The No. 16 Stanford Cardinal (7-4) went 1-1 in its past two games, losing to rival No. 8 Tennessee (9-2) 59-40 for the first time in three years but, most recently, rebounding with a 71-59 win against UC Davis (4-7).
The Cardinal crushed Santa Clara (5-4) and lost a close game to Chattanooga (9-3) in its first two games during the winter break. The back-to-back losses to Chattanooga and Tennessee marked the first time Stanford has lost consecutive games since December 2010.
The game against Tennessee was also the second game in a row in which the Card scored fewer than 50 points. This statistic is uncharacteristic for Stanford, which prior to the loss against Chattanooga had put up 80.6 points per game.
Sophomore guard Lili Thompson led Stanford against the Lady Vols with 13 points, nine of which came in the second half. In Stanford’s previous three games against ranked opponents, she averaged 22.3 points per game. Senior forward Bonnie Samuelson, the second-highest scorer of the game, contributed just six. Senior point guard Amber Orrange went 1-11 from the field and was limited to four points on the day.
The Card’s main downfall was their offensive performance: The team went 5-for-21 in the first half, with only 15 points at intermission, and 8-for-30 in the second half. Stanford also only had two assists the entire game. Tennessee’s defense forced Stanford to take rushed and tough shots and made it difficult for Stanford’s guards to get free off of screens on the perimeter. Stanford also missed key layups and close-range jumpers. Ultimately, Stanford could never get into an offensive rhythm and create a run to reduce Tennessee’s lead.
“It was a much more physical game than our team was ready for and their size really bothered us on their switching,” head coach Tara VanDerveer told GoStanford.com. “Obviously, we turned the ball over a lot and we missed a lot of, I think, very makeable shots. So it’s disappointing.”
In addition, the team’s starting forwards, freshman Kaylee Johnson and sophomore Erica McCall, went 2-for-5, showing not only how the posts struggled to score but also how they were unable to even put up many shots. The team has struggled throughout the season to replace the post-player offensive productivity that the Ogwumike sisters contributed during their years on the Farm.
“We don’t have anyone that is an established low-block player, whereas Tennessee with [Bashaara] Graves or with [Isabelle] Harrison — they have people that they put in there,” VanDerveer told GoStanford.
“We’re basically a new team with new post players that aren’t giving us the kind of 25.5 points per game that Chiney [Ogwumike ’14] did last year,” the coach added after the win over UC Davis. “We were running a system we had run over and over, now we are playing a lot of young kids with a new system and we’re struggling and we have to figure this out. And again it’s going to take some time.”
The Card’s offensive woes were compounded by rebounding difficulties: The team was outrebounded 45-31. The team also committed 20 turnovers, 12 of which came in the first half. Stanford averaged 13 turnovers per game prior to the Tennessee matchup.
“We have a lot of really young players and it’s really good for them to see what the top teams look like,” said VanDerveer about playing so many strong teams this early in the season. Only two other teams have played four top-25 teams thus far in the season.
The Cardinal responded from their back-to-back losses with a 71-59 win against UC Davis on Monday, led by a stellar career-high 30-point performance by Bonnie Samuelson. Samuelson, who started in her first game of the season, went 6-of-10 from beyond the 3-point arc and shot 8-of-13 from the field.
“Bonnie really gave us a great lift out there,” VanDerveer told GoStanford. “I’m not sure sometimes how she got open but she worked really hard and really was a difference for us obviously knocking down her shot out there.”
“My teammates did a really good job of finding me today,” the elder Samuelson said. “My shot was feeling really good and I felt like I was in a good flow.”
Johnson also notched her second career double-double, earning 11 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out of the game. This game marked the sixth time Johnson, the nation’s leading freshman rebounder, has gathered more than 10 rebounds in a game. Sophomore guard Karlie Samuelson, who started alongside her sister, contributed nine points, while Orrange had eight points, four assists and four steals. Sophomore forward Erica McCall, who started the previous 10 games of the season, did not start and only played nine minutes.
The Samuelson sisters accounted for 21 of Stanford’s 34 first-half points and helped Stanford fight its way out of a 3-point deficit and into a 7-point lead, its largest lead of the first half. The senior Samuelson helped extend the Card’s lead early in the second half, and when UC Davis cut the deficit to three, put up points that widened Stanford’s lead and ensured a win for the Card.
Monday also marked a much better shooting day for the Card, who went 46.3 percent from the field and 58.8 percent on 3-pointers. This field goal percentage is the best Stanford has shot since the final two games of the Rainbow Wahine Shootout over Thanksgiving break. However, Stanford was out-rebounded once again, 35-30, despite the comparable size matchup with the Aggies.
Despite a somewhat tumultuous season, VanDerveer and the Cardinal refuse to be emotionally bogged down, instead focusing on the positives and stressing that the team is looking to the future and seeking to improve on what they have struggled with throughout the season.
The Cardinal will face UC Santa Barbara on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Maples Pavilion, their last game before starting Pac-12 conference play.