February 18, 2019

True Grit in LA

True Grit in LA

Warren Grimes

With four conference games left, Stanford is now in sole possession of second place in the conference, pending the outcome of the Oregon/Oregon State game.  The demoralizing 40 point loss to Oregon did not take the fight out of this team.  In Los Angeles, Alanna Smith and her mates played hard and, at least on occasion, very well.  The 14-point win against UCLA came despite erratic offensive efficiency (Stanford shot only 28% from distance).   The 2-point USC win was a remarkable comeback, with the result in doubt until USC’s last second shot missed the mark. 

The last games of a conference season are intensely fought.  Each team is in late season form, fighting for the best possible seed.  Conference coaches are playing an opponent for a second time and have honed their defense.  Against a top team like Stanford, every opponent is hungry for a signature victory that could give them a ticket to the big dance, or a higher seed in the conference tournament.  So yes, Stanford’s irregular offensive performance can be attributed to its own subpar efforts, but it is also related to enhanced and refined defensive schemes by skilled opponents, and to the level of intensity that opponents bring.

Stanford’s defensive efforts continue to impress.  Over the last four games, Stanford has given up an average of 62.5 points per game (if Oregon’s 88 point performance is excluded, the average drops to 54 points per game).  Playing the same four teams during the same period, Cal  has given up an average of over 88 points per game, or roughly 26 points per game more than Stanford.  Solid defense requires communication and team work, so the entire Stanford squad deserves credit for this effort.  Individuals still stand out, including Alanna Smith for her blocks, DiJonai Carrington for her defensive boards, and the Hull twins for their focused defensive intensity and steals.  The Hull twins are steal leaders, but fall short of Anna Wilson’s .075 steals per minute, the highest rate on the team. 

So what’s with the offense?  During the LA weekend, the team shot 31% from distance.  That’s not a horrible percentage, but its down from the 35.5% season average, and almost certainly not enough to excel in the upcoming tournaments.  Maya Dodson’s renewed absence made Stanford more vulnerable to a defense focused on perimeter drives and outside shooting.  The more the inside game thrives, the greater the opportunity for outside shooters to gain a rhythm. 

Aside from Maya Dodson returning and building on her prior efforts, more playing time for Lexie Hull could help.  For the L.A. weekend, Lexie was 2-4 from distance and, for the season, the freshman’s 38.5% distance shooting rate is now the second  highest on the team.  Lexie Hull continues to impress with her rebounding (on a per minute basis, Lexie is the third best on the team behind Smith and Carrington).  The Hull sisters are also the team’s best free throw shooters, but have so far been unsuccessful in drawing a lot of fouls.  Depending on matchups, Stanford’s strongest offensive lineup could be Smith, Carrington, the two Hulls, and Williams.  This group may lack height and strength underneath, but it includes the team’s three best rebounders, its best three point shooters, and the finesse and defensive moxie that can lead to transition buckets.   

The big three (Alanna Smith, Kiana Williams and DiJonai Carrington) proved their moxie over the weekend.  They were responsible for the grit that was demonstrated against a USC team that led, frequently by double digits, for most of the game.  Smith won the conference POW award, deservedly as she averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 boards for the weekend. 

Meanwhile, two other Stanford guards have the potential for breakout games: Jenna Brown and Anna Wilson could be pivotal in providing bench points and defense.  Brown has the second highest assists per minute rate while Wilson leads the team in thefts per minute and does well on assists.  To gain more playing time, each needs to score more points. 

The team’s toughest remaining conference opponent is ASU this coming weekend.  Stanford needs the Ws, but, even more, it needs the opportunity to improve its offensive efficiency. 

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