Most important, Chiney has the benefit of an older sister who lives up to her name, which means my mother is still with me in Ibo. Nneka takes care of Chiney when she's sick, lends her the keys to her car, listens to her problems ("And trust me, I express every problem I have," says Chiney), offers wisdom about everything from how to set a screen to managing her class schedule, discusses world events with her (Chiney still watches CNN every day) and serves as her own personal drill sergeant. "When Chiney makes a mistake in practice, I can't correct her fast enough before Nneka is already yelling at her," says Tucker. The corrections are so relentless that VanDerveer has joked that she ought to get Nneka a whistle, just for Chiney.
"Nneka is very direct with me when it comes to basketball, but I don't take it personally," Chiney says. "Some people see that and think if that happened to them, they'd be defensive. But they don't understand our dynamic. She's not attacking my character, she's trying to help me. I'll take any kind of help."
On the floor, the two have obvious chemistry. ("They look for each other," says Pedersen.) More than that, Chiney's rapid development has taken pressure off Nneka. After missing all but one of her first seven shots at USC on Feb. 18, Chiney saw Nneka go out with a sprained ankle early in the second half. But she hit all four of her remaining shots and three of four free throws for 13 points in her team's 78--64 win. Two days later, with Nneka still out, Chiney led the team with 18 points and 15 rebounds in a 67--53 win over ninth-ranked UCLA. "Nneka was struggling at USC," says VanDerveer, "but rather than make excuses, [Chiney] dug in and put the team on her back."
One of the beauties of this Cardinal team is that it's not built around one player, such as it was in recent years, first with Candice Wiggins, then Jayne Appel. After losing to DePaul and Tennessee on the road in December, VanDerveer tweaked her triangle offense and gave her team more offensive freedom to take advantage of a multitude of weapons, which include All-America candidates Pedersen (12.9 points, 7.9 rebounds per game), who is 6'4" and can play four positions, and Pac-10 player of the year Jeanette Pohlen (15.2 points, 4.7 assists per game), a 6-foot senior guard who shoots 42% from behind the arc and 91% from the line. The team responded immediately, crushing fourth-ranked Xavier at Maples 89--52 on Dec. 28 and beating the Huskies 71--59 there two nights later. Since then, the Cardinal has beaten its Pac-10 foes by an average of 30.4 points a game, a cushion that has allowed VanDerveer to develop a roster that goes 10 deep. "This group is very unselfish, they play really hard, and we don't have any drama," says VanDerveer. "We're not the biggest or fastest team, but we're as together as any team in the country." She adds, "I think Nneka and Chiney's actual sisterhood has elevated the team's sisterhood."
Nneka and Chiney live in different dorms, have different circles of friends and different academic interests. (Nneka is a psychology major, and Chiney is considering majoring in international relations and communications.) "But somehow, every time I call one of them, the other one is right there with her," says Peter.
Ify says the two "complete each other." Or, as assistant coach Bobbie Kelsey puts it, "They are peanut butter and jelly; they just go together." A few weeks ago Chiney was asked what she would do when Nneka leaves after next year. "I said, I'm not thinking about that right now," says Chiney. "As a little sister, you ride the coattails of what your big sister does. Those are great coattails, so I'm going to ride them as long as I can."