January 16, 2023

Takeaways from a Tough Loss


Warren Grimes

Call it a debacle.  Or merely a disappointing letdown.  Either way, this last Sunday, Stanford could not execute its offense against a motivated USC squad and went down almost meekly by a 55-46 score.

The demise of the offense could not have been more dramatic.  Stanford managed only 4 points in the first quarter and finished with just 46 points.  If those were not record low numbers for a VanDerveer coached team, they had to be close to it.

Why did this happen?  There are inevitably two points of view when there is a major upset.  USC Coach Lindsay Gottlieb talks about how well her team played.  On the defensive end, there is no doubt that USC deserves major credit.  USC did what South Carolina could not do -- hold Stanford to 46 points. 

Coach VanDerveer spoke about poor screening, poor ball control and disappointing shooting performances.  True enough, although I think there is more to be said.

Stanford did not experience a major defensive let down.  It held a very good offensive team to 55 points, limiting them to 27% overall shooting percentage (but could not stop productive 42% three-point shooting).  It outrebounded that team 40-36.   Stanford’s defensive effort should have been good enough to win.

On the offensive side, Stanford shot 30.9%, and a much worse 19% (4-21) from distance.  It had no fast break points. And it had 13 turnovers.

VanDerveer remarked on the poor screening effort, and that could have affected the long-distance shooting.  Hannah Jump was 0-3; Cameron Brink was 0-5; and Ashten Prechtel was 1-4.  Particularly for Brink, the long-distance shots seemed relatively uncontested.

There is a link here to USC’s defensive game plan.  That plan, not unlike other Stanford opponents, was to follow Jump everywhere she went and clog the middle while leaving other Stanford perimeters relatively unguarded from distance.  So Haley Jones and Cameron Brink, for example, were not closely guarded from outside. 

By clogging the middle, USC made it extremely difficult for Jones to penetrate and for Brink to dominate – Brink converted only 3 of 9 from the interior.  This game plan would have failed miserably if Stanford had found its long-range shooting.  Talana Lepolo and Agnes Emma-Nnopu both converted their only three-point shots.   Brooke Demetre was 1-3.  Why not more of that?

Stanford may have become too predictable in its offense – too reliant on the big three (Brink, Jones, and Jump).  To be sure, these gifted players are hard to defend, but USC had the personnel, the game plan, and the motivation to do just that.  No one can totally stop Cameron Brink from scoring but limiting her to 3-14 shooting helps a great deal. 

Last year’s team might well have done in the Trojans.  With reliable outside shooting from three other players -- the Hull twins and Anna Wilson -- Stanford’s three-point percentage would likely have been respectable, and USC’s defensive game plan would not have worked as well.  Outside shooting opens up the interior game.

So what adjustments, aside from more effective screening, could the team make?  Players such as Lepolo, Emma-Nnopu, and Demetre should be given the green light to shoot from distance when they are left open.  Demetre has suffered from a recent shooting draught, but, I understand, is still lights out in practice.  Stanford’s interior game is one of its strengths, but when an opponent gambles on leaving open perimeter players, the watchword should be: “make them pay.”  For all of the listed players (and perhaps Indya Nivar and Elena Bosgana should be added), the coaches need to encourage perimeter players to walk, talk and execute with swagger.  When the shot clock is below 10 seconds, if the shot is there, take it!

As far as Haley Jones, the best approach may be for Jones to be less predictable when faced with a clogged interior.  Rather than take on two or three obstructing players, perhaps Jones can rely more on a pull up jumper that she can shoot very effectively.

The USC game should be motivation for the team to make some of these offensive adjustments.  Take the bitterness of this loss, learn from it, and make them pay!


Stephen Perlman said...

I just had a long conversation with a fellow Stanford fan and almost everything we discussed (what went wrong and what should we do differently) is contained in your excellent post.

I would only add that (in addition to Haley's pull-up jumpers- which you mention), our interior players should look for mid-range shot opportunities. Cam, Kiki and Ashten are all capable of hitting those shots.

We are (at best) a streaky shooting team, especially from distance. Let's be less predictable and look for shots closer to the basket instead of moving backwards where the percentages are much lower.

Stephen Perlman said...

I just had a long conversation with a fellow Stanford fan and almost everything we discussed (what went wrong and what should we do differently) is contained in your excellent post.

We are way too predictable and our PAC12 opponents are watching film and getting better at designing disruptive defenses. Until the USC game, we have won games largely because of our talent. USC has players who are comparable in size on the front line as well as quick, athletic guards who can shoot and penetrate our perimeter defense and Coach Gottlieb had the perfect game plan against us.

Yes, Haley should look for more mid-range pull up jumper opportunities, but also Cam, Kiki and Brooke- have also shown their capability of hitting those shots. We rely too much on 3-pointers when the reality is, we're a streaky shooting team. The opposition knows we don't typically shoot mid-range shots, so let's give them something new to worry about.

Without tweaks or modifications in our offense, I'm afraid we may find ourselves on the losing end of several future PAC12 games, including our upcoming home games against Utah and Colorado.

Warren Grimes said...

Good points about mid range jumpers.
Haley Jones shot threes well in the NCAA tournament, especially in the championship year.

Stanford has a history of bouncing back after a loss on So. Cal. roadtrip.

We'll see.