April 02, 2018

Attitude, Resiliency, and The Future of Women’s Hoops

By Warren Grimes

I’m not a Notre Dame fan. That said, Muffet McGraw’s team did something noteworthy last Sunday evening. They won a national championship. They did so playing only six players in both the final and semifinal games. They did so despite losing four players to ACLs, at least two of whom would have been in the rotation and probably starters. They did so by beating U Conn, a team that carried an undefeated record. They did so by coming back from deficits. Against U Conn, Notre Dame was down by eight points in the fourth quarter, but came back to force an overtime, then won it in the final seconds of overtime on an Arike Ogunbowale shot. Against Mississippi State, they were down by 15 points midway through the third quarter, and came back to win in a last-second (literally the last second) shot by Ogunbowale.

All of this is good for women’s basketball. For two years and counting, U Conn went into the tournament with an unblemished record, but lost in the semifinal round. We have had three different national champions over the last three years. None of this means that U Conn will cease to be a formidable team. Geno Auriema continues to recruit the nation’s best players – and he can coach. But teams like Mississippi State and Notre Dame have proven that with resilience, attitude, and player development supplemented by good coaching, even teams with somewhat less illustrious recruiting classes can compete.

What does this mean for Stanford? Well, for one, Stanford beat Notre Dame a year ago in the Elite Eight (five of the six Notre Dame players that won the championship played against Stanford in 2017). Jessica Shepard, who did not play last year, got 6 boards and 19 points for Notre Dame (but the two additional Notre Dame players that played against Stanford in 2017 contributed 11 boards and 19 points).

But let's not get lost in history and statistics. The point is that Notre Dame played as a motivated and resilient team, and that’s why they won the championship. The Stanford team, a year ago, had those same characteristics. They beat Muffet McGraw’s team to get to Final Four.

More Stanford connections? One of the players that Notre Dame lost midway through this season was Lili Thompson. Thompson had played in all of the team’s previous 14 games, shooting .391 from the three point range and leading the team with assists (64) and steals (22).

Then there is Arike Ogunbowale. Her heroic down-to-the-wire shots won both the U Conn and Mississippi State games. And she almost did that against Stanford a year earlier. Agunbowale had 25 points, but had been largely silenced by Brittany McPhee’s second-half defense. With seconds left, and Stanford leading by one point, Muffet McGraw had her team inbound to Ogunbowale, who turned to launch a midrange two-point attempt. No dice, Erica McCall was there to block the attempt – and Stanford went to the Final Four.

Well, unlike Notre Dame, Stanford did not win a national championship, but two of its future players did.

Lexie and Lacie Hull played in a “Final Four” for high school teams in New York last weekend. Their Central Valley (Spokane) team was undefeated, and was one of four outstanding high school teams selected to participate in the GEICO National Championships. Central Valley won their semifinal game, then defeated Hamilton Heights (the #1 ranked high school team) in the final game. Both of the Hulls performed, making all of their free throws (Lexie was 11 for 11) and contributing three-pointers, boards, and great court sense. They both are gifted and smart players that should fit in well with Tara’s offensive and defensive blue prints. With either or both of these players on the floor, Stanford’s free throw shooting will improve.

Jenna Brown, Stanford’s other recruit, participated in the McDonald’s All American game. The free-for-all format of this game makes it difficult to assess how a player will fit in, but Brown showed quickness and game sense in dishing out assists. And, I understand, Brown also can shoot free throws.

These three future freshman, with attitude and resilience, can be part of the next great Stanford edition.


Stephen Perlman said...

Stanford loses defensive presence in the post (Kaylee) and Brit's leadership @ the wing. Jenna and the Hull sisters will complement the backcourt, but unless Fingall and/or Dodson make significant strides in the off season, we'll be weaker in the post. Smith shows flashes of offensive brilliance, but remains inconsistent. She is not a defensive stopper on the low block- which is what Kaylee gave us. Hope I'm proven wrong, but am concerned about our front court.

Anonymous said...

Next year's Stanford team has many options for 1-4 positions, including the three new freshmen. Kaylee Johnson's role as a rebounder, shot blocker, screen setter, and all around defensive stalwart, will be more difficult to replace. But the options for that sort of position include not just Fingall and Dodson, but Jerome and Coffee as well. None of these players has the same skill set as Johnson, but they will contribute in their own ways, especially on the offensive end. Three of these four players, for example, can shoot the three ball. Then there's the Hulls. Neither is destined to play the 5 position in college, but Lacie Hull jumped center and defended a dominating 6 foot 7 inch center in the GEICO championship game. The Hulls are listed as 6 foot 1, but one TV commentator said 6 foot 2. They are of relatively slender build, but should get stronger in college.
Lacie Hull not only jumped center and defended the tall post, but also brought the ball up court on occasion. They are, in short, very versatile players that could fit in well, in a variety of roles, in the Stanford offense. They seem to have a nose for the ball, and should be effective rebounders. The Hulls, although strong defenders, would be challenged in defending against a strong post. So that's a gap TVD will have to look elsewhere to fill. Still, the Hulls are likely to be in the rotation from the get go. Brown, of course, is the higher ranked recruit, and likely to be in the rotation as well, but not as an interior player.

Anonymous said...

If all the Stanford players show the guts and spunk of Dijonai Carrington, then the team should be okay. Unfortunately this year it seemed that only one or two players showed up every game. They also need to be more automatic as shooters. Stanford's shooting percentage was horrendous. Andy Landers said it really well, they are shot takers and not shot makers. If ND showed anything at all it's that heart counts more than athleticism. ND can hardly be called a fast, athletic team, but they showed a lot of fight. ND teams in the past have not had that.
On the recruiting front, they need to get a tall/athletic post. Sorry but Coffee is not that and it seems that when Stanford gets someone over 6ft 4, they can't move, handle the ball or anything else for that matter, they sit on the bench. A small, fast team can still win, but with Ruthie Hebert and that the taller recruits coming into the Pac-12, just surviving the conference is tough.