After opening conference play with two low-scoring games in Arizona, No. 9 Stanford women’s basketball (11-3, 1-1 Pac-12) returns to Maples Pavilion to face Utah (10-3, 2-0) on Friday night and Colorado (6-8, 0-2) on Sunday afternoon.
Stanford’s trip to the desert marked just the second and third games this season that the Cardinal failed to score 60 points. In theory, slower-paced games with low scoring would play right into the hands of the Cardinal’s defense, which holds opponents to just 30 percent shooting from the field.
The Cardinal’s defense was on full display in the squad’s 59-34 win over Arizona last week. The Wildcats made only 11 of their 53 shots and struggled to find any offensive rhythm all game. Despite the slow pace of the game, the Cardinal moved the ball well and set up open looks for their shooters.
However, the shots were not falling; starting guards Lili Thompson, Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson missed all nine of their attempts from three-point range. Sophomore Brittany McPhee and freshman Alanna Smith provided a much-needed boost for the Cardinal offense, tallying 21 and 16 points, respectively.
Stanford’s shooting woes became even worse in a 49-31 loss to Arizona State that was one of the Cardinal’s worst games of the season. The Cardinal shot 11-of-43 from the field, recording 13 points at the half and finishing with the lowest single-game point total in the program’s history.
Unlike in their win over the Wildcats, the Cardinal were not passing the ball effectively, with no player recording more than 1 assist and the team finishing with just 8 total. Without crisp ball movement along the perimeter, Thompson and junior forward Erica McCall were forced to try to create shots one-on-one, which was ineffective against a strong Sun Devils defense.
While the Sun Devils beat the Cardinal on the strength of a suffocating defensive performance, Friday’s opponent, the Utah Utes, will try to push the pace. The Utes are a dangerous, experienced team that shoots and rebounds at a high level. Junior forward Emily Potter’s 6-foot-6-inch frame and ability to run the floor could present a mismatch against an undersized Stanford frontcourt. Potter is second in the Pac-12 in both rebounds and blocks and has become a reliable offensive presence for the Utes, scoring 17 points per game.
Junior wing Paige Crozon has been essential to the Utes’ early success this season, recording six double-doubles in the last eight games. Although Potter presents a more obvious defensive challenge for the Cardinal, Crozon has been the primary scorer for the Utes as of late, setting a new career high with 24 points in a tight 88-83 win over Washington on Monday. Led by Potter, Crozon and senior point guard Danielle Rodriguez, the Utes are poised to be one of many teams that can contend in the Pac-12, which does not have a standout team thus far.
The Cardinal finish their two-game homestand against Colorado, a young team that has struggled with inconsistent play during the season. The Buffaloes opened conference play with a terrible first half against Washington that almost ended in a come-from-behind victory. The Buffs mounted a 23-4 run against the Huskies to tie the game in the third quarter, but ended up losing 76-74.
Forward Jamee Swan, the team’s only senior, leads the Buffs in scoring, shooting percentage, rebounding and blocked shots. Swan’s punishing, efficient inside game is the sole focal point of the Colorado offense, marking the second straight game that the Cardinal’s defensive work will mostly be done inside the paint.
Stanford tips off against Utah at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and against Colorado at noon on Sunday, both games at Maples Pavilion.
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu.