STANFORD, Calif. — Amber Orrange sat stoically in the Stanford locker room this week shortly after her team defeated North Carolina to reach the women’s Final Four in Nashville, Tenn.
Around her, music blared and teammates’ celebratory squeals reverberated off the walls. Orrange stared silently off into space despite having a major role in the festive outcome with 14 points and four assists.
Orrange might not be the Voice of Stanford basketball, but the Cardinal (33-3) will rely on her Sunday when facing top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut in the national semifinals at Bridgestone Arena.
Although Stanford’s success goes through All-American forward Chiney Ogwumike, the Cardinal will need another supreme effort from its left-handed point guard to have any chance against the talent-laden Huskies (38-0).
Orrange has been silent but deadly accurate during the NCAA tournament, averaging 12.3 points a game while shooting 56.8 percent to become Stanford’s secondary threat.
‘The better the competition, the better she plays,” Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said.
“She’s not the type that jumps off the television screen at you,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb added. “Amber is deceptively athletic. She just makes the right play.”
The soft-spoken guard has been overlooked this season partially because she hasn’t turned the court into a personal chat room.
Orrange never saw the need to converse while wearing her Converses. But VanDerveer has demanded Orrange become more vocal.
Assistant Kate Paye watched game videos with Orrange to point out where she could improve her body language. The guard used to slouch her shoulders when it wasn’t going Stanford’s way. She wouldn’t greet teammates enthusiastically during breaks.
“When you see it with your own eyes it gets to you,” Orrange said.
She has had to improve her carriage this season despite being joined by personable freshman guard Lili Thompson, who never met a crowd she didn’t like. Thompson is the yin to Orrange’s backcourt yang.
But in the name of Stanford’s success, coaches laid down a Cardinal rule this season: “Every time we huddle I have to make sure I say something,” Orrange said.
It might make her uncomfortable, but the 5-foot-7 guard from Houston is showing an assertive side. During a tense regional final Tuesday night, senior leader Mikaela Ruef called a play.
“No, we’re not going to run that,” Orrange replied.
“What do you want?” the fifth-year forward asked.
“Right triangle,” Orrange said.
Ruef: “She was really decisive. She was taking control.”
Stanford needs Orrange in complete control Sunday against a team going for a record ninth NCAA titles. Most observers give Stanford little chance after losing by 19 points at Connecticut on Nov. 11.
But Orrange is better equipped for her second Final Four appearance. She made only one of nine shots for three points as a frightened freshman in 2012 when Stanford fell to Brittney Griner and Baylor 59-47.
“I was like wide-eyed, didn’t know what was happening and overwhelmed,” Orrange said.
Now she is just excited.
Orrange had a career-high 22 points against the Huskies in Stanford’s second game of the season. But keeping turnovers to a minimum might be a decisive factor against Connecticut’s formidable backcourt of Bria Hartley and Moriah Jefferson.
Orrange obsesses over turnovers almost as much as VanDerveer, who is known for pulling players for losing the ball.
The two-time All-Pac-12 guard plays each mistake in her head like a video replay although she led the conference in assists-to-turnover ratio at 3.11 per game.
“Each one I would figure out what I did wrong,” Orrange said.
But the daughter of 1996 Olympic triple jumper Elexa Orrange tries not to let it show any more.
The guard looked calm when after North Carolina jumped to a 22-9 early lead. Orrange then helped orchestrate a 7-0 run that regained momentum and eventually led to a trip to Music City.
“My coaches call it flipping the switch,” Orrange said.
Just don’t expect a lot of noise when the light goes green.