Around the Rim: Everybody Loves Alexis

Anna Hiatt/Staff

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Her team had just polished off a perfect conference season, but right after Saturday's contest against the Cal women's basketball team, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer walked across the floor and embraced the player that has long haunted her program.

It was Alexis Gray-Lawson's last game against the Cardinal and perhaps her last in Haas Pavilion.

VanDerveer, like everyone else, just wanted to goodbye.

"She always has great words to say to say to me," Gray-Lawson said. "She's thankful that I'm leaving, but she wished me the best of luck for the things to come."

In the postgame press conference, Vanderveer talked of her respect for one of the conference greats. She was still, however, glad that the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award-winner would no longer be lingering on the other side of the Bay.

Gray-Lawson has been on her radar ever since the first time she set foot in Maples Pavilion in 2006.

"It was the very first game she played in Stanford," VanDerveer said. "I'd never really seen her play, but she lit us up. She had 30 (points)I thought, 'This girl can really play.'"

The Bears lost that contest, 87-75, but as VanDerveer said, "She has been the focus of our defense ever since that first game."

And as VanDerveer admitted, it was more than just respect for a conference rival.

"I'm an Alexis Gray-Lawson fan," she said.

So are a lot of people.

When the senior came off the floor with 16 seconds left on the clock, everyone in attendance-Cal and Stanford fans, alike-paid their respect.

"It was definitely something to watch even Stanford players and fans stand up for me," Gray-Lawson said.

Everyone understood what it meant for Gray-Lawson to step off Pete Newell Court for the final time. Thirty-point effort or not, Gray-Lawson troubled the Cardinal program for four seasons.

They may not have remembered that first 30-point performance, but they sure couldn't forget Gray-Lawson's 37-point game last season.

That was when Gray-Lawson led the Bears in a 57-54 upset over then-No. 7 Stanford.

There were also, however, some bad times.

The year before that 37-point performance, in a game that would have decided the Pac-10 leader, Gray-Lawson's final three-point attempt rattled off the front of the rim with just one second left on the clock and Stanford took the two-point win.

After the game, Gray-Lawson stood with her jersey over her face and wept. Cal went on to lose their last game against Washington and finished second in the conference behind Stanford.

Saturday's game was far less competitive as Stanford led for the final 35 minutes of the contest. And they weren't playing for the conference title; instead, Cal was trying to hold on to its three-seed in Pac-10 tournament.

For the senior, however, that 63-48 loss was one of those bad times.

There weren't tears, but that could have been because the senior couldn't even describe the thought of playing her last game at Haas Pavilion.

"I don't even know what to say to that," Gray-Lawson said.

Speaking about the loss, she added: "I think the desire was there. I think the heart was there. I think the passion was there, but to beat great teams we've got to bring a little more than that. You've got to bring a little bit more poise and a little more control."

Now only one day away from the start of the Pac-10 tournament, there's one last opportunity to right any career wrongs.

"We could be seeing her again," VanDerveer said, in reference to the Pac-10 tournament.

In all likelihood, if Cal downs Arizona State on Friday, it could meet Stanford in the semifinals and give Gray-Lawson one last chance to nab one last win from the admiring opponent that considers her "the focus" of its defense.

Just like it's been for the past five seasons.


Contact Caroline Ogawa at [email protected]

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