March 11, 2019

Oregon Schooled Stanford; Stanford Schooled Non-Believers

Warren Grimes

An official tossed the ball up at center court at 5 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time.  It was Sunday, it was Las Vegas, and it was the start of the championship game for the women’s Pac 12 tournament.  Stanford was playing number one seeded Oregon, a team that had schooled Stanford a month earlier in what was the worst Stanford loss in the Tara VanDerveer era.  Many  fans, and I was one of them, thought Stanford had only a small chance of winning this game.  Fortunately, the team and its coaches did not share this view.

One of the most cherished moments in sports comes when your team upsets a higher ranked foe.  When that foe humiliated you a month earlier, all the more so. 

There were, to be sure, reasons for optimism.  Stanford had run off eight straight wins after the Oregon debacle.  Stanford had been shutting down opponents consistently, with what was probably the conference’s best late season defense.   Meanwhile, Oregon had lost two of its last eight games, albeit contests in which star post player Ruthy Hebard had missed part or all of the contest.  Oregon had also struggled mightily to win in overtime the semi final game against UCLA.  Oregon had less depth than Stanford and might have tired legs.

Still, I was skeptical about Stanford’s chances.  I doubted that Stanford could adequately defend five starting players who consistently scored in double figures, providing one of the most potent offenses in women’s hoops (averaging over 86 points per game and putting up 88 in Maples against Stanford).   I doubted that Stanford’s inconsistent offense could score enough points to win. 

Well, Stanford came to play.

Maya Dodson blocked Hebard’s first attempt, and Stanford jumped off to 8-0 lead in the opening minutes.  I still doubted.

Stanford took a seven point lead into the second quarter.  I still doubted.

Stanford increased that lead to nine points at half time.  I still doubted.

In the third quarter, both Smith and Dodson turned an ankle and had to leave the game.  Oregon outscored Stanford by ten points, taking a one point lead into the fourth quarter.  My doubts seemed confirmed. 

In the fourth quarter, with Smith and Dodson back, Stanford continued to battle as the teams traded leads.  By midway into the fourth quarter, Oregon had extended its lead to three.  Ugh. 

It was crunch time.  Smith responded with a three pointer in the last ticks of the shot clock.  With the score tied, officials called a media time out.  What followed was my favorite part of the game.

Stanford came out with renewed resolve and confidence.  The big players stepped up.  It began with an amazing contested interior shot by Carrington, followed by a theft and fast break layup by Carrington.  With Stanford up by three and about 90 seconds remaining, Williams faked a drive, then stepped back to swish a three pointer.  Stanford now led by six. 

It was Williams’ three pointer that made me a believer.  Stanford was going to win this game.  And they did, hitting free throws (Williams four and Smith two) that sealed the deal.

Coach VanDerveer said it was Stanford’s defense that won the game.  Indeed it was.  Hebard was limited to 13 points on four for ten shooting.  Ionescu scored 27 of Oregon’s 57 points, but was only 33% from three point land.  The Ducks scored almost 30 points less than their season average.  The defense was a team effort, with players like Dodson, Coffee, and Wilson playing pivotal roles.  Stanford’s 64 points were also below season average, but it didn’t matter.

Alanna Smith won the tournament’s most outstanding player award.  Well deserved, as she averaged 18.6 points and 12.3 boards per game while shooting threes at a 36.3% rate.  And she blocked shots.

Honestly, there were probably three other players who also deserved the most outstanding player award.  One was Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, who scored 27 points (almost half of Oregon's total) and had 12 boards in a losing cause.  Two other Stanford players should have been considered.  DiJonai Carrington was a huge difference maker in the Oregon win.  In that game, she was Stanford’s top scorer with 22 points along with 9 boards, including key offensive rebounds.  She made inspirational and acrobatic plays when it mattered most.  And Kiana Williams, throughout the tournament, was a rock.  She played an average of 39 minutes per game, dishing out many assists with a 2.7 assist/turnover ratio.  Not to mention her ability to score points when it mattered most (she averaged 16 points), and to hit game-sealing free throws.

Likely to get a two seed in the big dance, the Stanford team is in a good position with momentum and confidence on its side.

As for me, I got schooled by a great team with a great coach.

March 04, 2019

Tournament Ready? Who's Hot, Who's Not

                                                              Tournament Ready?
                                                           Who’s Hot, Who’s Not

                                                                  Warren Grimes

            Stanford is coming into the Pac 12 Tournament on a high note.  No perfection, but a whole lot of things are clicking.  Stanford won each of its last six games.

