Here’s the thing, this is how C and R thought this season would go. Not that we want to be Negative Nellie’s but let’s look at last year. Pull up any box score from the 2011-2012 season and you’ll see Nneka Ogwumike high scorer and Chiney second-high scorer, and the sisters will have combined for half or more of Stanford’s total points. If the team were lucky, maybe a third person would break double figures or get to 10. And Chiney scored most by rebounding Nneka’s misses, or if they doubled Nneka, Chiney could knife inside, and make the other team pay. Take Nneka out of that equation, since she graduated, and you have one prolific scorer and not a whole lot of help. C and R predicted that all opponents would have to do is double Chiney and no one would step up.
And that is exactly what UConn did. Credit to them, they had a definite and exacting game plan and stuck to it, because frankly, Stanford could not or did not adjust. More on that later.
Chiney Ogwumike is doubled-teamed by UConn - Sean Harvey / SF Chron
But here’s the rub. When two and then three people are double teaming you, there should be other people open. But for Stanford, no one cut to the basket or got in a passing lane to give an option to Chiney. The other offensive players were just standing around, used to Chiney scoring. And when she did miss, and three defenders have effectively walled Chiney off from the rebound, no one else from Stanford rebounded. Although we did note Stanford’s two guards would back pedal on defense to limit UConn’s fast break chances, so they were just following orders. But where were the forwards? Joslyn Tinkle, who celebrated her birthday on game day, had just two points for the game. It was not good basketball.
So Stanford went to plan B. Amber Orrrrange, playing point, would drive down the middle, to meet Stephanie Dolson. Amber could not get a good shot off, sometimes eating the ball and looking to pass it back outside. She scored zero points for the game.
Rinse and repeat those two scenarios. To the tune of 13 first half points for Stanford and 31 for UConn. What was really frustrating was Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer, who is the master of the adjustment at the half, did not seem to adjust enough to try something different.
The third thing UConn did was press in the backcourt. Stanford is notorious for not being able to handle the press, but this was ridiculous. Either the ball would get stolen, and it was mostly Amber that was the victim of those steals or now the shot clock was eaten up and Stanford had to rush their shot selection. Stanford had 14 turnovers for the game that resulted in 15 points for UConn. And UConn is not the kind of team you want to fall behind.
But the worst thing is Stanford did not play smart. TVD said her team was doing things “out of character”. Some of it was little things, such as when Toni Kokenis’ defensive player fell down, she passed to a guarded player instead of taking a wide open shot. And some of it was big. In the second half, Stanford did adjust and figure out how to break the full court press. The guard bringing the ball up would throw to an open player at the half court line. And here is where all of Maples was flummoxed. That player would turn to the basket and there would be three white shirts against two navy shirts and instead of attacking the basket and taking advantage of the numbers, they would wait and hold the ball, letting UConn get all five players back on D and then start their rotation, shot clock ticking down. And this happened a lot. The Maples crowd at first exhorted their team to press it forward. Then the crowd booed. I have never, ever heard the Stanford fans boo their own team.
So Dolson is limiting Chiney and Stanford can’t go down the middle when she is in there. So when Dolson does go to the bench for long stretches, Stanford….stops attacking the middle and does not get it to Chiney? What? Instead they stuck to this very exacting rotation of players, who move one at a time. No cuts or quick movements without the ball. And when a Stanford player did catch the ball, they stood flatfooted, not in a triple threat or looking to shoot over their defender. Their body language said "I am waiting for the next rotation to pass and will not drive or shoot on you". That makes for easy defending.
Stanford did have a mini run when Bonnie Samuelson got two threes and Geno got T’ed up for hassling the refs. (If you call going from down 23 to down 15 a mini run). And guess what? Dolson was on the bench for that run. She came back in, scored a basket and that put the lid on anything, because, Stanford had still not altered their game plan.
The one time in the second half when Stanford pushed the ball against UConn’s press, Mikaela Ruef took the ball to the basket hard. Big Stephanie Dolson stepped up to defend and Ruef jumped up, and forward into Dolson. Their bodies met and although Ruef took a hard spill on the floor, Dolson was called with her third foul, as the refs will favor the offense in a meeting of the bodies. Smart. So, does Stanford even try that again? No. Do that one more time and Dolson has four fouls and would go to the bench and you can have some breathing room. But no, no one tries that. Chiney again catches the ball and jumps up and backwards to try to get away from Dolson’s arms and the result is another missed shot and another rebound scooped up by UConn. Not smart.
How ugly was this? Let’s quote some statistics. Well, the final score was 61-35. At one point in the first half, the score was 22-7. Stanford was 5-22 in the first half for a 15% completion rate, and a little better in the second, going 6-24 for 25%. That makes 19% for the game. That was Stanford’s lowest single-game shooting effort and fewest field goals made. Stanford was also uncharacteristically ineffective at the line, going 11-20. Ruef was 0-4, and scored zero points for the game .Oh, silver lining, it wasn’t Stanford’s worst home loss, that was a 1983 96-51 loss to Long Beach State before Tara’s time. And Chiney did score 18 points in this game. It just seemed like she missed all her shots. No one else for Stanford reached double figures.
UConn had a balanced offensive attack, with four players in double figures. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had 19, and three players had ten, with an additional bench player with nine. How balanced is that?
As bad as Stanford was, why hasn’t the rest of this season’s games gone this way? Why did other Stanford players step up in those games and not here? How did Stanford get to be 11-0 before this game if a team can so easily exploit their weaknesses? The rest of the season will be interesting to watch.
Follow C and R on Facebook and Twitter, to see if Stanford can recover from this game.