After earning two come-from-behind victories on the road in Washington, the No. 13 Stanford women’s basketball team (12-4, 4-0 Pac-12) will seek to remain undefeated in Pac-12 play with games against Arizona and No. 14 Arizona State this weekend.
Stanford’s conference games have proved to be tough matchups thus far. They have all been decided by 11 points or fewer, and Stanford has had some difficulty scoring, particularly in the first half — in three of the team’s last four games, Stanford has scored fewer than 30 points before halftime. It was for this reason that Stanford came dangerously close to dropping its last two games on the road against Washington and Washington State.
The Cardinal were down at halftime against Washington, and were behind by 7 points with just 9:46 remaining in the game. Yet Stanford fought its way back behind scoring from senior point guard Amber Orrange, averaging 19 points per game in Pac-12 play, and sophomore guard Lili Thompson, averaging 14.75 points per game in conference play. With the shot clock expiring and 27 seconds left in the game, Thompson banked in a three-point shot that put Stanford ahead by two possessions, securing the victory.
In its matchup against Washington State, Stanford trailed by 11 with 13:24 left in regulation, but managed to formulate a comeback led not only by Orrange and Thompson, but also by senior forward Taylor Greenfield, sophomore guard Briana Roberson, freshman forward Kaylee Johnson and senior forward Bonnie Samuelson. All six of these players ended the game with double digits. With two minutes left in regulation, Samuelson scored off of free throws and a three to put Stanford in the lead that later evaporated when WSU scored with two seconds left in the game, forcing the game into overtime, during which Stanford outscored WSU 10-0.
Orrange and Thompson have been instrumental in helping the Card pull out these victories, combining for 51 percent of Stanford’s points in conference play. It’s a marked change from their performance in the team’s non-conference slate, where both players averaged less than 10 points per game in the five games prior to Pac-12 play.
The Wildcats and Sun Devils will certainly attempt to reduce the impact of this dynamic duo, a plan that if properly executed could mean trouble for Stanford if its other players, such as the Samuelson sisters, fail to step up and contribute offensively.
Despite convincingly winning all four combined matchups against Arizona and ASU last year, Stanford is clearly a different team this year. Last season, first round WNBA draft pick Chiney Ogwumike averaged 22 points in the four games against the Arizona teams. This year, Stanford continues to look for a consistent player to make up for its weakness in the paint.
To adjust, head coach Tara VanDerveer abandoned her triangle offense and implemented a new one that focuses more on guard play, allowing Orrange, Thompson and both Samuelson sisters to have strong seasons. Despite such guard talent, as well as rebounding prowess from freshman Kaylee Johnson, the team still struggles to fill the hole in the paint that Ogwumike left, both in terms of scoring and rebounding.
Arizona (7-8) is looking for its first conference win in its matchup against Stanford on Friday. The Cardinal will have to limit redshirt senior guard Candice Warthen, who averages 13.1 points per game, from making a huge impact. The Wildcats have lost their first four conference matchups, falling to the two Washington schools before getting blown out twice by their in-state rivals, ASU.
Arizona State (15-1), ranked one spot below Stanford at No. 14, has gone 4-0 in conference and has three players averaging double digit points per game: sophomore forward Sophia Brunner (13.3), redshirt junior guard Katie Hempen (12.3), and senior guard Promise Amukamara (11.6).
The Sun Devils’ only loss of the season came in its game against Green Bay, a team that is right on the border of being ranked. Besides crushing Arizona, the Sun Devils also had convincing 14-point victories against Washington and Washington State.
In order to be successful against these teams, Stanford must get off to a better start in the first half. Orrange and Thompson must contribute early and often, while strong shooting by the Samuelson sisters would also be beneficial in drawing defenders away from the key, allowing Orrange and Thompson to have room to drive.
Stanford welcomes Arizona to Maples Pavilion on Friday at 8 p.m., and Arizona State on Monday at 3 p.m. Both games will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.