            Let’s start with the defense.  In the last six games (since the Oregon loss), Stanford has held it’s opponents to an average of 52.8 points per game.  Stanford has accomplished this while playing four of those games on the road.  Stanford held very good UCLA and ASU teams to 51 and  50 points, respectively.  Except for USC’s 67 points, no other opponent among the six has got beyond 54 points. 

            Impressive scout and team defense was needed, particularly in narrow victories against USC and Arizona.  The offense has struggled more, but here as well there are positive stories to tell.

            Let’s start with the big three.  No one is hotter than DiJonai Carrington.  For the season, she is averaging 13.7 points on 46% shooting.  In the last four games, Carrington has averaged 15.3 points on a sizzling 77% shooting.  Carrington was the top scorer in each of the two season-ending games in Washington, scoring 19 points in each contest.  She continues to be a strong rebounder, averaging 7.5 boards over the last four games.  Opposing coaches have a big problem defending this very athletic, very strong, and very focused player.  Carrington made only one of six three point attempts during this period, but opponents leave her unguarded at their peril. 

            Senior Alanna Smith has also been smoking opponents.  Her three point accuracy has declined in the last four games: 5-19 or 26% during this period.  The rest of her game, however, is sizzling.    Leaving out the three point attempts, Smith shot at a 68% rate against the last four opponents.  She averaged 7.75 boards and led the team in scoring (16.25 points per game) despite averaging only 27 minutes per game.  Fouls are still an issue for Smith, but she continues to be there when needed, making a clutch winning shot in the last seconds of the USC game.  And her defense is also impressive, averaging 2 blocks per game and on pace to break Jayne Appel’s season record for total blocks. 

            Last, but hardly least among the big three, is Kianna Williams.  In the last four games, she had 20 assists and only 8 turns; that’s an impressive 2.5 assist to turnover ratio.   She also made 10 three point shots at a 37% clip, just about where she’s been for the season.  Williams averaged only 11.25 points during the four game stint, but Williams makes points when the team needs them most (and dishes out assists so that others can score). 

            As good as the big three are, the key to tournament success may lie with the remaining starters and rotation players.  Maya Dodson is now back, starting three of the last four games and making a contribution.  Dodson has missed some put backs and lay ups that she should have made, but her shooting percentage in the last four games is a respectable 50%.  Her boarding and defense are impressive.  Dodson has the highest boards per minute for the last four contests – .30 per minute compared to Smith’s .287.  Dodson is also the team’s most athletic shot blocker.
            On a minutes per game basis, the top five players over the last four games include the Hulls: Lacie, who starts, averaged around 26 minutes and Lexie, who comes off the bench, averaged 23 minutes.  For these last four games, Lexie has shot from distance at a 38.5% clip; Lacie at a 37.5% clip.  That makes the Hulls, along with Kianna Williams, the best late season three point shooters.  The Hulls are also in the lineup because they are focused and smart defenders.  They, along with Anna Wilson, lead the team in thefts per minute.

            Anna Wilson has averaged 13 minutes per game over the last four games.  She’s a tenacious defender, a theft leader, and a three point threat – Wilson made 3 of 7 attempts for a 42.8% clip in this late season period. 

            Alyssa Jerome has also averaged 10 minutes in the last four contests.  Jerome is steady, rebounds and defends well, and can be a three point threat.  Jenna Brown and Shannon Coffee are two more players that can provide fruitful minutes if (as we hope) Stanford plays three games in three days.

            My challenge for the players:

                                                 For the seniors, and for each other,
                                                                     play smart,
                                               but play your heart out this weekend! 

February 18, 2019

True Grit in LA

True Grit in LA

Warren Grimes

With four conference games left, Stanford is now in sole possession of second place in the conference, pending the outcome of the Oregon/Oregon State game.  The demoralizing 40 point loss to Oregon did not take the fight out of this team.  In Los Angeles, Alanna Smith and her mates played hard and, at least on occasion, very well.  The 14-point win against UCLA came despite erratic offensive efficiency (Stanford shot only 28% from distance).   The 2-point USC win was a remarkable comeback, with the result in doubt until USC’s last second shot missed the mark. 

The last games of a conference season are intensely fought.  Each team is in late season form, fighting for the best possible seed.  Conference coaches are playing an opponent for a second time and have honed their defense.  Against a top team like Stanford, every opponent is hungry for a signature victory that could give them a ticket to the big dance, or a higher seed in the conference tournament.  So yes, Stanford’s irregular offensive performance can be attributed to its own subpar efforts, but it is also related to enhanced and refined defensive schemes by skilled opponents, and to the level of intensity that opponents bring.

