Freshman Amber Orrange rises to occasion for Stanford 

click to enlarge Stanford freshman Amber Orrange posted season highs in points and assists in back-to-back NCAA Tournament games last weekend. - JAYNE KAMIN-ONCEA/US PRESSWIRE
  • Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire
  • Stanford freshman Amber Orrange posted season highs in points and assists in back-to-back NCAA Tournament games last weekend.

Amber Orrange is the shyest person on the Stanford women’s basketball team, but her boisterous play in the backcourt could be the X-factor that gets the Cardinal back to the Final Four.

The soft-spoken freshman point guard, whom National Player of the Year candidate Nnemkadi Ogwumike refers to as her “little knife” because of her ability to slice and dice, made herself heard on the biggest stage last weekend, posting season highs in points (18 vs. West Virginia on Monday) and assists (11 vs. Hampton on Saturday) in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Norfolk, Va.

“She’s the most quiet person you’ll probably ever meet,” sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike said. “But her game is very loud — she’s fearless.”

It looks like Orrange is hitting her stride at just the right time. Guard play will be crucial in Fresno this weekend as the region’s top-seeded Cardinal (33-1) run into some of the better backcourts in the country.

Orrange and sophomore Toni Kokenis will need to be especially crisp when they face South Carolina’s senior-guard tandem of Markeshia Grant and La’Keisha Sutton at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Grant and Sutton’s combined 21.5 points per game might seem underwhelming when contrasted against the Ogwumike sisters’ production (37.4 ppg), but the fifth-seeded Gamecocks (25-9) didn’t advance to the regional semifinal by running and gunning. Instead, they play a relentless, in-your-face-style of defensive basketball, which forced 20 turnovers out of sharp-shooting Purdue on Monday.

“We really need to take care of the ball if we want to be successful,” Kokenis said. “No points off of turnovers.”

If Stanford advances, a dream matchup with No. 2 seeded Duke, who plays St. John’s on Saturday, likely awaits them in the regional final Monday. The Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion Blue Devils (26-5) have been a top-10 team most of the year and would promise to give the Cardinal its biggest test since the season’s only loss at Connecticut in mid-November.

If the matchup against Duke comes to fruition, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, 6-foot-3 freshman Elizabeth Williams, will be patrolling the paint, so perimeter proficiency will be critical to opening things up for the Ogwumike sisters inside. Defensively, Orrange will have her hands full with one of the top point guards in the nation, Stockton native Chelsea Gray.

But Nnemkadi Ogwumike said the key for Orrange is to simply continue being herself.

“We just try to get the young kids to understand that there’s really no pressure,” she said. “Just go out there and play, we have your back.”

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Paul Gackle

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