After several weeks of absence, Stanford women’s basketball is finally back in the AP Poll, checking in at No. 24. What does this tell you about the way this team has improved since the start of the season?
Jack Golub (JG): Absolutely, the team has improved; it is a young group that keeps getting better as the season progresses. I think the ranking can be misleading, though. The Cardinal fell out of the top 25 after a series of losses to premier programs like UConn, Ohio State (twice) and Baylor. What I think shows their improvement the most is their annihilation of Arizona State the second time playing them. The Cardinal were able to run their offense effectively. Coach Tara knows what she’s doing and they’ll peak at the right time.
Alexandre Bucquet (AB): Obviously the team has improved, especially in terms of chemistry. All but three baskets were assisted against Arizona on Sunday, and the Cardinal were able to consistently find open looks, particularly from distance. Despite the fact that the Wildcats are a struggling program, I think this shows the way the team has improved: They play better as a single unit, no matter who’s on the floor. The freshmen, especially Kiana Williams, really fit well into this team, where everyone seems to have found her place in the rotation. The execution of this squad needs a test again a really strong opponent, and I think this road trip provides just that for the Cardinal.
After the game against Arizona on Sunday, head coach Tara Vanderveer compared the team’s game to that of the Warriors, selfless and collective. What was the highlight of the game for you?
JG: They lit it up! Big-time shooting performance. My legs got tired from jumping up to celebrate the threes they were knocking down. What’s especially impressive was that most of their shots from long-range came off of great ball movement. In other words: It wasn’t a fluke. The team earned the open looks and took advantage of them. That type of execution is exactly what the Cardinal need, especially since the team runs a highly structured offense.
AB: The shooting. The team displayed a tremendous confidence bolstered by the early success-rate from three-point range. Stanford’s first seven field goals were three-pointers, and the team finished with 14, just two shy of a record for the program. Getting going early has been an issue sometimes for the Cardinal this season, but once they get the ball rolling, it’s tough to come back. The team will need the same explosiveness from the get-go in Oregon this weekend. Whether it’s senior Kaylee Johnson with her rebounding on both ends of the floor, senior Brittany McPhee or junior Alanna Smith with their scoring abilities, or Williams with her shooting, the Cardinal will need a first-quarter spark to pull off the upsets.
The Cardinal are currently tied for second in the Pac-12 with UCLA and one game behind Oregon, and are traveling to Oregon to face the No. 16 Beavers and the No. 6 Ducks. What does Stanford need to beat OSU, and then to potentially earn its first top-10 win against Oregon?
JG: I peeked at Dre [Bucquet]’s answer but I agree with him: Sustained intensity. Marta Sniezek set the tone on the first defensive possession against Arizona by forcing a turnover. The team has got to play with that physicality and intensity from the start, both defensively and offensively. If the Cardinal can control the boards and force turnovers, they’re going to set themselves up to win. As the team showed this past weekend, it can execute on offense. Maybe the Cardinal won’t hit 14 threes in each of these next couple games, but as long as they’re getting those good looks they’ll put points on the board. It’s the 50-50 balls that so often decide close games; it might be that diving Sniezek steal or Johnson offensive putback or Carrington flying in out of nowhere for a defensive board that makes the difference.
AB: To beat those top teams, Stanford needs to play four quarters of basketball. Too often (e.g. against Washington and during their second match against UCLA), the Cardinal will play with less intensity during the beginning or the end of the game. It is crucial that the team avoids that this weekend. Stanford can’t afford to go down early and have to fight back up. On the other hand, when Stanford plays intensely for 48 minutes, it can compete with anyone: It upset UCLA at home during its Pac-12 opener by consistently answering every Bruin charge. Starting strong and finishing strong is the key for the Cardinal this weekend.
Contact Jack Golub at golubj and Alexandre Bucquet at bucqueta ‘at’ stanford.edu.