April 27, 2021

Belated Celebrations and Exciting Anticipations


Warren Grimes

Stanford won the national championship by the narrowest of margins – two one point victories against South Carolina and Arizona.  No matter.  Hard fought games are good for the sport, and it’s still a championship with no asterisk (unless it be a note on the pandemic). 

Had they lost, the Stanford 2020-2021 team would still be amazing.  The team had talent – lots and lots of it – and it had attitude.  An example of this was the comeback win in the regional final against an excellent Louisville team.  For what it’s worth, that’s my favorite game of the tournament run. 

Under a nationally recognized coach, Jeff Walz, Louisville began the season 16-0 and had only 3 losses (one more than Stanford) going into the quarterfinal.  Louisville was and is a physical team – their physicality was key in trouncing Stanford by 27 points in the sweet sixteen game in 2018.   In this covid season, Louisville had held opponents to an average 60.7 points per game, and no opponent had scored more than 76.  In its first three NCAA tournament games, Louisville opponents had averaged less than 48 points per game.

In the first half, Louisville’s physical defense had its way.  Stanford was held to just 26 first half points, and trailed by 12 at half time.  Cameron Brink blocked 4 shots, and stifled Louisville’s interior game, but could not stop three pointers (6 for 10) or pull up jumpers.  Stanford got 11 points from an ever-scrappy Lexie Hull and 6 points from Brink, but overall shooting was miserable (under 28%) and three point shooting was worse (1 for 9).   Kiana Williams converted her first shot attempt, but then missed 10 in a row.   

The first three minutes of the third quarter really belonged to the first half.  With just over 7 minutes left in the third quarter, Stanford had added just 3 points, and Louisville had extended its lead to 14 points. 

For the last 17 minutes of the game, push the “wow” button – it was a truly memorable comeback.  This remarkable Stanford team outscored Louisville by 29 points (49 to 20) and won by a 15 point margin.  Stanford's 52 point second half scoring put it only 2 points short of the team's total points against Arizona in the championship game.  And this was against an excellent defensive team. 

It all began with Stanford's defense.  Stanford had 4 second half steals, two by Williams and two by Lexie Hull.  In the second half, Stanford had 16 defensive boards (to Louisville’s 7).  In the last 17 minutes, Louisville’s only scoring threat was Dana Evans, and she, despite some sharp 3 point shooting, was only 5 for 13 in the second half.   

On offense, Williams broke her personal scoring draught with a jump shot with 6:46 left in the third quarter.  Then, with just over 5 and ½ minutes left in the quarter, and Stanford still trailing by 12, Ashten Prechtel entered the game.

Prechtel had the best 15 plus minutes of her Stanford career.  She didn’t miss a shot until the very end (when she missed a second free throw).  Her 3 for 3 performance from the three point line was a dagger in the heart for Louisville.   “What a great substitution,” said Jeff Walz.  “She won the game for them.” 

From the point of Prechtel's entry, the score was Prechtel 16, Louisville 18.  OK, but Prechtel had lots and lots of help.  Her teammates more than doubled Prechtel's output.

Haley Jones contributed drives that resulted in lay ups or, in one case, a beautiful feed to Prechtel.  The three point club wasn’t just Prechtel – Williams, Lexie Hull, and Anna Wilson joined the party.  In the second half, Lexie Hull and Williams were double digit scorers, and Jones had 8 points and 2 assists.  Then there were the steals from Williams and Hull.

Stanford started the fourth quarter still down by 2, but it was now blow-out time.  Stanford made all 5 of its three point attempts and outscored Louisville 30 to 13 in the fourth quarter.

Prechtel put up what may well be the greatest performance ever by a second half Stanford substitute.  In addition to 6 for 6 shooting from the field, she had 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 boards.  If she did not win the game for Stanford, she certainly disheartened Louisville and was largely responsible for the 15 point margin at the end.  The psychological impact of Prechtel’s performance was as uplifting for her Stanford teammates as it was deflating to Louisville.

Fast forward a week to another of my favorite tournament moments.  Stanford had just eked out its one point national championship victory.  The nets were cut down, the second of them by Tara VanDerveer.  Still on the ladder, VanDerveer turned and beckoned for Anna Wilson.  What followed was an emotive moment.  

She handed the net to Wilson.

I was touched.  There were lots of heroic performances this season.  Wilson’s quiet leadership set the example.  No one was more focused, more humble, and more deserving than Anna Wilson. 

So what about next season?  I promised exciting expectations. 

Championships I cannot predict, but Stanford will be a formidable team next year.  With or without Anna Wilson (and without Williams), Stanford will still be a team with great depth next year.  There may be uncertainty at the point guard position, but the team adds four highly ranked freshmen (one a potential point guard), and returns 3 (and maybe 4) of the 5 starters from a national championship team.

Stanford also returns amazing substitutes like Prechtel.  And at least two other players who have started many games: Fran Belibi and Lacie Hull.  

Hang onto your hats –

And stay safe.  

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