February 21, 2022

Stanford Preeminence -- Conference Chaos


Warren Grimes

After a hard fought, storybook comeback against Oregon on Sunday, Stanford has established conference preeminence.  Stanford is the only team undefeated in conference and, with two games remaining, has clinched the regular season championship.  There is no one to nip at the champion’s heels; every other team has lost at least 5 conference games.

The statistics back up Stanford’s superiority.  Stanford is number one in the most important statistical categories (counting only regular season conference games): scoring margin, scoring offense, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage, rebounding margin, rebounding offense, rebounding defense, defensive rebounding percentage, assists, and assist/turnover ratio.  If the conference kept stats on points off of turnovers, Stanford would likely excel in that category as well.  The team is second in the conference for three point shots per game, blocked shots, and defensive boards per game.  

And here is one other unexpected plus for this Stanford team: it is number two in the conference for steals per game (tied with Arizona) and number three for turnover margin.  Past Stanford teams have not always excelled in these areas.   The high turnovers against early season opponents such as Texas may be a thing of the past.

Of course, Stanford is not invulnerable.  The team stands out for its poor free throw shooting – only the 9th best in the league, shooting just 72.9 %.  Even here, however, the team shows improvement, moving up from its 67.9% for the entire season (counting the early non-conference games). 

Stanford’s vulnerability to a conference opponent playing its “A” game was amply demonstrated by the recent Oregon game.   Consider these facts.

Stanford had the lead in only the first minute (thanks to a technical foul called against Oregon for improper lighting of the basket) and in the last 36 seconds of the game.  Oregon held the lead (or was tied) for the other 38 plus minutes, sometimes stretching it out to 10 or 11 points.

Oregon was the first Pac-12 opponent to out rebound Stanford (42-40).  With the exception of one Colorado game (tied Stanford in boards), Stanford handily won other rebounding battles.

Although Stanford leads the league in three point shooting percentage, the team shot only 18.8% (3/16) against Oregon. 

Once again, defense was absolutely crucial.  Stanford won the battle for turnovers and steals, offsetting the team’s low shooting percentages and deficiency in rebounding.   

The storybook narrative for the Oregon game is really about the second half, and especially about the fourth quarter.  Stanford was five points down at the half, but came back in the third quarter after Anges Emma-Nnopu’s three point swish brought Stanford within one (46-47) to start the fourth quarter.

The last quarter began with Oregon getting open threes that built the lead back to ten (46-56 with 8:08 on the clock).  With exactly 5 minutes left, Oregon still held an 8 point lead (52-60).  With Haley Jones taking over, Stanford went on a 14 to 2 run for the rest of the game.

Here are the key plays:

54-60 -- 4:34 on the clock, Iriafen (great game) gets a layup off a smooth feed from Jones.

56-60 -- 3:57 on the clock, Jones gets a driving layup in traffic.

56-60 – 3:15 on the clock, Jones decisively blocks Endyia Rogers’ layup attempt.

58-60 -- 2:41 on the clock, Jones gets a driving spin-move lay up in heavy traffic.

60-60 -- 2:15 on the clock, Brink ties the game on a jumper off a feed from Wilson.

 63-60 -- 00:36 on the clock, on drive in traffic, Jones throws up an answered prayer while falling backwards to the floor, then converts the free throw.  Even TVD was excited.    

63-62 – 00:28 on the clock, Oregon’s Sabally converts two free throws.

65-62 – 00:20 on the clock, Lexie Hull converts two free throws.

66-62 – 00:06 on the clock, after Oregon fails to convert, Emma-Nnopu converts one of two free throws.

That’s it.

Stanford won this game because they overcame poor outside shooting, stayed within reach, and, with Haley Jones’ help and really solid defense, took over the last five minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, the conference lineup for the Pac-12 tournament shows chaos and surprise.  Washington State, a surprise performer, upset Arizona and is now tied for second with Oregon (Both teams have 10-5 conference records).  Arizona falls to fourth, but with a 9-5 record.  None of these three teams will have an easy last weekend, but Arizona has home games against UCLA and USC.  WSU has to play Stanford at Maples, while Oregon has two tough away games against Colorado and Utah, both fighting for NCAA berths.  These three teams are favored, but not assured, to get the top four seeds (and first round byes).

Washington State, based simply on raw talent, may not belong in the top four.  They lost decisively to Oregon and in their first game against Stanford.  Those wide margin losses are offset by clutch performances, as against Arizona (albeit helped by the injury to Arizona's starting center).  

Meanwhile, Stanford continues its quest for conference perfection at home, in its last scheduled games, one of them against WSU -- the other against Washington.  It can be done.

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