Stanford’s defensive efforts continue to impress.  Over the last four games, Stanford has given up an average of 62.5 points per game (if Oregon’s 88 point performance is excluded, the average drops to 54 points per game).  Playing the same four teams during the same period, Cal  has given up an average of over 88 points per game, or roughly 26 points per game more than Stanford.  Solid defense requires communication and team work, so the entire Stanford squad deserves credit for this effort.  Individuals still stand out, including Alanna Smith for her blocks, DiJonai Carrington for her defensive boards, and the Hull twins for their focused defensive intensity and steals.  The Hull twins are steal leaders, but fall short of Anna Wilson’s .075 steals per minute, the highest rate on the team. 

So what’s with the offense?  During the LA weekend, the team shot 31% from distance.  That’s not a horrible percentage, but its down from the 35.5% season average, and almost certainly not enough to excel in the upcoming tournaments.  Maya Dodson’s renewed absence made Stanford more vulnerable to a defense focused on perimeter drives and outside shooting.  The more the inside game thrives, the greater the opportunity for outside shooters to gain a rhythm. 

Aside from Maya Dodson returning and building on her prior efforts, more playing time for Lexie Hull could help.  For the L.A. weekend, Lexie was 2-4 from distance and, for the season, the freshman’s 38.5% distance shooting rate is now the second  highest on the team.  Lexie Hull continues to impress with her rebounding (on a per minute basis, Lexie is the third best on the team behind Smith and Carrington).  The Hull sisters are also the team’s best free throw shooters, but have so far been unsuccessful in drawing a lot of fouls.  Depending on matchups, Stanford’s strongest offensive lineup could be Smith, Carrington, the two Hulls, and Williams.  This group may lack height and strength underneath, but it includes the team’s three best rebounders, its best three point shooters, and the finesse and defensive moxie that can lead to transition buckets.   

The big three (Alanna Smith, Kiana Williams and DiJonai Carrington) proved their moxie over the weekend.  They were responsible for the grit that was demonstrated against a USC team that led, frequently by double digits, for most of the game.  Smith won the conference POW award, deservedly as she averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 boards for the weekend. 

Meanwhile, two other Stanford guards have the potential for breakout games: Jenna Brown and Anna Wilson could be pivotal in providing bench points and defense.  Brown has the second highest assists per minute rate while Wilson leads the team in thefts per minute and does well on assists.  To gain more playing time, each needs to score more points. 

The team’s toughest remaining conference opponent is ASU this coming weekend.  Stanford needs the Ws, but, even more, it needs the opportunity to improve its offensive efficiency. 

February 11, 2019

Reflections on the Oregon Debacle

                                                  Reflections on the Oregon Debacle
                                                                  Warren Grimes

            I could not have written this on Sunday.  It is now roughly 24 hours later, and with a bit more perspective, here are some thoughts on Stanford’s miserable outing against Oregon.

            Stanford got taken to the cleaners, got tooled, got educated, got cremated, got obliterated (pick your favorite phrase).  Sure, you can find isolated points of accomplishment – we held Oregon to 88 points while Cal gave up 105 – but the fact is, Oregon’s point margin over us, on our own home court, was larger than Oregon’s margin over teams with far weaker records than our own.   Oregon, by it’s own coach’s estimate, may have played its best defensive game of the year. 

            There are similarities between Oregon and Stanford.  Both are teams with explosive offensive potential that score in a lot of ways.  Both are “pick your poison” teams, meaning that an opponent attempting to defend typically cannot effectively defend both inside and outside scoring threats.  But Oregon simply executed this offensive advantage far more proficiently.  True, Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, by themselves, scored 47 points (to Stanford’s 48), but defending them left open a lot of other Oregon players that shot 75% from distance.  It was truly a team effort for Oregon. 

            Oregon has a lot of length, both inside and on the perimeter, and this combined with a focused and intense perimeter defense took Stanford distance shooters out of their rhythm – Stanford shot 22.7% from beyond the arc.

