December 07, 2020

Pandemic Cannot Dull the Sophomore Shine


Warren Grimes

Last weekend, playing in Las Vegas, Stanford scored 2 key victories – any game that is played in this pandemic is a victory. 

Oh, and the team also defeated two opposing teams, one an improving Pac-12 team – the Washington Huskies. 

Stanford has lots of warts, but even more potential.  Among the warts – a decidedly mediocre free throw shooting percentage – 59% for the season’s first three games.  Three point shooting was a decidedly mediocre 23% against its toughest opponent so far – Washington.

Lots of other things are going very well indeed.  The team’s 4 sophomores (Haley Jones, Fran Belibi, Ashten Prechtel, and Hannah Jones) are lighting it up.  Against UW, the sophomores scored 60 of the team’s 83 points and had 31 of the team’s 58 boards. 

Leading the charge is Haley Jones, who terrorized last weekend’s opponents with a career high 25 points against UNLV on Saturday, then another career high 29 points against Washington on Sunday.  In Sunday’s performance, Jones shot 14-15, with the sole miss being a three point attempt.   As an afterthought, Jones had a career high 13 boards.

When Jones was on the floor, the team was simply better.  With Jones in the game, Stanford scored more efficiently (2.22 points per minute versus 1.77 points per minute when she was on the bench).  Stanford also defended better (UW had 1.15 points per minute with Jones in the game versus 1.46 points per minute she was seated).   

These stats are a bit misleading, because when Jones was seated, so were many of the other starting players.  Still, you can’t watch Haley Jones in action without noticing the spark she provides.  Jones is smooth, she’s strong, she has great court vision, and that’s just the beginning.  Jones has a wonderful and difficult to defend pull up jumper, she picks out teammates who are freed up by her drives, and those same drives to the basket demonstrate a remarkable array of scoops, hooks and other improvised shots.  Against UW, Jones was a remarkable 14 for 14 from inside the three point line.

It is unrealistic to expect that level of performance against talented and well prepared opponents.  Jones, however, has demonstrated that she can quickly adjust to any defense.  If she is doubled or tripled, she’ll find open teammates.

All of these gifts were present when Jones took the court last season.  The difference is that, after her mid-season injury last year, Jones has come back renewed, with a purpose and resolve that wasn’t evident last season.  If she can stay healthy, opponents will have a tough time this season.

The team is averaging 97.3 points and 51.3 rebounds per game.  Meanwhile, Stanford has held its opponents to an average of 48 per game.  That’s a winning margin of nearly 50 points.  These averages will look less stellar against tougher opponents, but word is out that Stanford will score a lot of points this year.  And scoring will be a challenge against Stanford’s defense. 

The credit for strong defense has to be spread widely.  Kiana Williams leads the team with 7 steals while Ashten Prechtel and Cameron Brink each have 5 blocks.  And Haley Jones is a part of the defensive presence with 4 blocks and 3 steals.  Not to be forgotten, Fran Belibi has 5 steals, making her the second most prolific thief.  Two other defensive stalwarts are Lacie and Lexie Hull, who were team leaders in steals last year.  Watching Stanford play defense is a treat because of cooperation that comes only with communication and teamwork.  The defensive plays generate exciting transition offense.  

There are some surprises.  For all three games, the starting five for Stanford had no one taller than 6’1”, albeit Fran Belibi has the reach of a 6’5” player.  That lineup emphasizes speed and athleticism.  Then again, both Ashten Prechtel and Cameron Brink (who lead the team in blocks) are getting lots of playing time and could well see some starts.

Another surprise – Hannah Jump is averaging 10.7 points per game (the fourth leading scorer so far) and is getting rebounds and assists.  And still another – the player with the least playing time so far is Alyssa Jerome, averaging 9 minutes per game.  Jerome is a gamer who had starts last year, and will likely see time in crucial games ahead. 

The toughest short term opponent for Stanford remains Covid 19.  The games between now and New Year’s could all be relocated, postponed or cancelled.  The drive of the players and the creative skills of the coaches and their staffs will be tested.  But this group will endure.

1 comment:

Stephen Perlman said...

The Cardinal is awesomely-talented up and down the entire line-up, but Haley Jones plays at a different level and Stanford is fortunate to have her.

When she has the ball at the top of the key, Stanford becomes a more dominant and difficult team to defend.

Plus, Haley is a very good defender.