The No. 6 Stanford women’s basketball team (22-2, 11-1 Pac-12) is in relatively uncharted territory right now. Sunday’s loss to Washington marked the first loss in nearly three months and only the second conference loss since 2009 for the Cardinal women. Unfortunately, there is no rest for the weary, as the Cardinal will play host to No. 15 Arizona State (20-4, 9-3) tonight in what looks to be a challenging matchup for the Pac-12 leaders.
The Sun Devils come into the matchup as the second-place team in the Pac-12, two games behind Stanford in the conference standings. Fortunately for the Cardinal, Arizona State is also reeling after suffering a stunning upset of its own at the hands of conference cellar-dweller Arizona, which netted its first conference victory with a 68-49 shocker at home.
With both teams looking to rebound from bad losses, the pressure will be high in Maples Pavilion this evening. Both the Cardinal and Sun Devils suffered from uncharacteristically inaccurate shooting in those losses, with both teams shooting more than 10 percent below their season averages from the field.
However, the Cardinal will have the advantage from the field in tonight’s matchup, as Stanford boasts the best shooting defense in the conference while the Sun Devils clock in at 11th place in that statistic, allowing their opponents to shoot over 43 percent from the field. In the loss to Arizona, the Sun Devils allowed the Wildcats — who boast the worst statistical offense in the conference — to make nearly 55 percent of their shots.
One of the keys to limiting the Sun Devils’ efficacy on the court will be corralling as many rebounds as possible. Arizona State is second in the conference in offensive rebounding and first in rebounding defense, which, when coupled with its stellar shooting from the field, has more than made up for the Sun Devils’ inability to play solid shooting defense all season.
Winning the rebound battle will rest on the shoulders of senior forward Chiney Ogwumike and fifth-year senior forward Mikaela Ruef, who both come into the matchup ranked in the top five in the conference in rebounding with 12.3 and 9.8 rebounds per game, respectively. For Ruef, it will just be a matter of building on a career-best day in the loss against Washington, in which she grabbed an eye-popping 22 boards. For Ogwumike, it will just be a matter of staying the course and continuing her physical play in the paint.
With a solid effort tonight, Ogwumike will look to solidify her status as one of the 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award and a Naismith Trophy Midseason Top 30 candidate.
The Sun Devils are led by fifth-year senior guard Deja Mann, a California native averaging 11.5 points per game this season. Although Mann contributed a solid 15-point effort in the loss to the Wildcats, a lack of contributions from her teammates ultimately doomed the Sun Devils. No other ASU player scored more than six points in the upset, and the other 10 players that saw action that night combined to go 0-of-6 from behind the arc — uncharacteristic of a team averaging 34 percent from downtown this season.
A pair of freshman forwards, Sophie Brunner and Kelsey Moos, has led the Sun Devils in rebounds this season, with each of them netting over six boards per game. Although they both measure in at over six feet in height, they will be at a size disadvantage against the Cardinal’s rebounding forward duo of Ruef and Ogwumike.
With a win over the Sun Devils, the Cardinal will be in good position to pick up its 13th consecutive Pac-12 title and earn a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. With a loss, however, the Cardinal will see its conference lead dwindle to just one game with a tough matchup against third-place USC still looming in a week.
Tipoff against the Sun Devils at Maples Pavilion will be at 7 p.m. tonight.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.