            Stanford’s vaunted scouting defense obviously did not do the trick.  TV commentators said that Coach VanDerveer wanted to prevent inside scoring and distance shots, while giving up the mid range jumper.  Obviously, Stanford accomplished neither.   Ruthy Hebard makes 72% of her shots, mostly on the inside, and she was 8-12 on Sunday.  It makes sense to double her, but only if Oregon’s outside shooters are significantly less proficient.  That was not the case on Sunday, with Oregon converting 75% of its 3-point shots.  With the benefit of hindsight, Stanford would have been better off letting Hebard convert more of her 2 point shots while focusing on intense perimeter defense.  But, in any rematch, Oregon may not convert the 3 pointers at that phenomenal rate (for the season, Oregon shoots 42% from distance), so focusing on Hebard may still make sense. 

            Maya Dodson’ continued improvement, both defensively and offensively, may be a key in any rematch against Oregon.  Dodson was 4 for 13 with 4 boards in her 25 minutes on Sunday.
If she can be a more proficient scorer on the inside, this could occupy Hebard (and perhaps others needed for help defense).  And it might open up shots for Stanford’s perimeter shooters. Defensively, no single defender can shut down Hebard, but limiting her productiveness could allow Stanford defenders to focus more on perimeter shooters. 

            Beating this extremely talented and well coached Oregon team is a formidable challenge.  Oregon does not have the depth of other teams, but if its starters stay healthy, they would be my favorite for the conference and national championships.  But, in sports, the rule is that you have to play the game.  Stanford, in a rematch, seems likely to play better than it did this last Sunday.  Meanwhile, Stanford’s immediate task is to go to Southern California and get some Ws against a rapidly improving UCLA and an always threatening USC.   That’s more than enough to have on your plate for the rest of the week.

January 28, 2019

After Eight Games in Conference

                                                   After Eight Games in Conference

                                                                  Warren Grimes

            After eight games in the Pac 12, Stanford is 7-1, and 17-2 overall.  Stanford looked like a top 10 team in victories over Washington State and Washington.  This last weekend was not Stanford’s best, with a hard fought win in Boulder against a team that has yet to win in conference, and a tough loss in Salt Lake City to upstart Utah, now also 7-1 in conference.  Yes, Stanford does have a target on its back. 

            If you’d told me at season’s outset that Stanford would be 17-2 at January’s end, I’d have been pleased.  I might have guessed that the two losses would be to Baylor and Tennessee.

So much for that.  Instead Stanford has lost to two very good and tournament bound teams that, however, are not top 10 teams (Gonzaga and Utah).  There are striking parallels in the two losses.

            Both were road games against teams highly motivated to take down Stanford.
            Both opponents shot well from distance (Gonzaga 61.5%; Utah 45.8%)
            Alanna Smith played limited minutes in both games because of foul trouble.
            Stanford staged strong, but ultimately unsuccessful, second-half rallies in both.
            There were, however, significant differences.  The Zags dominated the boards; the Utes did not.  Stanford was even on rebounds in Salt Lake City.  Stanford, however, missed a lot of points in the paint in the early going against Utah.  Overall, Stanford shot only 38.5% against Utah, well below its 46% for the season.  From distance, Kiana Williams was 1-8  and Alanna Smith was 3-9. 

            How much did Smith’s foul trouble matter?  Against the Zags, Smith played 24 minutes and had 13 points and 7 boards.  But Smith’s interior defense could be replaced by Nadia Fingall and Maya Dodson.  Against Utah, both of these players were unavailable.  Smith had 19 points and 9 boards against Utah, so she was still offensively productive.   The most obvious loss may have been defensive.  Smith had to be less aggressive on the defensive end, and her teammates may have had to sag off Utah’s distance shooters to protect Smith from further fouls.

            Even in the loss to Utah, there were positive signs.  The Hulls continue to shine.  Lexie had 10 points and 2 boards in 33 minutes.  In the same time, Lacie had 7 points, 3 boards and 3 assists.  One of Lacie's assists was a fast break floater to DiJonai Carrington, which she grabbed and converted  while doing her own float to the basket.  The Hulls collectively were 5 for 8 from the foul line, ending their perfect foul shooting streaks.  But there is no doubt that the team’s foul shooting is on the rise (67% against Utah compared to 58% against Gonzaga).  For the season, Stanford is now shooting 71.3% from the foul line. 

            Stanford is a better team now than it was against Gonzaga.  In a rematch against Utah (and possibly in the Big Dance against Gonzaga), Stanford will be favored.  Stanford’s biggest vulnerability, however, continues to be on the inside.  The team needs Maya Dodson back.  This weekend against California, the pivotal factor may be whether Smith can play hard while avoiding fouls. 

