April 19, 2016

Way-too-early preseason rankings

Although a lot of things can change before next season tips off, Charlie Creme (espnW) thinks it's time to start looking ahead at what he predicts will be a wide open season.

He has five Pac-12 teams in his top 25:

In a season that should feature a number of great point guards, Jordin Canada has a chance to be the best. Her speed and aggressiveness, plus the talents of junior classmate Monique Billings, could make the Bruins the favorite in the Pac-12. A big year from sharpshooter Kari Korver and the further development of sophomore Lajahna Drummer would also be big boost.

10. Stanford
With more consistency, senior-to-be Erica McCall could be ready to move into another category among the best players in the country. She will be flanked by classmates and quality perimeter shooters Lili Thompson and Karlie Samuelson, and helped out inside by 6-3 sophomore Kaylee Johnson. Nadia Fingall, a 6-2 incoming freshman, heads up Tara Vanderveer's top-10 recruiting class, which also includes 2-guard DiJonai Carrington, daughter of eight-year NFL veteran Darren, and point guard Anna Wilson, the sister of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

16. Arizona State
Charli Turner Thorne brings in one of her best recruiting classes. All five players are guards, which will help ease the impact of the departures of Elisha Davis, Arnecia Hawkins and Katie Hempen. Those five new Sun Devils, headlined by Jamie Ruden from Minnesota, will have bigs Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder and Kelsey Moos to get the ball to.

22. Washington
Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor make an outstanding returning duo for Mike Neighbors to build around. The lack of depth didn't hurt the Final Four run, but it will be nice to have Brianna Ruiz back from injury, especially with graduations of Talia Walton and Alexus Atchley.

24. Oregon State
Scott Rueck rebuilt the Beavers' program from rubble with Jamie Weisner, Devin Hunter and Ruth Hamblin -- but now they are gone. To sustain the momentum of back-to-back Pac-12 regular-season championships and this season's Final Four appearance, Rueck will have to get even bigger seasons from Sydney Wiese, Gabriella Hanson, and 6-5 Marie Gulich, the heir apparent to Hamblin, and contributions from the 16th-rated recruiting class.

Notre Dame leads way in way-too-early preseason top 25 rankings

April 11, 2016

The 2015-16 Team: Legacy and Future

By Warren Grimes

The 2015-2016 women’s basketball team began the season with promise and uncertainty. There were losses to graduation. The team had lost star point guard Amber Orrange, three point specialist and all-purpose hustler Bonnie Samuelson, and late blooming tournament star Taylor Greenfield.

The loss of Orrange created a giant question mark, but there was to hope that post performance would be substantially improved: Erica McCall and Kailee Johnson were now post players with two years of experience. Kaylee Johnson had been a proficient rebounder and shot blocker as a freshmen. And incoming freshman Alanna Smith seemed a player of promise.

The forecast for the 2015-16 team, it turns out, could have been modeled after the record of the previous team: uncertain and uneven with developing flashes of brilliance.

By season’s end, the 2015-2016 team shared third place in the conference, just as it had done the previous year. The team twice had disappointing and tournament-ending losses to Washington, but summarily and impressively dispatched Oregon State on the last weekend of the season. Stanford easily bested a team that shared the Pac-12 title, won the Pac-12 tournament, and made it to the Final Four.

Once in the tournament, Stanford, a number 4 seed, almost lost its second round game with South Dakota State, but then went on to play its best game of the season in the Sweet Sixteen, defeating No. 1 seed Notre Dame, the consensus second-best team in the country.

A roller coaster ride, to be sure, but one that ended with a view of a land of promise. For next year, a national championship may be a bit of a stretch, but a conference championship seems a realistic goal.

This year’s edition of the Stanford team out-rebounded, out-defended, out-blocked, out-stole, and out-assisted last year’s team. The only strong negatives for this year’s team were free throw shooting percentage (down 3%) and turnovers (up by 1.5 turnovers per game). Here is the breakdown:

2015 Team 2016 Team
Points per game 69.3 68.8
Opponent points 60.5 56.0
Boards per game 38.6 41.2
Assists per game 10.3 15.2
Steals per game 5.9 6.7
Blocks per game 4.6 6.0
Turns per game 12.4 13.9
3-point % .378 .368
FT% .72 .69

One puzzle: Why did this year’s team so emphatically out-assist last year’s team? With the loss of Orrange, one might have expected the opposite. The assist increase, however, is probably attributable to the change in offense, with much more emphasis this year on passing into the interior, often followed by another interior pass or a pass back out to the perimeter.

Tara VanDerveer has already passed the word to her team. She expects individual players to show improvement in critical areas next year. These improvements could end much of the inconsistency that produced this past season’s up and down results.

In Stanford’s last 7 games, the team had two signature wins (against OSU and Notre Dame) and two disappointing losses (both against Washington). A comparison of these four games is instructive.

