Every Game Matters
While everyone was bemoaning the San Jose Sharks’ lackluster play up until a few weeks ago, an extended period of nail-gnawing suspense will come with their recent success. For the next month and a half, virtually every game will carry the weight of a playoff contest. Sitting just a win south of being division leaders and third in the Western Conference standings, San Jose is also just four points of falling back as far as 11th and out of the playoffs. As is the custom for playoff hockey, each team will only go as far as its goalie can take it. Thankfully for the Sharks, The Goalie Who Will Not Be Named has been exiled in favor of the stellar stinginess of Antti Niemi, who was 3-0 last week while posting an absurd 96.3 save percentage. To paraphrase Arturis Irbe, another great goaltender of Sharks yesteryear, “Niemi is like wall.” Let’s just hope it stays that way Wednesday at Pittsburgh and Friday at Calgary before coming home for a 7:30pm date Tuesday with the Colorado Avalanche at HP Pavilion.
Spartans in Spotlight
Why would ESPN bother to televise a midweek men’s basketball game between the San Jose State Spartans and New Mexico State Aggies? Look no further than a skinny shooting guard who will be wearing white at the San Jose State Events Center Wednesday night. Adrian Oliver (24 points per game) has been getting increased pub now that SJSU is in the midst of its longest homestand of the schedule—and, of course, it helps the Spartans (13-12) have a real shot at finishing the season winning record for the first time in almost two decades. While Oliver is second in school history for points scored (the late Ricky Barry’s record looks to be safe), one of the more unselfish records in school history could go down Wednesday. Senior guard Justin Graham is just four assists shy of tying Michael Dixon’s record of 477. Following Wednesday night’s contest, which tips off at 8pm, the Spartans will have two more home games left, including a 5pm matchup Saturday with Louisiana Tech.
Stanford Moving Toward March Madness
For some reason certain coaches seem to consistently have a whistle in one hand and a suitcase in the other. Paul Westhead would fit the stereotype of a basketball vagabond. Among his 10 head coaching jobs, he led the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship (with a rookie yet to go by “Magic”), he designed those incredible Loyola Marymount teams of the late ‘80s—remembered more for the Hank Gathers tragedy than their beautifully frenetic pace of play—and he can now hawk a Phoenix Mercury WNBA championship ring if he needs bus fare in a pinch. But none of this is likely to matter on Saturday when Westhead and the Oregon women’s basketball team (12-13) come to Maples Pavilion to take on the No. 3-ranked Stanford Cardinal. Led by Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Jeanette Pohlen, Kayla Pedersen, Chiney Ogwumike—all of whom average more than 10 points per game—the Cardinal (24-2) look to be headed to a No. 1 seed by the time March Madness infects the nation. Considering no men’s team in the Bay Area other than St. Mary’s is likely to be invited to the Big Dance, the Cardinal is worth following. If you can’t wait until the weekend to see Stanford take the court, a public thrashing of Oregon State (9-16) will likely take place at 7pm Thursday.