January 03, 2023

Talana Lepolo: Stanford’s Stealth MVP


Warren Grimes

Stanford has ample MVP candidates – to begin with, two All American players (Haley Jones and Cameron Brink).  And don’t forget Hannah Jump, who may well be the best three-point shooter Stanford has ever had.

Rounding out the starting lineup, Stanford has Kiki Iriafen, an interior player who, averaging less than 16 minutes per game, still manages to be the team’s third leading rebounder and fourth leading scorer.  Iriafen converts her shots at a 58% rate, better than Cameron Brink. 

That leaves only one other starter: Talana Lepolo.  With an average of 5.5 points per game, Lepolo’s unlikely to win any MVP awards.  But her value to the team?  That’s worth a careful look. 

Lepolo came out of relative obscurity (a freshman with a solid high school record, but only the third highest high school ranking among the team’s incoming freshmen) to be a starter and an invaluable point guard for the nation’s second ranked team. 

No, Lepolo doesn’t shoot the way Kiana Williams did.  No, Lepolo doesn’t defend and steal quite as well as Anna Wilson did.  Lepolo, however, is a unique player with her own amazing skill set.  She gets the ball up court as fast as any point guard that I can remember.  Her pinpoint passes often lead to easy conversions on the inside (Brink, for example) or the outside (Jump, for example).  Against Arizona’s aggressive and trapping defense, Lepolo had 4 assists against 3 turnovers, but she proved her mettle by dribbling out of two-player entrapments. 

One feature that sets Lepolo apart from other storied Stanford point guards is her strength.  She can drive the basket with the momentum and stability to stay on course against large defenders.  She uses those same assets to dribble out of defensive traps.  Meanwhile, she does what all point guards are asked to do.  She dishes out assists.  Last year, Lacie Hull and Anna Wilson combined averaged around five assists per game.  Lepolo alone is averaging just less than five per game.   Meanwhile, Lepolo accomplishes this with a commendable assist/turnover ratio (2.09).

So, averaging only 5.5 points per game, does that mean that Lepolo lacks offensive punch?  Opposing coaches who make that assumption may regret it.  Against Creighton, Lepolo scored a team and career high 17 points, shooting 5 for 11 from distance.  Lepolo is converting three-point shots at a 41% average, second only to Hannah Jump.  Free thows?  Lepolo has 10 for 12, or 83% conversions. 

Does Lepolo benefit from having Haley Jones and three other starters who help with the ball-handling and are major offensive threats?  Of course, she does.  The important point is that Lepolo knows how to work in tandem with her teammates, taking advantage of defenders who are preoccupied with other Stanford players.

When asked about Talana’s playing, Haley Jones offered high praise at the post-Arizona game press conference.  Noting the excellent communication with Lepolo, Jones expressed “utmost confidence in Talana.”  Jones continued: “She’s growing so much in her leadership.”  For good reason, Jones and her mates enjoy playing with Talana. 

So, at season’s end, Lepolo may be without MVP honors, but she makes everyone else on the team better.  If overall statistics are honored, Lepolo’s a solid bet for the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.   

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