January 13, 2019

Disappointments, but mostly Superlatives:
Stanford WBB After 4 Conference Games

Warren Grimes

Stanford is now 14-1 after surviving a tough road trip to the Arizona schools.  Any win against ASU on the road is an achievement.  And Arizona is a serious team this year, having taken down California and ASU.   But Stanford actually won that game by a comfortable 30 point margin.  What’s not to like?
Well, there are disappointments, primarily on the injury front.  The worst was the ACL that has taken Nadia Fingall out for the rest of the season.  She had been a starter and a real force inside.  And Maya Dodson, with her jump hook, shot blocking, and improved rebounding, was yet another bright star taken out of the lineup with a stress fracture.  Dodson has excelled at offensive boards, the only player on the team with more offensive than defensive rebounds.  Stanford is now vulnerable at the post, and will remain so at least until Dodson is back.  Marta Sniezek has also yet to play a single minute.
Bit let’s talk about some superlatives.  We can start with free throw shooting.  Last year’s team shot only 64% from the line.  There were signs of improvement in the pre-conference season, but still too many missed opportunities.  Then the conference games began.
How about an 85.5% rate?  That’s what the team has shot in the four conference games so far.  In the desert, Stanford shot a sizzling 95.8% (23-24), with 22 uninterrupted makes before Mikaela Brewer missed her first free throw of the year at the end of the Arizona game.  Stanford was 14 for 14 in the ASU game, a team record for the number of attempts without a miss.  Stanford’s free throw shooting is helped by the Hulls (who have yet to miss) and improved accuracy from Smith, Carrington, and Williams, each of whom is now converting at 72% or better.
A second superlative is DiJonai Carrington.  She has emerged as a member of the triumvirate – Smith, Williams and Carrington, each of whom is averaging 13 points or better.  Actually, since her career high 33 points against Tennessee, Carrington has been on a tear.  In the four conference games, she averaged 20 points, the best on the team, and averaged 8.75 boards, second to Smith’s 10.5.   In defensive boards, Carrington leads the team with .224 per minute, ahead of Smith's .215 per minute. Her just-beyond-the-half-court-line conversion against ASU was part of a demoralizing double-double against that team (17 points and 11 boards).
Then there is Alanna Smith, averaging just under 20 points for the season and shooting an astonishing 48.8% from distance, averaging 2.6 three pointers per game.  Of course, Smith is just an everywhere player, proving that she can score with multiple moves under the basket.  And she is the in the top two in both defensive and offensive boards per minute.
The other member of the triumvirate, Kiana Williams, is only one behind Smith with 38 made threes at a 39.6% clip.  Some have been shot from the parking lot outside the arena.
She is a competitor and a clutch player and, despite some difficulty with turnovers, is the real deal as a point guard.
Now we get to the Hulls.  They are both making a mark with their never stop motors and high basketball IQs.  Both are superior defenders, leading the team in steals per minute (.072 for Lacie and .070 for Lexie).  When the opponent is pushing in transition, one or both of the Hulls are consistently back to defend.
   Lacie also has the best assist/turnover ratio on the team – 2.4 – and shoots from distance at a 39% clip.  Lexie, back from her stress fracture, continues to lead the team in rebounds per minute (.298 to Smith’s .281).  That’s just part of the story.  When it comes to offensive boards, Lexie greatly surpasses anyone else on the team (.140 per minute to Dodson’s .100 and Smith’s .067).  Lexie can be outside the three point line when the shot is launched and somehow get into the paint and contest for rebounds.  Her board crashing sometimes generates fouls, which is something she needs to watch.
Lexie Hull has played only in six games, but if she continues on the current trajectory, it is hard to see how the coaches could keep her off the floor.  She started and had a double-double in the team’s opening game and just knows how to score (42% from three point range so far).
Finally, Stanford’s third freshman is now making waves from off the bench.  Jena Brown can get the ball down the court in one heck of a hurry.  She played 20 minutes against Arizona, and had 9 points on lay ups and a three pointer.
Tune in for more superlatives this weekend against the Washington schools.

