March 15, 2016

Four Keys to an Extended Tournament Run

By Warren Grimes

Alright, Stanford is a 4 seed in its bracket – only the fourth highest for the conference. The team has played inconsistently. In the season’s final weekend, Stanford humiliated OSU (the conference co-champion and conference tournament winner). In the conference tournament, they lost their only game to a good but not great Washington team. And they lost by wide margins to UCLA and ASU in earlier season away games.

Now, with two weeks off to practice, the team can start afresh with two games (assuming it wins the first) at Maples and build its confidence for the regionals. Here are four keys to an extended tournament run.

Defense - Playing against potent offenses, no tournament team can make an extended run without solid defense. Fortunately, that’s been a relative strength for Stanford, holding a number of good teams below 50 points They have played sound positional defense, intelligently executed help defenses, and excelled as a shot-blocking team. All of this must be done with even greater intensity. The team must play every defensive possession as a game changer – because one more stop could really change the game.

Leadership - Throughout the season, Tara VanDerveer has said that this team will go as far as the point guard takes it. The position has been rotated between Briana Roberson and Marta Sniezek, and that rotation will likely continue in the tournament. Both must lead the team against a variety of defenses (including the nettlesome zone that has contributed to several critical losses). Leadership is critical to establish dominance or to help the team withstand an opponent’s run. A critical basket or assist can change momentum and inspire teammates. Leadership, however, does not come solely from the point guard position. Juniors Lili Thompson, Erica McCall, and Karlie Samuelson must step up to make plays and inspire their mates.

Outsmarting the Scouting Defense - Stanford’s most storied wins involve players who did the unexpected. Tournament teams can be expected to go all out to stop Stanford’s top scorers (McCall, Thompson, and Samuelson). There are six other players in the rotation, and they all must step up. To win, Stanford must outsmart the scouting defense. Fortunately, there is a tradition for doing just that at Stanford.

Two weeks ago, Erica McCall surprised and torched OSU by hitting outside shots, including her first three 3-pointers of the season.

Last year, Taylor Greenfield provided an unexpected offensive spark that led Stanford to a conference tournament championship and a sweet sixteen appearance.

U Conn’s record-setting win streak was halted when Jeanette Pohlen had an exceptional shooting and assist making game and freshman Chiney Ogwumike played exceptional defense on U Conn’s top scorer.

In the regional final in 2008, JJ Hones surprised and blitzed number 1 seed Maryland with a career high 23 points (beautifully supplementing Candice Wiggins 40 plus points).

Those are just of few of the examples of unexpected excellence. These surprises disorient and demoralize opponents, making it easier for teammates to score.

Confidence - The team has to believe in itself. The upset loss to Washington may undermine that confidence, but may also motivate the players to practice and play harder for the end season run. The team must be able to see itself as a Final Four team, but then push that vision aside and play every game, every possession, with unrivaled intensity.

The team has control over its own destiny. Now it’s up to the team to make that destiny.

No comments: