March 07, 2018

Pac-12 Tournament: Tinkerbell and Other Storylines

By Warren Grimes

The Tinkerbell Effect

For Stanford, the final game ended with a decisive 20-point defeat to a gifted, and number-6 ranked, Oregon team. Just a month earlier, playing on the Ducks’ home court, Stanford had upset the same team by an almost as decisive 13-point margin. What was the difference?

Tinkerbell had spread her magic dust in both games. In the game in Eugene, there must have been a northerly wind that blew most of the dust onto Stanford’s favorite Scot, Brittany McPhee. She scored a game and career high 33 points (in just 30 minutes on the floor). In a remarkable fourth quarter, McPhee couldn’t miss, and scored Stanford’s last 19 points. It was a deflating loss for the Ducks.

One month later, playing in Seattle for the tournament championship, the Tinkerbell dust fell on revenge-seeking Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu scored a career high 36 points in every which way. She deservedly was selected as the tournament’s best player. Stanford held other Oregon players in relative check, but simply could not stop Ionescu. Stanford shot well enough in the paint, but it was not enough to withstand Ionescu, who made almost half of her team’s 77 points.

Stanford made 4 three pointers (on 14 attempts), but lost to a team that made 11 of 24 threes (a 46% conversion rate). That alone was a 21 point margin. Looking for bright spots? Kiana Williams made all three of her long distance attempts. And here’s one more: McPhee scored her 33 points in just 30 minutes in that Eugene game. That’s more than one point per minute. Ionescu, that slacker, took 36 minutes to score her 36 points in Seattle .

The Maya Dodson story

This one is less dramatic, but still encouraging for Stanford. Maya Dodson has shown athleticism and spark all season, but has never crossed into the land of consistency and major contribution. Against Cal at Haas, Dodson played for 10 minutes, but made nary a mark in the box score. Against Oregon, Dodson played for 17 minutes, and did contribute. She had two turnovers, but scored 5 points on 2-3 shooting, grabbed 4 boards, and made two decisive blocks. Those numbers are hardly mind-blowing, but watching Dodson one noticed that she was playing smart, and with fierceness and determination. She let the game come to her. When it did, she was ready.

Dodson still has an opportunity to be a difference maker in the NCAA tournament. Or, as Coach VanDerveer would put it, to stop being a freshman. Kiana Williams has already done that, and was rightly chosen for the all tournament team (partial vindication for not being chosen conference freshman of the year).

The Biggest Upset

The tournament’s most unexpected win was 6th ranked ASU’s take down of 3rd seeded OSU. This was a match up of two well-coached and over achieving teams. Neither of these squads is laden with the best natural talent, but both play with consistency and intensity. After losing decisively at home to OSU in the regular season’s final weekend, ASU turned the tables on OSU, probably guaranteeing ASU a berth in the NCAA tournament.

OSU is still ranked above Stanford, but if I were on the NCAA committee (fortunately for everyone, I’m not), based on second half of the season performance, I’d give Stanford the higher seed.

The Biggest Heartbreak

Stanford was deflated by its end game loss, but the heartbreak award goes to three other teams. At the top of my list is USC. Playing with just 7 players for most of the season, USC ate up opponents in the pre-conference season, then lost to all the conference’s top teams. In the process, USC managed to scare all of them, including Stanford in all three meetings. Unfortunately, scaring top teams doesn’t count for much. USC is likely one of the 64 best teams in the country, but unlikely to be chosen for the tournament (USC would be the seventh team selected from the conference).

The second heartbreak award goes to Cal. In the last games of the season (and in the tournament as well), Cal played like one of the best teams in the conference. Yes, part of that assessment comes from the way Cal played Stanford in two games in the second to last weekend. Asha Thomas came of age, and playing with Kristine Anigwe, created one of the league’s top big/little tandems.

Against UCLA in the quarter finals, Cal was in it till the end. Had Anigwe not been ill, had she not fouled out (a bad call), and had the fallen Cal player not passed the ball inadvertently to a UCLA player under the UCLA basket, Cal could easily have won that game. Cal has the potential to defeat some very good teams in the tournament.

Finally, heart break award #3 goes to the Bruins, who finished four years with one of the top recruiting classes in the country, including Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. Both are (or should be) All Americans, yet the Bruins never once managed to win the conference or the conference tournament. They played their hearts out against Oregon, and gave the Ducks their biggest scare of the tournament.

UCLA’s seniors have one last opportunity for redemption.

The NCAA Tournament

Now it’s on to the big dance. It’s a time to make memories. I’ll be cheering for all of the Pac 12 teams, unless they end up matched against my favorite team.

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