March 26, 2019

So Far, So Good

Warren Grimes

The Stanford women have won all five of their post season games so far.  That brings us to the Sweet Sixteen this Saturday against a Cinderella team, Missouri State.  Stanford’s success in that game, and in any additional games that follow, will turn on how well the team executes on defense.  I say this because the Stanford offense, though potent in its own right, has not demonstrated the consistency and high offensive production of teams like Notre Dame and Oregon.  For what it’s worth, Stanford has averaged 74.8 points per game, compared to Notre Dame’s 89.2 and Oregon’s 86.

Stanford’s vaunted Scout defense is part of the formula for success, but that’s only part of the story.  No matter how informed, no matter how knowledgeable about the other team’s star players, no matter how well the other team’s tendencies are known, defense has to be played with focus and intensity.  The good news is that, so far in five post season games, Stanford has been defending very well.

For the season, Stanford has held opponents to an average of 60.6 points per game.  Against five very good post season opponents, that number is 57.8 points per game.  Below, I have noted Stanford’s defensive record against these five opponents.

Opponent’s Ave. Points Opponent’s points against Stanford

California 72.7 59

Washington 63.7 61

Oregon                          86 57

UC Davis 71.2 54

BYU 69.2 63

By far the most impressive of these defensive performances was against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament final, holding Oregon almost 30 points under its season average.  Against a potential opponent like Notre Dame, which averages even higher numbers than Oregon, Stanford must pull off a similar defensive coup to have a chance to pull the upset.

From watching only a portion of Notre Dame’s victory over Michigan State, I’d say that stopping transition points is critical.  Should Stanford get to play Muffet McGraw’s team in the regional final, I’m hoping that Stanford  can limit transition opportunities and force a half court game that allows taking advantage of the scouting defense.

Do that well, and Stanford has a good chance of pulling the upset.  Win or lose, I’ve been enjoying this team’s growth and success.  That said, a few more Ws would be great.  The more the better!

March 11, 2019

Oregon Schooled Stanford; Stanford Schooled Non-Believers

Warren Grimes

An official tossed the ball up at center court at 5 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time.  It was Sunday, it was Las Vegas, and it was the start of the championship game for the women’s Pac 12 tournament.  Stanford was playing number one seeded Oregon, a team that had schooled Stanford a month earlier in what was the worst Stanford loss in the Tara VanDerveer era.  Many  fans, and I was one of them, thought Stanford had only a small chance of winning this game.  Fortunately, the team and its coaches did not share this view.

One of the most cherished moments in sports comes when your team upsets a higher ranked foe.  When that foe humiliated you a month earlier, all the more so. 

There were, to be sure, reasons for optimism.  Stanford had run off eight straight wins after the Oregon debacle.  Stanford had been shutting down opponents consistently, with what was probably the conference’s best late season defense.   Meanwhile, Oregon had lost two of its last eight games, albeit contests in which star post player Ruthy Hebard had missed part or all of the contest.  Oregon had also struggled mightily to win in overtime the semi final game against UCLA.  Oregon had less depth than Stanford and might have tired legs.

Still, I was skeptical about Stanford’s chances.  I doubted that Stanford could adequately defend five starting players who consistently scored in double figures, providing one of the most potent offenses in women’s hoops (averaging over 86 points per game and putting up 88 in Maples against Stanford).   I doubted that Stanford’s inconsistent offense could score enough points to win. 

Well, Stanford came to play.

Maya Dodson blocked Hebard’s first attempt, and Stanford jumped off to 8-0 lead in the opening minutes.  I still doubted.

Stanford took a seven point lead into the second quarter.  I still doubted.

Stanford increased that lead to nine points at half time.  I still doubted.

In the third quarter, both Smith and Dodson turned an ankle and had to leave the game.  Oregon outscored Stanford by ten points, taking a one point lead into the fourth quarter.  My doubts seemed confirmed. 

In the fourth quarter, with Smith and Dodson back, Stanford continued to battle as the teams traded leads.  By midway into the fourth quarter, Oregon had extended its lead to three.  Ugh. 

It was crunch time.  Smith responded with a three pointer in the last ticks of the shot clock.  With the score tied, officials called a media time out.  What followed was my favorite part of the game.

Stanford came out with renewed resolve and confidence.  The big players stepped up.  It began with an amazing contested interior shot by Carrington, followed by a theft and fast break layup by Carrington.  With Stanford up by three and about 90 seconds remaining, Williams faked a drive, then stepped back to swish a three pointer.  Stanford now led by six. 

It was Williams’ three pointer that made me a believer.  Stanford was going to win this game.  And they did, hitting free throws (Williams four and Smith two) that sealed the deal.

Coach VanDerveer said it was Stanford’s defense that won the game.  Indeed it was.  Hebard was limited to 13 points on four for ten shooting.  Ionescu scored 27 of Oregon’s 57 points, but was only 33% from three point land.  The Ducks scored almost 30 points less than their season average.  The defense was a team effort, with players like Dodson, Coffee, and Wilson playing pivotal roles.  Stanford’s 64 points were also below season average, but it didn’t matter.

