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.

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