December 31, 2018

Non-Conference Confidence

Non-Conference Confidence
Warren Grimes
                Impressive.  That’s the right word to describe Stanford WBB, this season’s edition.  The team ended the non-conference schedule 10-1.  One has to go back 5 years to find a better beginning to the season.  And this team should get better.    
                They lost their one contest to a hot-shooting Gonzaga team, despite an inspiring fourth quarter rally.  Building off that defeat, they went on to defeat two undefeated top 10 teams: Number three ranked Baylor at home; and number nine ranked Tennessee on the road.  The victory in Knoxville was  record setting and an altogether inspiring performance. 
                Stanford scored 95 points, two short of a record for an opponent playing on Tennessee’s home court, and shot 58% from the three point line, a record for a Tennessee visiting opponent.   Two Stanford players set career highs for points in that game: DiJonai Carrington had 33 points and Lacie Hull had 14 on 4-5 shooting from three land.  
                When two Stanford players set career scoring highs in the same game, that’s good news.  The last time I can recall that happening was in Stanford’s upset victory over Maryland in a NCAA regional final during Candice Wiggins’ senior year.  She and JJ Hones both set career highs in that memorable game, and Stanford went on to defeat another number 1 seed, Connecticut, in the semifinals.
                It’s premature to suggest this year’s team will have that sort of success, but not premature to say that the team is, indeed, very, very good.  So why the step up from last year?  Gone are Brittany McPhee and Kaylee Johnson, but the returning players are stepping up.  Four of the five starters are veterans with substantial experience.   
                Fouls aside, Alanna Smith is getting it done on the offensive end, leading the team with just under 19 points per game and shooting more threes than anyone else (and at a remarkable 49% clip).  She’s also the team’s second best rebounder.  And Kiana Williams is continuing her strong point guard performance, leading the team with 50 assists and just under a 2:1 assist turnover ratio.  She has almost as many threes as Smith, and at a commendable .386 rate. 
                A number of vets are back with improved performance.  Maya Dodson’s 16 points against CSUN was the team high, a sign of the team’s blossoming versatility and balance.  She is showing confidence in her jump hook shot.  Dodson leads the team in blocks and is improving her rebounding. 
                But let’s talk about two starting players who have really stepped up this season.  First is DiJonai Carrington.  She has excelled in numerous ways, including moving up to the team’s number one rebounder (on a boards per minute basis, she’s a slight step ahead of Smith).  She’s shooting threes at a .379 clip, but she’s also scoring in the paint on creative drives and put backs.  Her eleven points per game average puts her in third place on the team, but, of late, as in the Tennessee game, she has been performing well above that level. 
                None of this is totally different from last year’s Carrington, but she’s no doubt been asked to step up her performance in McPhee’s absence.  Carrington is a fierce competitor and a chemistry player.  Her strength, athleticism and drive make her critical to Stanford’s success.  Stanford’s ability to stay on pace with Smith out of the game is due in significant part to Carrington, whose versatility makes her a nightmare for opponents to guard.
                Lacie Hull has also been quietly (but not so quiet of late) contributing to this team’s success.  She has started 5 games for the team for good reason.  She plays solid defense, leading the team with 20 steals.  Lexie is steady on the ball, with a 2:1 assist/turnover ratio.  And she can shoot the three ball, at a 40% rate overall.  Of late, she’s been rebounding strongly, with 5 boards against Buffalo and 4 against CSUN.  
                Lacie Hull won the Pac-12 freshman of the week distinction last week.  Well deserved but, I must say, something of a surprise.  At the season’s start, one would have guessed that the first Stanford freshman to get this award would be her twin, Lexie Hull, or perhaps Jenna Brown, the highly ranked point guard recruit.  Lexie Hull, however, has played in only three games because of her injury, and Brown has been making steady progress as a point guard, but has yet to start a game.
                There is something to be said for the fact that Lacie Hull won the freshman of the week competition before either of her more highly touted freshman teammates did.  That suggests that they are all very good players whose development will make Stanford an even better team. 
                Imagine a Stanford team at season’s end with Marta Sniezek, Lexie Hull, and Anna Wilson back, and with a more experienced Jenna Brown.   Some of that may happen as early as this weekend, when USC and UCLA visit Maples.

December 11, 2018

Seven Games In: What’s Working, What’s Not

            Going into the December exam break, Stanford is 6-1. Not perfect, but a far cry from the 5-4 record at the same point last year.  Some things are working well, others less so.

            On the positive side, senior Alanna Smith is averaging 18.1 points per game.  Her contributions don’t stop there, as Smith is averaging 6 boards, 2.6 assists, and 1.6 blocks per contest.  Her three point shooting percentage is the team’s best (16 threes at a .485 clip). And she is knocking down free throws at a much improved rate (.778 compared to last year’s disappointing .539).  Smith is critical to the team’s success, but has had to sit substantial periods because of foul trouble (against FGCU and Gonzaga). 

