January 17, 2020

How Stanford Can Play Better Against Oregon

Stanford suffered another lopsided loss to Oregon on Thursday, only slightly less humiliating than last year’s loss at Maples.  Give Oregon lots of credit.  But Stanford can do better.
Oregon can be beaten.  It’s already happened twice this season, once to a then unranked ASU team.  When Oregon is on its game, however, they are a formidable team.  They have amazing chess pieces to work with.  They bested team USA; and they played with the same relentless energy in dispatching Stanford on Thursday. 
Sabrina Ionescu should win the national MVP award and will likely be the first player drafted by the WNBA.  Ruthy Hebard is a world class post player.  Hebard can be doubled, but only by leaving other players open.  And Satau Sabally is power forward who, when her game is on, can play with the very best.  She too will be a high draft choice.
Stanford has to do two things (at least) to improve the odds in the next matchup.  First, Stanford has to cut way down on turnovers.  Stanford had 18 turns, 10 of them during the second half massacre.  A turnover is the absolute worst way to end a possession.  I’d prefer a shot clock violation to a turnover.
To be sure, shot clock violations are frustrating and worthy of some head banging.  But shot clock violations take a full 30 seconds off the game clock, time that the opponent cannot score.  And when the shot buzzer sounds, play stops and the opponent must inbound the ball.  This gives the defense time to organize and tends to negate any transition offense by the opponent.
Turnovers invite transition offense.  There’s no more fearsome sight than Ionescu heading down court in transition mode.  Just for the record, Oregon scored 22 points off turnovers (Stanford had only 2).  Of course, defensive rebounds can also lead to a transition offense, but turnovers are the absolute worst because they are unexpected and often occur in the back court.
When Oregon was in its half court offense, their productivity was impressive, but their offensive efficiency fell short of their transition offense.  In the second half, for example, Ionescu, on her way to a career high 37 points, was merely 2-5 from the three point line, but 7-8 inside the arc.  She was converting pull up jumpers and acrobatic layups, many of them in transition.
The other thing that Stanford must change is its own half court offense.  Stanford in transition can be the equal of Oregon.  Kiana Williams can be awesome, and other mobile players like Jones, the Hull sisters, and even the posts (Fingall and Prechtel) can run the court and score in transition.  Stanford had no transition offense against Oregon, partly because Oregon was making so many shots.  That left everything on the half court offense, and that was pretty miserable in the last 18 minutes of the game.
The last two times Stanford has bested Oregon, in the Pac 12 tournament last year and in Eugene two seasons back, Stanford had fewer turnovers and a more than respectable half court offense.  In the first of those wins, Brittany McPhee went wild in the second half and humiliated the Ducks.  Her offense was largely off the dribble, with the help of some well-placed screens.  In last season’s victory, Alanna Smith, DiJonai Carrington, and Kiana Williams took productive turns in the half court sets.  Of course, when Stanford scored, the Ducks lost transition opportunities and had to generate their own half court game.
In this most recent loss, Stanford lost patience in the second half, attempting to force interior passes that simply weren’t there.  That led to turnovers and Oregon’s formidable transition offense.  Give the Oregon defense credit.  They were ready for Stanford’s interior passing and cuts to the basket.  The Stanford team, however, has to be sufficiently flexible to adjust to that kind of defensive pressure.  The team can rely more on screens, but it also needs a go to player like Brittany McPhee or Alanna Smith: a player who can consistently create in the paint.  Stanford has players with these capabilities, including the absent Dijonai Carrington, but they will have to step up when Stanford next plays Oregon.
Actually, Stanford can’t wait that long.  The team will have to step up its game for all the remaining conference games, starting with Oregon State on Sunday.  Learn from the loss, and move on!

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