On Saturday, I shared some of my thoughts on the Utah matchup during the KZSU pregame show. Instead of focusing on the Utah game itself, I pointed out its implications for Stanford’s performance in this week’s game against UCLA. I overlooked Utah as being nothing more than a prep game for the bigger challenge that the Bruins would pose for us the following week.
Well, obviously, I shouldn’t have done that. But to continue my practice of overlooking things, I am going to kick the Utah game under the rug and turn my attention to UCLA—plus it’s just too painful to dwell on the past and what can’t be changed.
The main reason UCLA will be such a challenge is due to the fact that it is really hard to beat the same team twice—let alone three times—in less than a year. And let’s not forget that this isn’t just any team; it is a very good team.
Last year, the Card was able to handily take down the Bruins in Pasadena 35-17 and then turn around and beat them again a week later at Stanford Stadium to claim the Pac-12 title. The game was a lot closer the second time around—27-24—and I’m not so convinced that Stanford would have won without the home field advantage.
This year the Cardinal is fortunate to have the game on the Farm once again, and perhaps the Utah loss will spark a fire under the Card and motivate it to tear apart the Bruins. Especially now that Stanford will enter the game with a worse ranking than UCLA, the Cardinal has a lot to prove as it enters the hardest part of its schedule.
After the Card’s loss to Utah and UCLA’s dismantling of Cal, UCLA moved up two spots to No. 9 and Stanford plummeted out of the top 10 to No. 13. In addition, Stanford is playing a UCLA team that is out for revenge. What team wants to lose three in a row? Ask USC and I’m sure they’ll tell you that the third loss was just as painful as the fourth to the Card. It’s clear that the Bruins are going to be ready to play.
The Stanford women’s basketball team also knows how difficult it is to turn around and beat a good team twice, as shown by their series with Cal last season.
The Battle of the Bay occurred twice in a five-day span. Stanford came out on top at Haas Pavilion, despite the score going back and forth for the entirety of the game. Most everyone, myself included, expected Stanford to snap out of whatever funk it was in at Berkeley and decisively beat Cal at Maples to leave no doubt as to which school is the basketball powerhouse.
But that didn’t happen. So it was then that Stanford lost its first Pac-12 game in four years.
The reason I think it’s easier for the losing team to come back and win—and why it’s harder for a team to win twice in a row—is the losing team’s ability to adjust.
If a team lost the previous game, then that means they know exactly what to do to improve. There’s usually a certain aspect that caused the loss and thus they can narrow in on making adjustments specific to the opponent’s style of play. Plus, the losing team just wants to win that much more.
This isn’t the same for every game situation, but it is applicable in at least some respects to every sport.
So in considering this weekend’s matchup with the Bruins—even though it’s a new season and these are new teams—you can bet that UCLA is not going to leave anything to chance and will have made the necessary adjustments.
Both teams have a lot riding on this game, but Stanford is the one with the tougher challenge as it tries to pull off a three-peat win in under a calendar year. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that it lost to Utah. That extra incentive to win this weekend might come in handy.
Ashley Westhem has plenty of experience trying to avenge a loss from her high school basketball days. To ask Ashley how those rematches went, email her at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.