to him, but his free throws were really good,” VanDerveer said. “This is a really new position for her, playing winger, but I think she’s really working hard and doing really well.”
Alex Crain and Meghan Fiso each had nine points for the Aztecs, who were held to 31.6% shooting (18-for-57) by the Cardinal defense. Stanford has now held 64 of his last 70 opponents to 41.8% shooting or worse.
San Diego State hadn’t faced an opponent in the top two since 2014, when it was playing in then-No. 2 South Carolina.
The Cardinal lost a quartet of key players in Lacie Hull, Lexie Hull, Alyssa Jerome and Anna Wilson after last season, but their five newcomers are already making an impact on the court. Nivar (13 points, 5 rebounds) and Talana Lepolo (11 assists) were particularly impressive in their college debuts.
Bosgana hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close out the second quarter, clinching a 42-16 lead for Stanford during the first half. He shot 3-for-7 from deep Monday after missing 3-for-10 last season.
Maples Pavilion held a moment of silence before the game for WNBA star Brittney Griner, whose nine-year prison sentence for drug possession was recently upheld by a Russian court. VanDerveer said the Cardinal has ordered patches in support of Griner, which the team will wear on its uniforms this season.
“It’s very sad what’s going on,” VanDerveer said. “I just wanted to remind everyone that we are thinking of her, that we love her, and that this is a horrible situation.”
The Cardinal will host Cal State Northridge (0-1) on Wednesday.
College Women Playing Over The Rim
Stanford forward Francesca Belibi joined an exclusive club when she plunged into the NCAA Tournament last season. While she was only the third woman to do so at the tournament and the eighth overall in college history, the 6-foot-1 senior knows there’s more to come soon.
“There are definitely more girls that can play above the rim,” Belibi said.
His historic dunk capped a great basketball play in which he took a block on one end and then finished it off with a one-handed shot. Belibi, who has immersed herself three times in college, knows that there are others who are already in college and can do it, but they may not want to because they are afraid of failing.
“They just don’t try to do it. I think by doing it and seeing other dunks in the NBA, a lot more people think if they can do it, let me try it,” he said. “Doing it in a game depends on your athletic ability and also the time and score of the game.”
Belibi is well aware of the history of slam dunks in women’s college basketball, citing Georgeann Wells as the first to do so in a game. Elon’s head coach, Charlotte Smith, was the second to dump when she was playing for North Carolina.
Smith recalls that three of his Tar Heels teammates, including former track star Marion Jones, could also dunk. The quartet of players would stand in layup lines one behind the other before games and put on a show that would amaze fans and their opponents.
“We literally lined up back to back,” the 6-foot-old Smith recalled. “We were dunking four times in a row. It was exciting for us and exciting for our opponents, who would stop their warm-ups to watch us dunk.”
There have only been eight players who have immersed themselves in a college game. Joining Wells, Smith and Belibi are Michelle Snow, Sancho Lyttle, Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Brittney Griner, who holds the record with 18 of nearly three dozen college dunks.
That number is about to grow soon. Dawn Staley has her own dunk on freshman Ashlyn Watkins, who won the high school dunk contest last spring.
“We’re going to see a lot more of it,” the South Carolina head coach said. “Ashlyn is an incredible athlete. It doesn’t take long for her to dive into one of our exercises. It’s nothing for her to do. She thinks she’ll do it in a game, not necessarily with a quick spike. She can do it in a crowd.”
Staley said two of his other players can also dunk, though they haven’t done it in a game yet. She said that she sees a lot of high school players at AAU tournaments in the summer playing above the rim. Staley knows that dunks definitely add excitement to the game and help it grow, but that’s not why most fans tune in to watch the women play.
Watkins is shy and quiet when talking about her ability to dunk. She credits the Gamecocks strength and conditioning coaches for helping her get strong so she can play above the rim.
“They’ve been really helpful,” said Watkins, who recalls dunking a 9-foot hoop in fifth grade and a 10-foot hoop in eighth. “Make my quads, calves, and glutes stronger so I can get up when I’m tired.”
Watkins said she thought about diving into the Gamecocks’ exhibition game last week, but saw two girls approaching her and didn’t want to risk getting injured in the game.
Oregon head coach Kelly Graves had his own pair of potential dunkers in Phillipina Kyei and Sedonna Prince. Prince’s college career is over after suffering an elbow injury. The 6-foot-8 Kyei, who is from Canada, dunks with ease in practice.
“We were one of the few schools that could have a slam dunk contest in practice,” Graves said, laughing. “There are definitely a lot more players who can do it now than when I started training. They are bigger and stronger and can jump higher.”
Smith hopes to see more women doing it soon and will be happy to welcome them to the group.
“It’s really exciting to have been one of the founders of the dunk club,” Smith said. “We’ll have to make up our jerseys and give them to anyone who does.”