It’s not exactly clear what the question was, but the answer is indisputably Joslyn Tinkle.
The only senior on the roster of the Stanford women’s basketball team, Tinkle has plugged up virtually all the holes the Cardinal seemed to have this season.
Suddenly Tinkle has emerged as a star after three years of being a complementary role player.
She did not become a regular starter until the fifth game of the Pac-12 season last year, in a Jan. 12 game against Utah. And her scoring average of 8.7 points at season’s end – after averaging 5.5 points as a sophomore and 4.6 points as a freshman – certainly did not suggest she was poised to be a big-time scorer. Plus she was really playing out of position last season, occupying the small forward spot for the most part after being strictly a low-post, back-to-the-basket player in high school in Montana.
It was assumed incoming freshman Aly Beebe might be asked to provide much of the inside scoring lost with the graduation of Nneka Ogwumike. But when Beebe was lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in early summer, the load fell to Tinkle.
She has responded in a big way. Not only is she averaging 18.2 points on 64.4 percent shooting, answering the question about who would provide the inside scoring lost with the departure of Ogwumike, but she is supplying a much-needed outside threat. Her 42.1 percent three-point shooting is second best on the team, only slightly behind Taylor Greenfield’s 42.9 percent. There are still questions about Stanford’s outside-shooting skills — probably the team’s biggest weakness — but Tinkle has answered some of them, which is an intriguing development for someone who came to Stanford as a post player.
A major reason Stanford owns the nation’s No. 1 ranking is Tinkle’s good start to the season.
“I think that’s huge for Jos,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Last year she came in at the 3 (small forward) for us and did a great job. This year she’s playing the 3 (small forward) or the 4 (power forward). She’s a scorer and she likes to score. She’s excited about how well she’s playing and so are we.”
Most of her time this season is spent at the interior power forward spot, but she has been productive at both positions.
She has scored in double digits in all six games heading into Friday’s road game against UC Davis, and, on Sunday at Gonzaga, Tinkle will get a chance to go against her sister, Elle, who is a freshman for the Zags.
“I’m super excited,” Tinkle said. “We’ve known about this for a little while now, I think since last spring. Obviously it’s an awesome opportunity to not only see my sister and my family because it’s very close to home, they’ll all be there my family and friends, but it’s a really cool feeling because here I am a senior, about to leave and end my career here at Stanford while [Elle]’s just beginning hers. So I’m very happy and excited for her, and she’s playing well.”
Elle Tinkle is not a starter, and averages less than nine minutes a game, but is still averaging 8.7 points and had 14 points in the Zags’ most recent game against Winthrop. Elle is unlikely to get much playing time against the Cardinal, and when she does, she unlikely to be matched up against her sister since Elle is a guard.
It will be an important test for Joslyn Tinkle, though, because Gonzaga, whose only loss was to No. 7 Louisville in Mexico, is a tough opponent, especially on its loud, packed homecourt.
“It’s going to be a really cool atmosphere,” Tinkle said. “I love playing there not only because they have a great fan base, it’s packed, I’ve heard it’s sold out, but family’s there and it’s extra special this year that I get to share it with her [Elle].”
The Zags beat Wisconsin (coached by former Stanford player and coach Bobbie Kelsey) in their only home game this season, and the Cardinal had to fight for its life the last time it played on Gonzaga’s homecourt, winning 84-78 two years ago after the game was tied with 5:29 left. And that Cardinal team had three players who would be drafted in the first round of the WNBA draft – Nneka Ogwumike, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen.
Gonzaga is probably the toughest homecourt in women’s basketball on the West Coast.
“We love it,” Tinkle said. “We have a great fan base here at home, but I don’t think we’re intimidated by it when we go on the road and we face a lot of people that are maybe rooting against us. I think it motivates us because it’s loud, it’s exciting, and we appreciate any support for women’s basketball so I think we use it to motivate ourselves. We want to be road warriors. We want to go out and not only show our fans, who are loyal to us, but show everyone, the rest of the country that we are a top contender in women’s basketball and show off what we do best and play well in any kind of crowd.”
Tinkle figures her early-season success is a combination of her improvement and the modifications made to the team’s approach.
“I think it’s changed in that we have a very different team this year,” she said. “A lot of it comes just with developing more confidence in myself out there and coach showing more confidence. I’m obviously receiving more playing time this year than I have in the past. My team looks to really rely on me to be a scorer, an offensive threat and a key contributor to the team this year. Not that I wasn’t before, but I feel like there’s so much more opportunity that I’ve been given this year and I want to take full advantage of it. I worked extremely hard in the offseason, I came into this year knowing that my role was going to be different. Having the younger team that we have, being the only true senior, I knew that I had a lot more responsibility to take care of.”