January 17, 2022

High Altitude Resilience


Warren Grimes

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer has often spoken of the resilience of last year’s championship-winning team.  Is that still true this year?  Even at high altitude?

Boulder, Colorado, where Stanford played Colorado on last Friday evening, is more than a mile (5328 feet) above sea level.  The Huntsman Arena in Salt Lake, in the hills above the city, is almost that high (4803 feet above sea level).

I can’t say that the altitude didn’t matter.  But yes, Stanford definitely proved it’s still resilient this year, even at high altitudes.  In both contests Stanford was challenged by a motivated and very good team.  Colorado came into the game ranked no. 22 and the last undefeated team in Division IA.  Utah was 9-3 with some exciting new freshmen and an attitude.

Both opponents played great in the first half and had a lead at halftime.  Both opponents, especially Colorado, played inspired defense.  In the first quarter, Colorado’s aggressive defense generated double digit turnovers.  The Buffaloes had a 15 to 8 point advantage at the end of the first 10 minutes.  The turns were less frequent as the game progressed, but Colorado generated a humbling 22 turns against Stanford. 

Stanford, however, was resilient, winning every subsequent quarter.  It was an 8-point margin (60-52) at the end, but the outcome was in doubt until the last minutes.  The Stanford starters were there, particularly Haley Jones with 11 points, 8 boards, and 5 assists.  Stanford dominated the boards to at least partially offset the turns (Brink, Belibi, and Prechtel had 7 boards each, and Iriafen played just 3 minutes, but got 3 boards and 2 points in that time).

So what is the takeaway from the Colorado game?  Teams with high energy and quickness on defense can wreak havoc with Stanford’s offense.  But can they do it for a full 40 minutes?  Colorado succeeded splendidly for the first 8 minutes of the game, building an 11 point margin in the first quarter.  But a combination of better ball control by Stanford and a gradual decrease in focus and intensity on the part of Colorado was enough to turn this game.  The game was very physical, but Stanford was able to answer with its own physicality.  On that note, Ashten Prechtel has always played great against Colorado, and did that again with her 10 points and 7 boards (Prechtel was 2/4 from long distance).

Utah was a different story.  But like Colorado, the Utes were an inspired opponent that took a substantial first half lead against Stanford.  This time, the opponent’s deluge came in the second quarter when the Utes blitzed Stanford from the three point line and took, at one point, a 13-point lead.  The half ended with Utah enjoying a 7 point margin (37 to 30).  Utah’s secret wasn’t so much its aggressive defense.  They generated 12 Stanford turns, but really it was the Utes efficient half-court offense that generated more points against Stanford (73) than any other opponent this season.  Maryland and Gonzaga managed 68 points in losses to Stanford.  Even in its three losses, Stanford did not give up more than 65 points.  Against Stanford, the Utes shot 39% from distance, and 40% overall. 

That efficiency fell off in the fourth quarter, when Utah got only 10 points (against Stanford’s 23 points).   So, once again, Stanford’s fourth quarter defense won the game.  The game was still up for grabs late into the quarter, but the momentum for Utah was squelched by Stanford’s defense.  The other story of this game is that Stanford was able to put on its own offensive display, led by Cameron Brink’s 24 points and 11 boards, and Lexie Hull’s 21 points (5 three pointers).  The third highest scorer for Stanford?  Anna Wilson had 12 critical points, including two three pointers and two midrange jumpers that were real difference makers.

Speaking of stop-and-pops, Stanford could do more with the midrange jumper.  Opponents can harass our three point shooters, as Colorado did.  They can clog the middle, as both the mountain schools did.  But there are openings in the midrange that Stanford could exploit.  I’d like to see Haley Jones and Lexie and Lacie do more from the midrange.  Brink and Jump too.

Free throw shooting, which plagued Stanford earlier this season, has improved.  Cameron Brink, who had struggled mightily with free throws, was 8 for 11 during the two games.   As a team, Stanford was 32 for 44 during the two games – that’s a respectable 73 percent.

Another note is Stanford’s continuing demonstration of versatility.  The game high scorer has been different for each of the last four games (Lexie Hull – Oregon, Hannah Jump – Gonzaga, Haley Jones – Colorado, and Cameron Brink – Utah).  Different players off the bench have contributed in these games, including Fran Belibi, Ashten Prechtel, Anna Wilson, and Kiki Iriafen.  Stanford is a versatile and talented handful.

Before Stanford moves on to upcoming games against California, you can check off the box for “resilience at high altitude.” 

1 comment:

Stephen Perlman said...

Totally agree with you regarding mid-range jump shots. There are indeed openings that have not yet been exploited by this team; at least so far this season.

I believe Brink did take a mid-range jumper during the Utah game and it went in.