Amber Orrange makes some noise

STANFORD, Calif. -- In a moment that was quintessentially Amber Orrange, the Stanford senior guard was celebrating the Cardinal's 86-76 win over Oklahoma to reach another Sweet 16, closing out her quietly stellar career at Maples Pavilion, when Stanford's sports information director approached to grab her for the postgame television interview.

Orrange, with a look on her face that indicated she wanted to run in the other direction, acquiesced reluctantly. Maybe she knew somebody had been stationed at the foot of the bleachers near the entrance to the locker room specifically to keep her from escaping.

In four years, Orrange has never sought the spotlight, but it just keeps finding her anyway.

On Monday, the Cardinal's point guard punctuated her senior season with a game-changing performance in the second round of the NCAA tournament. She finished with 24 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. She and backcourt mate Lili Thompson led a Stanford charge to open the second half that launched the Cardinal (26-9) back to the Sweet 16 for the eighth straight season and into a regional semifinal matchup with Notre Dame.

"She did step up big for us, but she's done that all season," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.

The fact of the matter is, Orrange has done it her entire career, from her freshman season as a starter at the point, leading a veteran team to the Final Four, to this final season in which, without Chiney Ogwumike on the floor, she needed to step forward and make this team hers.

It has never been about vocal leadership with Orrange, not that VanDerveer and her staff didn't work hard with her on simple things, like speaking loudly enough so her teammates could hear her on the floor. But Orrange -- who her teammates call "Bam" -- never needed to "speak" when she could play instead.

And her play has been some of the headiest and steadiest this program has ever seen over a four-year span.

On Monday, Orrange moved into the top 20 on Stanford's career scoring list and made a career-high 11 field goals. And she smiled sheepishly when it was time for her first question in the postgame news conference.

"I am better than I was as a freshman," Orrange said, asked about how much she loathes being the center of attention. Teammate and fellow senior Bonnie Samuelson sat next to her, laughing out loud. "But yeah ... I'd rather be in the background and not really out front."

Her play suggests otherwise. If Orrange is one of the most underrated players in the country, her "extreme consistency," as Samuelson called it, has been her calling card.

VanDerveer talked about how she's spent the season juggling lineups, trying to figure out which combination will work for her remodeled team in a given game. Players have come in and out of favor, hot hands have come and gone and come back again. Save for one spot in the lineup.

"Sometimes, we don't know what we are going to get from different people, but we know it's always Amber," VanDerveer said.

VanDerveer gave Orrange credit for picking her team up on both ends of the floor on Monday. After Oklahoma's Gioya Carter opened the game with 12 points and four steals, VanDerveer put Orrange on her at the defensive end. She finished with 16 points at the half and scored just two baskets in the second half.

On the offensive end, it was Orrange's trademark pullup jumper, that smooth left-handed stroke, that changed Stanford's offensive fortunes and kept it in the game in the first half when shots wouldn't fall. Stanford was down 36-32 at halftime and struggling to score in the half court against the Sooners' zone.

But Stanford went on a 12-2 run to open the half and grab the lead, extending it to 64-52 on an Orrange drive with 7:33 to go in the game.

"If she's going head-to-head with someone, you just get back on defense because you know she's going to make it," said Thompson, who had a pretty good day herself with 19 points and a 3-for-3 effort from beyond the arc.

VanDerveer got into Orrange's ear a bit before this game, reminding her of the legacy of Stanford seniors who have closed their Maples careers with big NCAA tournament games, from All-Americans Candice Wiggins and Jayne Appel to Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef in the past two seasons alone.

"It's a Stanford thing," VanDerveer said. "It's Maples magic. Why not have a great game? I think she really lived up to it." Orrange said she tried not to put too much pressure on herself.

"I just came and played really hard," Orrange said.

Orrange wasn't the only one who got the message. Senior forward Bonnie Samuelson rebounded from 0-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half to end up with 19 points, including three second-half 3-pointers.

The Cardinal are moving on to a familiar place against an unfamiliar opponent in Notre Dame. Considering the status of these two programs in the women's game, it is a rare matchup. Stanford and Notre Dame have met only twice in their history, the Cardinal leading the series 2-0, with the last game was back in the 1991-92 season. They have never played each other in the NCAA tournament.

"I'm glad we are playing another game," VanDerveer said. "Because I think we can play better than we played today."