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.

1 comment:

Stephen Perlman said...

Good writing, Warren. I was humbled and schooled myself. I will never count out the Cardinal again, no matter who the opponent.