March 02, 2020

Regular Season Roundup: What’s Surprising, What’s Not?

Warren Grimes

Stanford ended the regular season with a 25-5 record, and a tie for second place in the conference.  UCLA gets the higher seed in the tournament based on the head-to-head win, but Stanford’s three seed avoids a potential Oregon match before the final.  

Looking back to the season’s start in November, how much of this was predictable?  What are the surprises?  The disappointments?  The unexpected triumphs?

It’s not a surprise to this writer that Oregon won the conference title, nor that Stanford got second place.  Having to share that place with UCLA is a bit of a surprise, as was the loss to UCLA at Maples.  

Still, the biggest disappointments, by far, were the loss of two key players to serious injuries.  Both were potential all conference or even all American players.  In the five games that DiJonai Carrington played, she established the highest points per minute rate on the team (.507).  That number might have gone down a bit as opposition intensified.  But Carrington was a go to player who could score points creatively as the shot clock wound down.  She was also an astonishing rebounder.  At .35 boards per minute in the first five games, Carrington would have been the team’s most efficient rebounder had she kept up this pace.

Haley Jones?  She had worked herself into the starting lineup based on her creative scoring and assist making.  She ends the season with an 11.4 points per game average, third highest on the team.  She was on an upward trajectory, and could well have finished as the team’s top scorer.  Jones was fun to watch on the fast break.  She was also a strong defender, chalking up many blocks and steals.  Jones would have been a strong candidate for conference Freshman of the Year.  

The loss of both Jones and Carrington has meant a greater burden on Williams and Lexie Hull, who have been the two go to players for the second half of the season.  To a considerable extent, opponents have been able to focus defensive strategy on these two. 

As for triumphs, the team has shown resilience and the ability to survive in close games.  Stanford fell short against Arizona in a one possession game, but came out on top against Oregon State and against Colorado in two games that were wonderful comeback stories.  The team is at its best when the three point shots are falling, and Stanford’s season 36.1% rate is more than respectable.  The team leaders in percentage are Hannah Jump at 41 % and Lexie Hull at 39 %, but there’s not much fall off when the ball is in the hands of Williams, or Fingall, or Prechtel, or Lacie Hull, or Jerome.  When the threes are falling, Stanford is capable of beating anyone.  

Team defense is a standard feature of a VanDerveer team, and this year is no exception.  Opponents have averaged 59.6 points per game, a figure that is all the more impressive in the context of a Pac 12 conference that is loaded with offensive firepower.  Stanford is out stealing its opponents (235 to 214), a result not achieved by many Stanford teams of the past.  

Kiana Williams is Ms. Clutch Performer.  That’s not a surprise.  She had already done this in two previous seasons.  Williams leads the team in both points and assists.  Her 1.77 assist/turnover ratio is the best on the team.  With Williams, the raw stats don’t tell the full story.  She converts when it matters most.  In Boulder, she scored 6 points in less than 13 seconds to overcome a deficit and win the game, including a last second three pointer launched from the parking lot.  A memory worth savoring.

In different ways, the Hull twins have both triumphed.  They both excel on defense.  Lacie typically draws the opponent’s best scorer. The twins lead the team in steals per minute (Lacie has a team leading .055 thefts per minute, with Lexie not far behind at .51 per minute).  Lacie has the lowest points per game average of any starter, but cannot be left alone.  She converts threes at over a 36% rate.  Lacie takes care of the ball and generates assists (her 1.76 assist to turnover ratio barely trails Williams’ team leading 1.77).

Lexie Hull is the team’s second leading scorer.  Lexie is tied with Williams for the most three point shots, and her conversion rate (39%) is second only to Hannah Jump.  Although troubled with turnovers in some recent matchups, Lexie’s assist total is second highest on the team.  My thought is that Lexie has pushed a bit to score in the interior when the shots weren’t there.  But even on off days, Lexie is present for every moment of the game, getting boards, stealing the ball, and always a pest to the player she’s guarding. She’s invaluable.

Let’s talk about the freshman class.  Back in November, there was speculation about how many of the four outstanding freshmen would be starting by season’s end.  We now have the answer.  In the last half dozen games, the answer is ZERO.  That number, however, is misleading.  Haley Jones had a substantial run of starts before her knee injury.  If healthy, she would almost certainly be a regular starter.  Two of the other three freshmen have started 6 games (Belibi and Prechtel), and all three are part of an extraordinarily deep rotation.  Ten players, not counting Carrington, have averaged more than 10 minutes per game.  

So yes, the freshman class is pivotal to the success of this team.  On a boards per minute basis, Prechtel (at .333) and Belibi (.331) are the team leaders.  Blocks?  Prechtel leads the team with .069 per minute.  In points per minute, Prechtel’s .493 is second only to Carrington.  And Belibi leads the team in field goal percentage (59%).  Prechtel gets my vote as the biggest surprise.  Her interior game, while still a work in progress, is already formidable.  She boards, she blocks out, she blocks shots, and she scores consistently down low.   Then, just for fun, she moves out beyond the three point line, where she converts at a 32% rate.  

Even without Jones, the three freshmen will have a chance to make a difference in this weekend’s Pac-12 tournament.  May they continue to refine their games for the Big Dance!    

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