January 03, 2022

Washington State: How to Frame the Question


Warren Grimes

Going into Sunday’s Washington State game, there were two ways to frame the question.

How could Stanford possibly win?

Stanford was without five very talented players because of the Covid protocol.  Among them were top scorer and shot blocker Cameron Brink.  True, Stanford had defeated number seven-ranked and previously undefeated Tennessee with Brink in foul trouble, playing only 8 minutes.  Against Tennessee, however, Stanford had Ashten Prechtel, a dominant post player who came off the bench and devastated the Volunteers in the fourth quarter.  Prechtel, however, was also out, as was a third veteran post player, Alyssa Jerome.  Yep, Stanford was thin at the post.  The other two missing players – Agnes Emma Nnopu and Brooke Demetre – also had seen significant playing time off the bench.  Things did not look rosy for Stanford.

How could Stanford possibly lose?

Stanford had four of its five regular starters, led by All American Haley Jones and the Hull twins. Close to home country – and with family in the stands – you knew the Hulls were there to play.   To replace Brink at the post, Fran Belibi was and is a player of consequence.  Off the bench, there were players like Anna Wilson and blossoming freshman post Kiki Iriafen.  That is a roster of a top ten team.  This is the deepest team Stanford has ever had, with more than enough talent to take down the Cougars.

So, it turns out, the second question call was the more accurate.  After a struggling first quarter, Stanford turned on the defense and almost doubled Washington State on the score board (82 to 44).  The Hull twins and Anna Wilson led the charge on defense (Lacie Hull played 36 minutes).  As she had against Tennessee, Haley Jones was there with bells on – 24 points, 16 boards, and 3 assists.   Actually, Jones could have had more assists if teammates hadn’t missed some easy conversions.

Also Iriafen came to play, providing a meaningful post presence with 13 points and 8 boards in just 14 minutes.  As did Belibi, who started at the post, scoring 10 points and grabbing 8 boards in her 16 minutes of court time.  If you do the math, that means that for 10 minutes of the game, Stanford played without a regular post player.  Not to worry – Haley Jones can do that too.  True, playing the post against Washington State is made easier because the Cougars don’t have a lot to offer at that position.  Still, with her strength and quickness, Jones can play the post when asked to do so.  

Jones does what the team needs.  Point guard?  Shooting guard?  Power forward?  Post?  Her flexibility, along with her productivity, is why jones should be a consensus first team All American this season.   That result isn’t a given.  When other players (for example, Brink, Lexie Hull, or Hannah Jump) have the hot hand, Jones will back off a bit on the offense.   So far, Jones hasn't done what Ionescu did for Oregon two years ago – constantly lead the team in scoring, assists, and often  boards as well.  Ionescu was a triple double master.  Jones could be that as well, but sometimes, she appears to lose focus.   Is that because Jones lacks the fire, or is it a wise and team-enhancing choice to share the limelight with her teammates? 

So far this season, Jones appears to play best when it is most needed.  She did that in the tournament last year; she did it this year against Tennessee; and, I expect and hope, she will continue to do so,  including against the Oregon schools this weekend.. 

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