March 28, 2022

Texas Two-Step: For Stanford, the Second Step's the Best

 Warren Grimes

Stanford Women’s Hoops faced Texas twice this year.  Stanford lost in November, but won in the Elite Eight when it mattered most.  Hard to script it better.  The revenge came in Sunday’s hard fought regional final.  The game was physical and intense from start to finish.

But it was almost a déjà vu.

Stanford had 20 turnovers in the November game.  Had to improve, right? 

Sorry, same 20 turns in the March game.

Stanford converted only 4 of 27 three point attempts (14.8%) in the November game.  That couldn’t happen again, right? 

Actually, it didn’t happen again, but in some ways got worse.  In the Elite Eight, Stanford converted one less shot and barely improved the percentage -- only 3 of 17 three point attempts (17.6%).

Despite these miserables, Stanford won a hard fought game. 

Stanford won because the team defended better and held the Longhorns to just 50 points, 11 fewer than Texas scored in the November game. 

Stanford won because, despite the 20 turns, Stanford gave up ZERO fast break points to Texas (compared to 12 fast break points in the November contest).

Stanford won because, despite the turns, they improved assist/turnover ratio from a miserable .35 in November to a markedly less miserable .70 in March.

Stanford won because Lexie Hull defended with focus and intensity while scoring 20 points, including a key fourth quarter three-point shot.

Stanford won because Cameron Brink swatted away 6 Texas shots, limiting Texas to 16 points in the paint (compared to 24 points in the November contest).

Stanford won because Haley Jones had a double-double (18 points and 12 boards) and converted 10 of 11 free throws.

Stanford won because Lacie Hull played 40 minutes, scoring no points but contributing intense defense, a positive assist/turnover ratio (4/3) along with 5 boards and 2 blocks. 

Stanford won because Fran Belibi came off the bench and grabbed 11 boards and added 7 points.

Arguably, Stanford, of the #1 regional seeds, faced the most challenging opponent.  Yes, the North Carolina/Connecticut game put two top teams against one another, but neither of those teams could match the Texas 14-game winning streak. 

Getting to the final four saves a bit of face for the Pac-12 Conference.  The Conference tournament record was, uhm, . . . awful.  Of the six Pac-12 teams in the tournament, three were upset in the first round (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State).  Fourth seeded Arizona was upset in the second round by fifth seeded North Carolina.  That meant that only one Pac-12 school (other than Stanford) played to seed (Seventh seeded Utah lost in the second round to second seeded Texas).

Another measure of the status of the Pac-12 conference is the recruiting successes for next year’s incoming class.  Schools like UCLA, Oregon State, and USC that did not make the tournament all have very strong incoming classes.  The Conference has great potential, but it will have to prove it in the coming seasons.

Meanwhile, Stanford’s very special team has at least one more game to play.  The talent and chemistry of this year’s team make it unique.  Coach VanDerveer was quoted as saying that making the Final Four is always special, but added a superlative for this year’s squad.  

 I’m looking forward to watching this gifted team this weekend.

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