February 11, 2019

Reflections on the Oregon Debacle


                                                  Reflections on the Oregon Debacle
                                                                  Warren Grimes

            I could not have written this on Sunday.  It is now roughly 24 hours later, and with a bit more perspective, here are some thoughts on Stanford’s miserable outing against Oregon.

            Stanford got taken to the cleaners, got tooled, got educated, got cremated, got obliterated (pick your favorite phrase).  Sure, you can find isolated points of accomplishment – we held Oregon to 88 points while Cal gave up 105 – but the fact is, Oregon’s point margin over us, on our own home court, was larger than Oregon’s margin over teams with far weaker records than our own.   Oregon, by it’s own coach’s estimate, may have played its best defensive game of the year. 

            There are similarities between Oregon and Stanford.  Both are teams with explosive offensive potential that score in a lot of ways.  Both are “pick your poison” teams, meaning that an opponent attempting to defend typically cannot effectively defend both inside and outside scoring threats.  But Oregon simply executed this offensive advantage far more proficiently.  True, Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, by themselves, scored 47 points (to Stanford’s 48), but defending them left open a lot of other Oregon players that shot 75% from distance.  It was truly a team effort for Oregon. 

            Oregon has a lot of length, both inside and on the perimeter, and this combined with a focused and intense perimeter defense took Stanford distance shooters out of their rhythm – Stanford shot 22.7% from beyond the arc.

            Stanford’s vaunted scouting defense obviously did not do the trick.  TV commentators said that Coach VanDerveer wanted to prevent inside scoring and distance shots, while giving up the mid range jumper.  Obviously, Stanford accomplished neither.   Ruthy Hebard makes 72% of her shots, mostly on the inside, and she was 8-12 on Sunday.  It makes sense to double her, but only if Oregon’s outside shooters are significantly less proficient.  That was not the case on Sunday, with Oregon converting 75% of its 3-point shots.  With the benefit of hindsight, Stanford would have been better off letting Hebard convert more of her 2 point shots while focusing on intense perimeter defense.  But, in any rematch, Oregon may not convert the 3 pointers at that phenomenal rate (for the season, Oregon shoots 42% from distance), so focusing on Hebard may still make sense. 

            Maya Dodson’ continued improvement, both defensively and offensively, may be a key in any rematch against Oregon.  Dodson was 4 for 13 with 4 boards in her 25 minutes on Sunday.
If she can be a more proficient scorer on the inside, this could occupy Hebard (and perhaps others needed for help defense).  And it might open up shots for Stanford’s perimeter shooters. Defensively, no single defender can shut down Hebard, but limiting her productiveness could allow Stanford defenders to focus more on perimeter shooters. 

            Beating this extremely talented and well coached Oregon team is a formidable challenge.  Oregon does not have the depth of other teams, but if its starters stay healthy, they would be my favorite for the conference and national championships.  But, in sports, the rule is that you have to play the game.  Stanford, in a rematch, seems likely to play better than it did this last Sunday.  Meanwhile, Stanford’s immediate task is to go to Southern California and get some Ws against a rapidly improving UCLA and an always threatening USC.   That’s more than enough to have on your plate for the rest of the week.