R leans to me to be heard above the din and says, “This is a totally different team. This one is good.”
At the time, C and R were sitting with 4,493 fans who braved the misty rain (East coast readers are quoting the “We are a nation of wimps” mantra, but we almost went hydroplaning when we made that U-turn at Embarcadero and got our tennies wet walking back to our car, light rain is no laughing matter in Northern California, but I digress.) Anyhoo, C and R were sitting with all the Stanford fans that interrupted their Christmas vacation and played hooky from work to come out to a rare 1:00 PM game against Xavier, the game that C and R are billing as the revenge-of-the-double-missed-lay-up game from last year’s NCAA regional finals.
And ye of short term memory, that was the game where Jeanette Pohlen raced coast to coast with 4.4 seconds left and Xavier was too late in picking her up and let her score the game wining lay up. Well, she did that in this game not once, not twice, but three times! She took the inbounds pass after a Xavier score and went coast to coast, twice the defense did not pick her up and she made easy lay ups. The second time they showed the replay on the in house Jumbotron not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES as she passed her defender about the foul line and the second defender stood frozen on the opposite block and watched, watched from about 4 feet away as she scored easily. The third time she drove in the defenders at least saw her and moved; unfortunately they moved right in her way and fouled her. Didn’t they watch any game film? Although to be fair, Stanford again did some things they don’t normally do, so if Xavier did watch game film, Stanford surprised them. Tara has been surprising us all season with showing teams new things.
And as we said this team is different. This is not the team that lost at DePaul. This is not even the team that beat USF 100-45 to get Tara VanDerveer her 800th career win. This is a team that woulda-coulda-shoulda beat Tennessee. This is a team that can beat UConn.
So, dear reader, you are asking what is different about this team beating #4 Xavier by 37 points? (Thirty-seven points! Number 4 Xavier!). Well, first of all defense was king (Xavier didn’t score a point until 13:49 into the contest). Now Stanford IS a team that watches game film and devises a plan tailored to a specific team. Stanford played man-to man help defense, especially on number 53 Ta’Shia Phillips, who averages 13 points a game. She was limited to six. Nneka Ogwumike was on her and it was usually Kayla Pedersen or Jeanette Pohlen that came off their man and helped. Xavier never found the left-open player, as they usually were away from the ball. Their best scorer, 6-5 Amber Harris surprisingly played away from the basket and liked to hover around the 3 point line. Chiney Ogwumike was able limit Harris somewhat, and although she wasn’t 100%, she played 30 minutes and got 18 points, 2 away from her average.
And Stanford stole the ball, mostly by Kayla and Nneka playing that deny defense. I hope young girls were watching because they put on a defensive clinic.
Tara went with an opening lineup of two guards and three trees, (Jeanette, Lindy, Kayla, Nneka and Chiney respectively ). Lindy La Rocque was serious and in control. She played great defense, and even shot three threes and made two (she has been strangely silent on the scoring front this year).
Another huge change was offensive. Stanford started their offense in that predictable pass, pass, pass around the perimeter, then the post comes up to the three point line, gets the ball with her back to the basket and hands off to the guard. Xavier probably was thinking, oh yeah, like last year. And then, out of nowhere, the post turned to the basket and fired to a player cutting underneath. A wide-open player. Say What? Stanford did a great job all night looking inside, including when Xavier was in a 1-3-1 half court defense with 5-3 guard Shatyra Hawkes under the basket! Kayla, no slouch at 6-4, would sneak in at the block and have an easy basket. This happened several times. Say what, Xavier? And the first few times it happened, shouldn’t you adjust? But what do C and R know?
And could C and R believe their eyes, point guard Jeanette Pohlen was suddenly on the blocks down low, posting up, calling for the ball. What? She never, ever is given permission to go inside the three-point line on offense. She is usually the one that stays back to defend a fast break. But Xavier was in a man-to-man mode, and little Special Jennings, 5-6 or the same Shatyra Hawkes, all 5-3 of her, would be on Jeanette. Jeanette (and Tara) recognized the mismatch and took advantage of it. Stanford missed her the first few times down low, but when they hit her, she took it to the basket over her smaller opponent for easy points. Man, we have never seen that in all of Jeannette’s four years here!
And when Xavier, relying on last year’s film again we guess, pressed us after their basket, Jeannette raced the length of the court again for her third lay up! Hey Xavier, remember that time…
Okay, couple of plays that nearly brought down the house, a fast break with the ball in Jeanette’s hands and Nneka out on front pointing up in the air. JP gave her the alley oop and she caught it around the height of the backboard and shot it against the backboard without landing. Unfortunately the bank angle was too steep and it just missed. Then there was the leaping put back by Nneka, again, grabbing for the rebound at the height of her jump even though the ball was off to her right side, reaching out her arm and putting it back with same arm while in air. Fantastic. Not often seen in the women’s game.
Nneka leaping, Jeannette posting, Kayla stealing, three point T-shirts flying, C almost got one but fell into her back row seatmate’s lap, Tinkle driving, yes Tinkle who looked like she lost weight, Gracie coming in off the bench in the final seconds and getting a three, 30 point leads! Wow, glad this team showed up today. Hope they stick around for Thursday night.
Other possible headlines:
Xavier almost matched last year’s score, missing by one. Too bad Stanford scored 34 more points than last year (compare 55-53 to 89-52).
Jeannette drives the length of the court against Xavier for the lay in, not just once but many times.
Nine Nnekas leaping!
Bring On UConn!