Stanford, particularly in the first half, shot very well in the two signature victories. Stanford’s first-half three point percentage was 71.4 % against OSU and 66.7% against Notre Dame. Against UW, the first half three point percentages were lousy – 27.3% in Seattle and 26.7% in Lexington.

Another instructive contrast is the contributions of players other than the big three scorers (McCall, Thompson, and Samuelson) in the signature wins. Against OSU, McPhee stepped up with 15 and Kaylee Johnson with 8. Against Notre Dame, the big three were critical but were helped substantially by Kaylee Johnson’s 17 and Sniezek’s 11. Stanford scored 90 points in that win, 21 points more than its season average and well more than Notre Dame typically allows.

To win consistently next year, Stanford will need fall-back offensive options for times when the threes are not falling. Improved point guard leadership (including diversity in Sneizek’s offense) and improved offensive versatility by our posts might just do the trick.

April 07, 2016

In the record book, 2015-16

Marta set a Pac-12 record this season and earned three entries in the Stanford record book.

Bird and Lili each earned two entries in the Stanford record book.

Karlie earned an entry in the Stanford record book and had two other noteworthy accomplishments

Kaylee retained her six entries in the Stanford record book.

The team set or matched five Stanford records — some good, some not.

Erica McCall

Bird blocked 66 shots this season, including this one that sealed Stanford's 66-65 victory over South Dakota State in the second round of the NCAAs. She's in a three-way tie with Chiney Ogwumike and Joslyn Tinkle for third place in Stanford single-season blocks, behind Jayne Appel who holds first and second place.

Bird was almost twice as efficient this season as last in grabbing rebounds. She tallied 9.4 per game, which places her twelfth in Stanford single-season rebounds per game

Lili Thompson

Lili has scored 1,250 points so far in her career, which places her 28th among the 36 members of the Stanford 2,000/1,000 Point Club. Two of those points, shown above, were for the last shot of the NCAA second round game when Stanford snatched the victory away from South Dakota State.

Lili launched 199 shots from beyond the arc this season, which places her ninth in Stanford single season 3-point attempts between Jeanette Pohlen and Molly Goodenbour (tied for seventh) and Candice Wiggins.

Karlie Samuelson

Karlie sank 80 3-pointers this season, which places her eighth in Stanford single season 3-pointers made, just one behind Bonnie Samuelson and Jamie Carey who are tied for seventh.

Karlie made her 3-pointers this season at a rate of 47.3%, which ranked third in the nation. (Note: Stanford publishes the leader in this category (Jennifer Azzi with 49.5%), but not the runners-up).

Karlie calmly sank 90.9% of her free throws this season, which would have taken the Stanford single-season record (90.8%) away from sister Bonnie, except that the minimum for record-setting is 1.5 made per game, and Karlie made only 1.43

Kaylee Johnson

Kaylee blocked 54 shots this season (three more than last season), which keeps her in eleventh place in Stanford single-game blocks between Bethany Donaphin and Erica McCall (in 2014-15).

Kaylee also retains the five records she earned last season — first in freshman rebounds, first in freshman rebounds per game, third in freshman blocks, tenth in single-season rebounds per game and tied with Jayne Appel for tenth in single-season rebounds.

Marta Sneizek

Marta dished 109 assists this season, which places her eighth in freshman assists between Amber Orrange and Candice Wiggins.

Marta dished the assists at a rate of 3.1 per game, which places her ninth in freshman assists per game between Angie Paccione and Amber Orrange / Charli Turner (tied for tenth).

Marta dished 13 of her assists on March 3, 2015 vs Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament, which breaks the Pac-12 Tournament record of 11 set by Nikki Blue (UCLA) in 2006.

Her 13 assists place her in a three-way tie with Jennifer Azzi and Sonja Henning for Stanford single-game assists (Azzi also holds first place, and Henning also holds second place).

The 2015-16 Team

The team set three downside Stanford records.

They made just 42.6% of their field goal attempts this season, which breaks the Stanford season record for lowest field goal percentage — 43.2%, set in 1998-99.

In that awful game in Tempe, they scored just 31 points, which breaks the Stanford single-game record for fewest points — 32 against Missouri in 1984.

They made only 11 field goals that day, which matched the Stanford single-game record, set against UConn in 2012. Three weeks later, against UCLA, they made only ten field goals and broke the Stanford single-game record for fewest field goals made.

On the upside, the team blocked 211 shots this season, which breaks the Stanford record of 196 set in 2001-02.

They blocked 13 shots against USC on January 22, which matches the Stanford single-game record, set in 1989 against Arizona State.

Although the team won neither the Pac-12 season title nor the tournament championship, they extended their Pac-12 record for most 20-win seasons to 27 and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for the 18th time.

April 06, 2016

Bird honored on National Student-Athlete Day

Today is National Student-Athlete Day, which recognizes the accomplishments of student-athletes who excel in the classroom, on the playing fields and who give back to their community through service projects.

Bird was one of several student-athletes honored by Stanford today.