The funny thing is, USC appeared to play Stanford better than UCLA, and yet Stanford beat USC by 44! The final score was 95-51, and Stanford had its bench in for the last 10 minutes of the game vs. their starters. USC coach Michael Cooper himself said Stanford is ready to claim a national championship.
So, you ask C and R, how can you claim USC played better than UCLA if UCLA “only” lost by 26? Well, Stanford was beating them by 35 for most of the second half before the bench came in and UCLA trimmed it to 26. How did USC play better? Well, for starters, USC can box out, which is a hard thing to do against our trees, and they did a good job in the first half. USC even had the lead twice early in the first half, by two and then by one 8-7, which is something UCLA couldn’t do once. But more importantly, it seemed USC did a better job of freeing up their shooters and knocked down some shots even when Stanford was in their face, at least in the first half. USC shot 38% from the field in the first. In the second half, only 18%, or more telling, they were 6-32. Yes, Stanford has a tenacious D, and USC stopped doing what was helping them in the first half in the second half.
In the first half, USC got players free by setting screens, in a variety of ways, which C and R haven’t seen a lot of teams try. They screened down low, which not a lot of teams do, as they tend to screen up near the three point line to free up a shooter. USC had double screens, two players together in a wall, which we have seen other teams do and they had staggered double screens, which were very effective which we will get to in a minute. They even had a taller player set a screen on Stanford’s shorter guards and when Stanford switched players, as they are wont to do in man to man, USC had the taller player roll to the basket and they actually hit them with the ball for a score. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer quickly counter with not switching players to knock that noise off. So USC did that afore-mentioned staggered screen, where the Stanford guard sees the screen and fights through instead of switching so they are a half step behind their player, and then they run into a second screen they were not expecting and now are fighting through again and are a full step off and then the shooter is free to shoot. Very effective when they did it. Inexplicably they stopped doing that in the second half.
Speaking of Tara, watching her over the years we have come to see she is a master of adjusting to the other team. Sometimes at half time and sometimes, more impressively, on the fly. For example, Stanford went in to a half court 1-3-1 defensive trap, with long-armed Chiney Ogwumike at the point using her speed and aggressiveness to harass the ball carrier entering the half court. The theory is the point player and the line of three players around the foul line trap, steal, harass, force a turnover, or somehow prevent the ball from being thrown or shot before the foul line. The weakness is if the other team can see over the wave of defensive players and place two players on either side of the basket, and the ball handler can get a pass to at least one of them, Stanford only has one player back under the basket and either misses the steal or guards one player who quickly gives it to the other open player on the other side of the basket before Stanford can get back to help. (It takes a lot less time to do then we just explained!) Well, USC said yes, we can do that and they got it to a wide-open post player for an easy two and Stanford did not play that defense for the rest of the game. Not even, lucky try, can you do it again? Tara said okay they got that figured out, let’s go back to our smothering man to man.
Speaking of the staggered double screens, Jeanette Pohlen had the most set on her and in the second half she got picked hard (and illegally-moving or knee stuck out to trip) twice under the basket in the space of 10 seconds as USC was trying hard to free up their shooter near the baseline. Jeanette turned red and got even more determined. She shut her shooter down and used her anger on the other end to score 21 points and give out a career high 12 assists. Boy, she was determined. Don’t make her mad if playing cards or basketball!
Speaking of Micheal Cooper, and I don’t know, somewhere we were, we loved to hear him espouse about our Nneka. Quoting the Stanford website write-up of the game, “Nneka, there were a couple of plays I was in awe,” Cooper said. “You don’t usually see that in a the women’s game. You see that in the men’s game.” He of course would be referring to the alley oop. Jeanette threw an alley oop pass near the Stanford basket and Nneka leaped, caught and shot it in the air. She banked it off the glass and the angle was just a little bit off for the miss, but it must intimidate the hecka out of the other team. And then there were several offensive rebounds were she leaped high, caught and shot before landing. She made all of those, we think. Again, as a defender what do you do? She doesn’t even land so you can get a chance to foul her. And then there was sister Chiney’s steal and fast break all alone. We screamed “Dunk it!” but she laid it in and the replay showed her hand causally hitting the backboard as she laid it in.
Glad to see Kayla Pedersen continue her aggressiveness around the basket, scoring 16 points. We liked seeing her go to the basket. On one play, she drove to the basket, pulled up for a short jumper and missed. So the next play down she drove to the basket, all the way to the basket and jumped and laid it up and over the rim, about 8 inches from hand to basket, to make Sure she did not miss this time. R has said it before, Kayla is about perfection.
This game, she was much more effective at making her threes. She was 3-4 from downtown. The team as a whole made 50% of their threes in the first half, and it was great to see Lindy LaRoque bombing away and making two. Lindy was tentative to shoot in the first half of the season, and now she is taking much more shots. I guess Tara had to threaten to beat them if they didn’t shoot. No, wait, C and R made that up. Instead she threatened strangulation! Here is the quote from the Stanford website. "I really want to play a more open game. This year with people, keep shooting until I strangle you is my motto," VanDerveer joked. "We want to score more and run more." That Tara has a wicked sense of humor!! (Which is bad news for other teams if they want to run and score more!).
Freshmen guard Toni Kokenis was in the black sweat suit of injury, and the Stanford website revealed she got hit in her head when fouled and had a slight headache. The team was being cautionary and she should return the next game. Wow, we have never seen so many Stanford players sit with head injuries in one year. We think there is more awareness in general about head injuries and being cautious is the new treatment, which is great. Although, we are puzzled when they say the player has headaches after a head blow but a concussion is ruled out. Isn’t a headache one symptom of a concussion? Especially prolonged ones? Maybe a Stanford doctor can explain it to us!
Saturday’s game was a banner day for C and R. Our row won coupons to Mike’s Sports Bar and Grill! And they got the publicity at the game and now free publicity from the blog, double your advertising dollars (Hmm, hope the fix wasn’t in). And Nneka threw us a victory ball, which ended a long drought for C and R. Thanks Nneka! We will miss the team during the long lay off until the next home game Feb 10th.