So, this was actually a very interesting game to view. Usually when Pac-12 foes meet, some time has passed between the games. A team at the beginning of a season is definitely different then they are at mid point, or at the end of a season. But in this case, the teams played with just six days between games. So both coaches have a chance to look at relevant game film. C and R were looking forward to seeing how both teams would respond or adjust (or not, in Stanford’s case, more on that later).
So Cal came out in their full court press right off the bat (And C and R like to be delusional and think Cal coach Lindsey Gottlieb listened to us saying that Cal had abandoned it too quickly when they last met --smiley face emoticon-). And Stanford easily broke it. They broke it two or three times, getting easy baskets in transition. And out the door went the press and Maples never saw it again. Kudos for Gottlieb to know something is not working and have the guts to call it off.
So those first five minutes, Cal’s press is not working, Stanford is controlling the boards, and not letting Cal get second chances on their misses, Stanford is boxing out and being physical, and Stanford’s Amber Orrrrange starting the scoring with a three, so Stanford was not going to go 0-for from the arc in this game. Even the refs are calling things Stanford’s way, punishing Cal for being so physical. Cal actually got on the board first with one free throw. At the first timeout at 15:47 in the first half, Stanford led 8-1. To paraphrase the Stanford Band, well all right now…
Then, right at the 15-minute point, as I mentioned, the refs turned on Stanford and punished them for being too physical. Stanford was whistled for two quick fouls within a minute of each other. Intense Erica Payne for Stanford comes in and is whistled for a foul. Three-point specialist Bonnie Samuelson comes in, commits a foul. The last one was really puzzling, because Cal had just made a basket and the ball was out of bounds waiting to be inbounded by Stanford and boom, Cal is standing under their basket again with the ball. We never did figure out what the foul call was all about. Bonnie gets instantly subbed out for Intense Erica again and she fouls again10 seconds later. Get the picture. Two minutes later and it is a small 12-10 Stanford lead at the 11:52 mark. That stretch seemed to take the fight out of Stanford on the boards, their scoring dried up and here comes Cal and their rebounding post players.
Chiney Ogwumike gets tripled-teamed (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
So back to what did each coach learn, change, adjust, and leave in place. Cal tried the press early, didn’t work, they adjusted during the game and took it out. Stanford kept up their tough defense and held Cal to 29.7% shooting. Stanford also kept up their game plan of letting certain players hold the ball on the three point line and back way off to pack the paint. It was especially embarrassing for Cal’s Eliza Pierre, to stand there all alone and still unable to do anything, shoot or pass to an open player because it’s now five Stanford players on the other four Cal players. Pierre scored two points for the game on a drive and pull up jumper, so that battle went to Stanford. However, that strategy backfired on a little used Cal player Mikayla Lyles. She had one of two Cal three-pointers last game. She averages around eight points a game this year. This time, unguarded she hit her first three at the 9 and a half-minute mark. Okay, Stanford can live with that, that one. Then she hit another at the 6, a two-point jumper at the 5, then two three-pointers at the 3, and 2-minute marks. She scored 11 points in the final six minutes to put Cal up 39-31 at the half and they never looked back.
(Side not, Lyles had the flop of the game when Chiney Ogwumike stole a pass and barreled to the basket for a lay up. Lyles, who gives up about 12 inches of height to Chiney, was back on D, decided her best course of action was to fall before Chiney got anywhere near her, trying to draw a charge. For once, the refs were on Stanford’s side and gave the correct non-call).
Which brings us to…Stanford’s offense. It is the same one they played in the first game at Cal. And for the full 40 minutes at home against Cal. Now, you know Cal was studying the heck out of the game, which Gottlieb admitted post game, why not try something different? Especially since it did not work very well the first time and obviously was failing in this game. The ball mostly goes in the middle to the post at the top of the circle. She has her back to the basket and waits, slowly waits, for the guard to come around. Sometimes they have to gesture for someone to come around. Only one player appears to be moving at a time. It is so slow and Cal knew it was coming. Cal forced four, count ‘em, four shot clock violations, and when have you ever seen that in a Stanford game? Couple that with Cal driving in and pulling up and hitting their jump shots, like Cal’s Layshia Clarendon and Brittany Boyd did, and Cal had the upper hand on offense.
The times Stanford did try to swing the ball to the outside, Cal was ready, perhaps knowing the play, and did not let Stanford get too many good looks for a three. Stanford was 2-12 from the three line. Specialist Bonnie was never able to even get a shot off and scored zero points. Cal also pushed Stanford scoring machine Chiney off the blocks and outside the paint and made it hard for her to score inside, although she wound up with 18 points for the game, she missed a lot. Perhaps Cal also watched and learned from some of the UConn tape as well. And once again, like the UConn game, no one seemed to step up and get open when Chiney was double teamed.
Besides Stanford guards Toni Kokenis and Amber Orrrrange driving in and pulling up for jumpers (12 and nine points respectively), nobody else from Stanford scored much. Jos Tinkle had four points and six boards, and when Chiney is double teamed or double boxed out, she disappears and that has hurt Stanford, too.
Plus, when Stanford was down in the second half, they still dribbled the ball up, and started that slow rotation offense. They played with no sense of urgency, especially as the clock was winding down, seven minutes, three minutes… in double figures debt. Stanford only scored eight points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Stanford resorted to intentionally fouling Cal with three minutes left in the game, but when the deficit is double figures, shouldn’t they try to hustle, and aggressively go for the ball and hope they get the steal and hope don’t get called for the foul, maybe do a little press of their own? Or bring the ball up and attack the basket instead of go back to the slow rotation offense? (Cal would shoot 31 free throws to Stanford's 19).
The final score was 55-67, and Cal snaps Stanford 81 straight conference wins and hands them their second straight home loss. The last time Stanford lost back-to-back home games was in 2001. Stanford has not lost three in a row at Maples since Tara VanDerveer’s second year on the Farm, way back in 1986-87. Oh, UCLA is coming in to town next, and they always give us a good game.
R joked with me that I know oh so much more than Hall of Fame Coach Tara VanDerveer, but even I would have tried a different offense. At one point, Chiney herself waited for the one person to swing around to come get the ball and said the heck with this, and drive it in herself. I know others need to step up and help her score, but maybe a different offense would help them do that.
Injury note, Stanford's Sara James was having a good game until she went out around the 13-minute mark in the first with a sprained ankle. She came back in a little later only to go back out. It would be nice to see her get more playing time if her ankle can withstand it.
UCLA is 13-2, and 4-0 in Pac-12 play. They are now number one in the Pac-12, due to Stanford and Cal trading home losses.
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