            Equally impressive, veteran sophomore Kiana Williams is tearing it up with points (averaging 15.3) and assists (averaging 5 assists against 3 turnovers per game).   Smith leads the team in threes with 20 (at an impressive .465 clip).  She’s a fierce competitor and (for now at least) the team’s point guard.  She’s a very good one, but could also dazzle as a shooting guard.

            Other veterans have also shown up.  DiJonai Carrington and Nadia Fingall are consistently putting up double figures, and Maya Dodson, coming off the bench, is not far behind.  

            None of this is wholly unexpected.  But the statistics do reveal some surprises.  For example, who is getting the most playing time? Here are the top four in average minutes per game:
            Kiana Williams - 30.7 minutes
            Lexie Hull         - 25.7 minutes (in the 3 games played)
             Lacie Hull        - 23.1 minutes
            Alanna Smith    - 22.6 minutes

            Given that Smith is the team’s most prolific scorer (averaging .804 points per minute  against second place Williams average of .500 points per minute), Alanna needs to minimize fouls so that she can be on the floor more.

            So why are the Hull twins getting so much playing time?  
            One answer is that they play defense and keep the offense flowing with few turnovers.  On the defensive side, the twins lead the team in steals per minute. Here are the stats:
                                                Lacie Hull                   - .105 steals per minute
                                                Lexie Hull                   - .104 steals per minute
                                                DiJonai Carrington     - .077 steals per minute

            In the turnover category, Lacie Hull is the best. Despite averaging the second highest number of minutes, Lacie has less than one turnover per game while averaging more than 2 assists.   So far, both twins are perfect from the foul line (Lexie 2-2 and Lacie 4-4).

            The twins may be identical, but they are different players.  With 10.7 points per game, Lexie has the third highest average on the team.  And there’s more.  Lexie is the team’s top rebounder in terms of boards per minute. Here are the top four players in that category.
                                                Lexie Hull                   - .273 per minute
                                                Alanna Smith              - .272 per minute
                                                Nadia Fingall              - .243 per minute
                                                DiJonai Carrington     - .240 per minute        

            Rebounding was an issue in the loss to Gonzaga. Lexie’s injury kept her out of the game, and the team’s other top rebounder, Alanna Smith, played only 25 minutes.  Other players need to step up their rebounding, among them Maya Dodson, who, while leading the team in shot blocks, is averaging just .188 boards per minute.  With her athletic moves, Dodson tends to get fouled a lot, and she also needs to convert more of her foul shots (so far she has made only 1/3 of her 15 attempts).   

            Three other players are averaging 10 minutes or more per game (Alyssa Jerome, Anna Wilson, and Jenna Brown).  If this trend continues, 10 Stanford players would be part of the rotation.  To be a great team, each of them must find how they can contribute.  With Baylor and Tennessee up next, the door is open for each to demonstrate what they can do.  

Warren Grimes, FBC Feature Writer

November 29, 2018

A Massive Astronomical Event Was Just Announced - the Haley Comet!

Lovers of Stanford Women's Basketball - a Massive Astronomical Event Was Just Announced that
will brighten our lives through early 2023!!!!

The Haley Comet will be visible to the naked eye in broad daylight next summer in Palo Alto - and will be closely watched for years!!

Sorry for the cheap stunt to get your attention - but now that I've got it, I'll let you know (as if you didn't already) that Haley Jones just committed to Stanford. Haley may not be a comet, but she's the next thing to it - she's the No. #1 ranked recruit in the 2019 class in the U.S. I've heard her compared to Maya Moore at sixteen. They're both the same size - 6'-1" and built strong.

Remember Tara and Amy's last No. #1 recruit? I knew you would - you're right, it was Chiney. And see, you don't even need a last name - besides I still can't spell it. So years from now, I'll just say Haley - and you'll know who I mean.

She's a senior at Archbishop Mitty High School in Santa Cruz - in case you want a preview. Also, I've included a link to the video of the Under 17 Basketball World Cup Gold Medal Game against France from last summer that I think you'll enjoy. I'm still having trouble with the technical aspects of blogging, so you'll need to put your cursor on this link and hit control/click to access the link.

Stanford's recruiting class national ranking just went from No.# 3 to No. #2. How does our coaching staff do it? I remember reading that when Tara asked her dad about taking the Stanford job, he told her "Nah, it's a coaching graveyard." Stanford had had decades of losing seasons and were the perennial doormat for the PAC10 conference. NCAA tournaments?  Forgetaboutit.

