By Tom Taylor
This evening in Spokane, Wash., the Stanford women’s basketball team will face Georgia in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. Joining that pair in the Evergreen State, both the Pac-12 Conference and SEC will be doubly represented, with California and LSU due to face off on the same hardwood two-and-a-half hours later.
After struggling against the physical play of Tulsa in the First Round, the No. 1 seed Cardinal (33-2) impressed at home against Michigan on Tuesday, crushing the Wolverines 73-40. However, the No. 4 seed Lady Bulldogs (27-6) will almost certainly line up tactically closer to the Golden Hurricane.
“I think Tulsa surprised our team a little bit in how aggressive they were, and we were on our heels a little bit,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “I don’t think that will happen against Georgia. We know it’s coming.”
The Lady Bulldogs are unlikely to make the mistake Michigan did against Stanford. Lining up in a zone defense, the Wolverines successfully frustrated the Cardinal’s National Player of the Year contender, junior forward Chiney Ogwumike, but gave other players the space to shoot from outside. Led by senior forward Joslyn Tinkle, Stanford seized the chance to hit 12 3-pointers, five-for-five coming from Tinkle.
Georgia is led by senior forward Jasmine Hassell, with 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and senior guard Jasmine Jones, with 10.8 and 3.5, respectively.
VanDerveer and her team will be expecting a physical game more similar to that played by other SEC schools, and also the sort of challenge faced by Stanford in recent contests against Colorado, UCLA and Tulsa.
“We don’t play against it a whole lot,” VanDerveer said, “but I think it was beneficial for us to play against a team like South Carolina. It was beneficial to play against Tennessee … Quite honestly, that’s exactly what [sophomore guard] Amber [Orrange] likes playing against, so that’s good. I think [junior guard] Sara [James] likes that too.”
James played a crucial role in the team’s victory over Michigan. She held the Wolverines’ top scorer, senior guard Kate Thompson, to one-for-11 from the field, including zero-for-six from beyond the arc, despite a six-inch height disadvantage. Prior to that contest, Thompson was shooting .402 from the field and .387 from 3-point range on the season.
“Our team needs the toughness that she brings,” VanDerveer said. “Our team needs the competitiveness, the high-energy person that she is… She will guard anyone, she wants to be out there so badly that whether it’s guarding 6-4 [Michigan senior guard Kate] Thompson or whoever we ask her to guard, she gives it her very best.”
After three close previous games, in the last two contests of the Pac-12 Tournament and the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the Michigan game showed clearly what other players, and not just Ogwumike, are capable of. VanDerveer will be hoping that the team uses the experience and momentum of a big win to launch her team into the Regional Final, and even further to the Final Four in New Orleans.
“[Tuesday] was a little bit of a statement game for our team, to just say ‘hey, we are a No. 1 seed and we’re gonna play like one,'” VanDerveer said.
“I think it was a really important lesson for our team,” VanDerveer said. “That other people are capable and [junior forward] Chiney [Ogwumike] did a great job of trusting her teammates, not trying to go one on three, one against two.”
This will be Stanford’s third trip up to Washington this season, having defeated Gonzaga in Spokane at the beginning of December and faced the Washington schools on the road in the final two games of regular conference play. However, Georgia may feel that it is even more familiar with the surroundings; the Bulldogs played their first- and second-round games in Spokane and so will not have had to travel far for the Sweet Sixteen.
The winner of the first game today will face either No. 2 seed Berkeley (30-3) or No. 6 seed LSU (22-11) in the regional final on Monday. If Stanford meets its cross-bay rival in that contest it would be their third game this season. The two teams played back-to-back games in January, both winning on the road to split this year’s series one-apiece.
The game between Stanford and Georgia will tip off in the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena at 6:04 p.m. PT and will be available live on ESPN and KZSU. The following matchup between California and LSU will be broadcast on ESPN2.