Alanna Smith won the tournament’s most outstanding player award.  Well deserved, as she averaged 18.6 points and 12.3 boards per game while shooting threes at a 36.3% rate.  And she blocked shots.

Honestly, there were probably three other players who also deserved the most outstanding player award.  One was Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, who scored 27 points (almost half of Oregon's total) and had 12 boards in a losing cause.  Two other Stanford players should have been considered.  DiJonai Carrington was a huge difference maker in the Oregon win.  In that game, she was Stanford’s top scorer with 22 points along with 9 boards, including key offensive rebounds.  She made inspirational and acrobatic plays when it mattered most.  And Kiana Williams, throughout the tournament, was a rock.  She played an average of 39 minutes per game, dishing out many assists with a 2.7 assist/turnover ratio.  Not to mention her ability to score points when it mattered most (she averaged 16 points), and to hit game-sealing free throws.

Likely to get a two seed in the big dance, the Stanford team is in a good position with momentum and confidence on its side.

As for me, I got schooled by a great team with a great coach.

March 04, 2019

Tournament Ready? Who's Hot, Who's Not

                                                              Tournament Ready?
                                                           Who’s Hot, Who’s Not

                                                                  Warren Grimes

            Stanford is coming into the Pac 12 Tournament on a high note.  No perfection, but a whole lot of things are clicking.  Stanford won each of its last six games.

            Let’s start with the defense.  In the last six games (since the Oregon loss), Stanford has held it’s opponents to an average of 52.8 points per game.  Stanford has accomplished this while playing four of those games on the road.  Stanford held very good UCLA and ASU teams to 51 and  50 points, respectively.  Except for USC’s 67 points, no other opponent among the six has got beyond 54 points. 

            Impressive scout and team defense was needed, particularly in narrow victories against USC and Arizona.  The offense has struggled more, but here as well there are positive stories to tell.

            Let’s start with the big three.  No one is hotter than DiJonai Carrington.  For the season, she is averaging 13.7 points on 46% shooting.  In the last four games, Carrington has averaged 15.3 points on a sizzling 77% shooting.  Carrington was the top scorer in each of the two season-ending games in Washington, scoring 19 points in each contest.  She continues to be a strong rebounder, averaging 7.5 boards over the last four games.  Opposing coaches have a big problem defending this very athletic, very strong, and very focused player.  Carrington made only one of six three point attempts during this period, but opponents leave her unguarded at their peril. 

            Senior Alanna Smith has also been smoking opponents.  Her three point accuracy has declined in the last four games: 5-19 or 26% during this period.  The rest of her game, however, is sizzling.    Leaving out the three point attempts, Smith shot at a 68% rate against the last four opponents.  She averaged 7.75 boards and led the team in scoring (16.25 points per game) despite averaging only 27 minutes per game.  Fouls are still an issue for Smith, but she continues to be there when needed, making a clutch winning shot in the last seconds of the USC game.  And her defense is also impressive, averaging 2 blocks per game and on pace to break Jayne Appel’s season record for total blocks. 

            Last, but hardly least among the big three, is Kianna Williams.  In the last four games, she had 20 assists and only 8 turns; that’s an impressive 2.5 assist to turnover ratio.   She also made 10 three point shots at a 37% clip, just about where she’s been for the season.  Williams averaged only 11.25 points during the four game stint, but Williams makes points when the team needs them most (and dishes out assists so that others can score). 

            As good as the big three are, the key to tournament success may lie with the remaining starters and rotation players.  Maya Dodson is now back, starting three of the last four games and making a contribution.  Dodson has missed some put backs and lay ups that she should have made, but her shooting percentage in the last four games is a respectable 50%.  Her boarding and defense are impressive.  Dodson has the highest boards per minute for the last four contests – .30 per minute compared to Smith’s .287.  Dodson is also the team’s most athletic shot blocker.
            On a minutes per game basis, the top five players over the last four games include the Hulls: Lacie, who starts, averaged around 26 minutes and Lexie, who comes off the bench, averaged 23 minutes.  For these last four games, Lexie has shot from distance at a 38.5% clip; Lacie at a 37.5% clip.  That makes the Hulls, along with Kianna Williams, the best late season three point shooters.  The Hulls are also in the lineup because they are focused and smart defenders.  They, along with Anna Wilson, lead the team in thefts per minute.

            Anna Wilson has averaged 13 minutes per game over the last four games.  She’s a tenacious defender, a theft leader, and a three point threat – Wilson made 3 of 7 attempts for a 42.8% clip in this late season period. 

            Alyssa Jerome has also averaged 10 minutes in the last four contests.  Jerome is steady, rebounds and defends well, and can be a three point threat.  Jenna Brown and Shannon Coffee are two more players that can provide fruitful minutes if (as we hope) Stanford plays three games in three days.

            My challenge for the players:

                                                 For the seniors, and for each other,
                                                                     play smart,
                                               but play your heart out this weekend!