Most fans excused the previous coaching staff, figuring (like Tara's father) that the microscopically thin layer of star talent available would head directly to the established powers, i.e. Tennessee or Old Dominion. Coaching on the West Coast in the 80's was akin to coaching in Australia, as far as the national sports media was concerned. (Believe it or not, it's better these days.)

But Tara could envision it. One of the top five academically ranked universities in the world with a major endowment, incredible alumni base, and magnificent plans for the future. And Silicon Valley, Baby. You probably bought a Macintosh like I did in 1985, her first year.

So, in one of the bravest coaching decisions in WBB history, Tara left Ohio State where she had a major contender in hand, for an absolute non-contender (Jeanne Ruark Hoff, their only All American in decades had just graduated.) Then, somehow she signed Jennifer Azzi from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, from under Pat Summit's nose, and then Kate Starbird, then Molly Goodenbour and things began to change - big time. But that's another story.

Obviously they're still changing. It's almost like the WBB magnetic field has had a polar reversal. Haley didn't go to UConn! Instead of the 251st academically ranked university in the world, she decided to come to the 2nd - according to Reuters. (Of course, being a British rating agency, they list Oxford as still No. #1.) Anyway - smart decision, Haley.

But that's not all! While you're watching the U17 game link, check out one of Haley's teammates who is also coming with her to Stanford next year, and is the No. #23 recruit in the nation - Fran Belibi. Her dunking videos on youtube have gone viral and she's 6'-1". How many 6'-1" people do you know that can dunk? 
Not on the U17 US team, but the No. #16 recruit in the nation, also coming to Stanford next year is 6'-5" post player Ashten Prechtel. And fourth, but certainly not least, Hannah Jump has also signed and is the 50th ranked recruit in the nation (that's out of tens of thousands). She stars at Pinewood in Los Altos. Her coach was recently quoted as saying, that in his unbiased opinion, she's the best three point shooter in the nation - currently playing in high school. The three point beat goes on.

A handful of recruits in the 2020 Class have already committed and two are coming to Stanford. No. #2 Cameron Brink is a 6'-4" All American wing out of Oregon and No. #37 Jana Van Gytenbeek is a point guard from Colorado who, I'm told, committed to Stanford in the seventh grade.

Don't you figure the WBB world is noticing. Something really big is going on out West. If you were one of those fabulously talented players on the 2020 list of the top 100 recruits in the U.S. - wouldn't you be erasing the top choice on your list of schools and writing in Stanford? Would you want to play against Stanford for the next four years? I didn't think so. 

So, sit back and buckle up fans! The thirty-four years of work by Tara et al are coming to fruition. Big Mo is moving into Maples. You think Gino hasn't noticed? 2020's No. #1 ranked recruit, Paige Bueckers, who also stars in the above link on last summer's gold medal winning U.S. team, is uncommitted. Don't you figure she's leaning toward Stanford? She's from Minnesota. Lindsey Whelan is probably sitting in her living room recruiting her this afternoon and it's 23 degrees outside. Paige is thinking, right now it's 75 in Palo Alto. They've got palm trees and everyone's drinking iced latte outside a sidewalk cafe in tank tops and flip flops. Besides, Tara's building a juggernaut out there in the sunshine. Hmmm. Think I'll join Haley and Fran.

Anyway. It's happening. I can feel it. 

Malcolm McFall

November 26, 2018

Three Days After Baylor - Stanford Takes On Tennessee In Knoxville

That's what you sign up for when you come to Stanford. After a maximum effort on Saturday and a long flight, you suit up on Tuesday to do battle in one of America's toughest venues - Thompson Boling Arena where 15,000 rabid fans decked out in garish orange await in full voice. The decibels assault your senses like few college players ever experience - one reason the Lady Vols rarely lose at Rocky Top.

It takes a special kind of athlete to meet this massive back-to-back  challenge - two of America's best in three days. Then, with self-assurance and a joyful heart, you embrace this battle on Pat Summit's court and enjoy the environment their fans, band and spirit squad create. Those special athletes come to Stanford - and a tough venue brings out the best in them.

The Lady Vols are rebuilding this year, but they're tough. Few teams could lose what they lost from last year and be ranked #9. In their game against the Texas Longhorns on Sunday their guards, Meme Jackson and Evina Westbrook, went off for 56 points. They're not going to give anything to anybody - you've got to go in there and beat them. Press Control/Click to access the link below:

We'll have to play especially tough on their home floor. Nothing comes easy in Thompson - Boling Arena.

Everyone needs to be on.

We can do it.