January 28, 2019

After Eight Games in Conference

                                                   After Eight Games in Conference

                                                                  Warren Grimes

            After eight games in the Pac 12, Stanford is 7-1, and 17-2 overall.  Stanford looked like a top 10 team in victories over Washington State and Washington.  This last weekend was not Stanford’s best, with a hard fought win in Boulder against a team that has yet to win in conference, and a tough loss in Salt Lake City to upstart Utah, now also 7-1 in conference.  Yes, Stanford does have a target on its back. 

            If you’d told me at season’s outset that Stanford would be 17-2 at January’s end, I’d have been pleased.  I might have guessed that the two losses would be to Baylor and Tennessee.

So much for that.  Instead Stanford has lost to two very good and tournament bound teams that, however, are not top 10 teams (Gonzaga and Utah).  There are striking parallels in the two losses.

            Both were road games against teams highly motivated to take down Stanford.
            Both opponents shot well from distance (Gonzaga 61.5%; Utah 45.8%)
            Alanna Smith played limited minutes in both games because of foul trouble.
            Stanford staged strong, but ultimately unsuccessful, second-half rallies in both.
            There were, however, significant differences.  The Zags dominated the boards; the Utes did not.  Stanford was even on rebounds in Salt Lake City.  Stanford, however, missed a lot of points in the paint in the early going against Utah.  Overall, Stanford shot only 38.5% against Utah, well below its 46% for the season.  From distance, Kiana Williams was 1-8  and Alanna Smith was 3-9. 

            How much did Smith’s foul trouble matter?  Against the Zags, Smith played 24 minutes and had 13 points and 7 boards.  But Smith’s interior defense could be replaced by Nadia Fingall and Maya Dodson.  Against Utah, both of these players were unavailable.  Smith had 19 points and 9 boards against Utah, so she was still offensively productive.   The most obvious loss may have been defensive.  Smith had to be less aggressive on the defensive end, and her teammates may have had to sag off Utah’s distance shooters to protect Smith from further fouls.

            Even in the loss to Utah, there were positive signs.  The Hulls continue to shine.  Lexie had 10 points and 2 boards in 33 minutes.  In the same time, Lacie had 7 points, 3 boards and 3 assists.  One of Lacie's assists was a fast break floater to DiJonai Carrington, which she grabbed and converted  while doing her own float to the basket.  The Hulls collectively were 5 for 8 from the foul line, ending their perfect foul shooting streaks.  But there is no doubt that the team’s foul shooting is on the rise (67% against Utah compared to 58% against Gonzaga).  For the season, Stanford is now shooting 71.3% from the foul line. 

            Stanford is a better team now than it was against Gonzaga.  In a rematch against Utah (and possibly in the Big Dance against Gonzaga), Stanford will be favored.  Stanford’s biggest vulnerability, however, continues to be on the inside.  The team needs Maya Dodson back.  This weekend against California, the pivotal factor may be whether Smith can play hard while avoiding fouls. 

January 13, 2019

Disappointments, but mostly Superlatives:
Stanford WBB After 4 Conference Games

Warren Grimes

Stanford is now 14-1 after surviving a tough road trip to the Arizona schools.  Any win against ASU on the road is an achievement.  And Arizona is a serious team this year, having taken down California and ASU.   But Stanford actually won that game by a comfortable 30 point margin.  What’s not to like?
Well, there are disappointments, primarily on the injury front.  The worst was the ACL that has taken Nadia Fingall out for the rest of the season.  She had been a starter and a real force inside.  And Maya Dodson, with her jump hook, shot blocking, and improved rebounding, was yet another bright star taken out of the lineup with a stress fracture.  Dodson has excelled at offensive boards, the only player on the team with more offensive than defensive rebounds.  Stanford is now vulnerable at the post, and will remain so at least until Dodson is back.  Marta Sniezek has also yet to play a single minute.
Bit let’s talk about some superlatives.  We can start with free throw shooting.  Last year’s team shot only 64% from the line.  There were signs of improvement in the pre-conference season, but still too many missed opportunities.  Then the conference games began.
How about an 85.5% rate?  That’s what the team has shot in the four conference games so far.  In the desert, Stanford shot a sizzling 95.8% (23-24), with 22 uninterrupted makes before Mikaela Brewer missed her first free throw of the year at the end of the Arizona game.  Stanford was 14 for 14 in the ASU game, a team record for the number of attempts without a miss.  Stanford’s free throw shooting is helped by the Hulls (who have yet to miss) and improved accuracy from Smith, Carrington, and Williams, each of whom is now converting at 72% or better.
A second superlative is DiJonai Carrington.  She has emerged as a member of the triumvirate – Smith, Williams and Carrington, each of whom is averaging 13 points or better.  Actually, since her career high 33 points against Tennessee, Carrington has been on a tear.  In the four conference games, she averaged 20 points, the best on the team, and averaged 8.75 boards, second to Smith’s 10.5.   In defensive boards, Carrington leads the team with .224 per minute, ahead of Smith's .215 per minute. Her just-beyond-the-half-court-line conversion against ASU was part of a demoralizing double-double against that team (17 points and 11 boards).
Then there is Alanna Smith, averaging just under 20 points for the season and shooting an astonishing 48.8% from distance, averaging 2.6 three pointers per game.  Of course, Smith is just an everywhere player, proving that she can score with multiple moves under the basket.  And she is the in the top two in both defensive and offensive boards per minute.
The other member of the triumvirate, Kiana Williams, is only one behind Smith with 38 made threes at a 39.6% clip.  Some have been shot from the parking lot outside the arena.
She is a competitor and a clutch player and, despite some difficulty with turnovers, is the real deal as a point guard.
Now we get to the Hulls.  They are both making a mark with their never stop motors and high basketball IQs.  Both are superior defenders, leading the team in steals per minute (.072 for Lacie and .070 for Lexie).  When the opponent is pushing in transition, one or both of the Hulls are consistently back to defend.
   Lacie also has the best assist/turnover ratio on the team – 2.4 – and shoots from distance at a 39% clip.  Lexie, back from her stress fracture, continues to lead the team in rebounds per minute (.298 to Smith’s .281).  That’s just part of the story.  When it comes to offensive boards, Lexie greatly surpasses anyone else on the team (.140 per minute to Dodson’s .100 and Smith’s .067).  Lexie can be outside the three point line when the shot is launched and somehow get into the paint and contest for rebounds.  Her board crashing sometimes generates fouls, which is something she needs to watch.
Lexie Hull has played only in six games, but if she continues on the current trajectory, it is hard to see how the coaches could keep her off the floor.  She started and had a double-double in the team’s opening game and just knows how to score (42% from three point range so far).
Finally, Stanford’s third freshman is now making waves from off the bench.  Jena Brown can get the ball down the court in one heck of a hurry.  She played 20 minutes against Arizona, and had 9 points on lay ups and a three pointer.
Tune in for more superlatives this weekend against the Washington schools.