April 05, 2021

Little Things That Mattered


Warren Grimes

As Coach VanDerveer has put it, it’s a national championship.  That’s in the record. That’s what will be remembered. 

It’s a bipolar result.  You either win – or you lose, with little solace to the loser.  In fact, in this NCAA tournament, there were five teams, and maybe more, that could easily have taken home the trophy.  In addition to Stanford, Arizona, South Carolina, U Conn., Baylor, and maybe Louisville could have easily ended up on top of the heap. 

So why did Stanford win?  Was it finally Stanford’s turn?  Were the gods of fortune finally on Tara VanDerveer’s side? 

I have a modest answer.  It’s the focus on little things.  When you do them well, your odds of winning a N/C increase.  Little things matter on both defense and offense, but the defense is what really characterized the final four games.  The final four teams were all great on defense.  Arizona and Stanford held high scoring teams to well below season averages, and so did their opponents.  It was the little things that finally determined victory. 

Let’s take the final moments as Stanford held on to defeat Arizona.  First, give Arizona credit for holding Stanford without a shot in Stanford’s final possession.  Then, with a bit over 6 seconds remaining, it was Stanford’s turn.  Everyone watching the game expected Arizona to put the ball in Ari McDonald’s hands.  They did. 

Stanford’s defense was unsurprising, but it was essential that it be well executed, without fouling this amazing three point shooter.  Stanford would keep Anna Wilson on McDonald and then, in the closing seconds, all nearby Stanford perimeter defenders would close in on McDonald, foreclosing a drive to the hoop and making a three pointer more difficult. 

By the time McDonald launched her three pointer with less than 2 seconds left, Wilson was in front of her, Lexie Hull was to her left, and Cameron Brink was to her right.  All were advancing with high hands on McDonald, who nonetheless got the shot away cleanly.  But the defense had worked.

McDonald missed and Stanford won the N/C.

Two days earlier, as Stanford eked out a narrow victory against South Carolina, It was again the little things that mattered.  Stanford had possession and a one point lead.  But as Stanford inbounded at half court with 9 seconds left, it went to Cameron Brink, who lost possession to Aliyah Boston (Brink may have been hacked).  As soon as the change of possession occurred, Ashten Prechtel closed on Boston, winning a few critical seconds.  Boston nonetheless managed to get the ball to Brea Beal, streaking toward her team’s basket. 

But Beal was not destined to get a clean breakaway lay in.  Instead, it was Lexie Hull who was going step for step with Beal, and forcing an awkward angled lay up from the left side.  It was off the mark.  In the last second, Boston tried to tip the ball in, but she too was surrounded by a gaggle of defenders (Prechtel, Brink and Jones).   Boston could and perhaps should have converted, but the defenders helped to lessen the odds.

None of these little things show up in the stats.  But the focus and determination showed by Stanford players were key to winning these one point games. 

A favorite tournament game?  I nominate the regional final against Louisville because of the third and fourth quarter comeback that ultimately put the game out of reach.  For Stanford fans, the last few minutes were relatively stress free.

Looking at Stanford’s last three tournament games (against Louisville, South Carolina, and Arizona), it’s easy to pick out statistical heroes. 

The stats would give first place to Lexie Hull, who averaged a double-double: 16.3 points and 10.7 boards; second place would go to Haley Jones, who averaged 17 points and 7.3 boards.  In terms of clutch baskets, particularly in the last two games, I would give first place to Haley Jones.  Either way, they are both heroes.

A really nice third place award would go to Ashten Prechtel, who came off the bench to average 10.6 points and 6.3 boards.  Against Louisville, Prechtel did not enter the game until half way through the third quarter, but then she made a spectacular difference, making all of her shots (three of them were 3-pointers) and chalking up 16 vital points.

Then there is Kiana Williams, who had sub par scoring in these three games, but still held the team together with ball handling, assists, and clutch baskets.  Brink scored, rebounded, and blocked shots – lots of them.  She was a key to keeping the opponents’ points in the paint to well below seasonal average.  And Anna Wilson – wow, I’m so glad she stayed at Stanford for this extra year.  Her defense exemplifies the little things that matter. 

As for Tara VanDerveer, she told the press that winning national championships is not why she coaches.  She sees herself, first and foremost, as a teacher, motivator, and mentor for all the great players who have worn the Stanford uniform.  Of course VanDerveer still likes to win.  She does what she does for the players, for the fans, and for Stanford University. 

Thank you Tara!

1 comment:

Glovesave said...

And thank you, Warren. I've enjoyed reading your posts all year long.
Have a great summer, stay safe and I look forward to the next Stanford Women's Basketball season.