The No. 6 Stanford Cardinal women’s basketball team sits comfortably atop most of the Pac-12 (and most of the country) with a current record of 14-1, with their only loss coming out of conference back in 2018. Their utter dominance this season, despite tough losses to injury, has the whole world wondering if this is the year the Cardinal break out in the conference, and in the NCAA tournament. The Daily’s Arman Kassam, Asia Zhang and Daniel Martinez-Krams share their thoughts on this year’s team compared to last year, the player stepping up the most and the legitimate threats to Stanford’s Pac-12 run.
Compared to where they were at this point last season, the Cardinal women are having an incredible run, only dropping one game thus far. What specific reasons do you think have contributed to the turnaround in success of the 2018-19 team?
Arman Kassam (AK): It’s all a matter of versatility. Let me ask you this question: when you go grocery shopping, and you only have so much to spend, what will you end up buying? Nutella or chocolate sauce? The answer is an easy one for me (Nutella), and this is an easy answer because Nutella can be put on anything and still taste good. The Stanford women’s basketball team is basically being run the same way this season. Take the game against Tennessee, for example. It’s clear that Stanford learned quite a bit from its lone loss against Gonzaga, namely to take an early lead by going for safe but deadly plays, and then applied that wisdom to dominating the ninth-best team in the nation. Perhaps a lot of this versatility is due to a combination of veteran coaching and maturing talent — more specifically, we have seen players like Kianna Williams go through quite the metamorphosis. Last season, the then-freshman was reaping an average of 10.4 points; this season, the sophomore is bringing in an astonishing 33.1. Anyways, just remember that the 2018-19 Cardinal are as versatile as Nutella.
Asia Zhang (AZ): Having scored a total of 1197 points so far this season, the Stanford women’s basketball team has been going above and beyond compared to where they were at this time last year, pushing and testing their abilities. As senior Alanna Smith said in a press conference after the nail-biter of a game against the UCLA Bruins, “Winning is great and all but you have to improve.” And yes, while they have increased in points averaged per game, combative rebounds and triumphant turnovers, it is their steadfast team cohesiveness that is the key ingredient to this wonderful cocktail of a season.
Daniel Martinez-Krams (DMK): Last year, Stanford shot 64.2 percent from the charity stripe. This year, it’s up to 69.8 percent, which has increased their made free throws per game from 9.6 to 11.5. Three point shooting soared from 31.9 percent to 38.7 percent, a difference of 2.8 made three point field goals per game. In 2017-2018, seven of Stanford’s 11 losses came in non-conference play. In 2018-2019, those 10.3 extra points per game have set the Cardinal apart. Head coach Tara VanDerveer has once again put forth a phenomenal defense, even mixing in a zone look against certain opponents, but it is the Stanford offense that has come alive this season and catapulted the team into the championship conversation.
The “Big Three” for the Cardinal thus far have been Alanna Smith, Kianna Williams and Dijonai Carrington. Who’s a less-focused bench player that you think will step up during the second half of the season and contribute meaningful minutes alongside the Stanford superstars?
AK: Smith remarked at the end of Sunday’s game against Arizona, “Everyone’s a weapon, everyone’s a threat … we’re driving in and make pitches to anybody — easy money.” We have most definitely seen stellar performances from this trio of titans, but it is also easy to overlook how the team overall has improved tremendously from the squad that was 12-7 at this point in the year during last season. But if I had to choose a single player that will really make a statement towards the end of the season, I would have to choose senior center Shannon Coffee. She already has set a pretty strong precedent in terms of her abilities; in the high-stakes game against Baylor back in December, Coffee proved to be a devil on both ends of the court. She sunk a trio of critical threes and denied Baylor’s Kalani Brown on defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Coffee thrived in another high-pressure situation.
AZ: Averaging almost three times her game point average from the 2017-2018 season, sophomore forward Maya Dodson is making big moves forward this season. Performing exceedingly well in the game against the San Francisco Dons, adding 10 points, four blocked shots and six assists with no turnovers, Maya Dodson and her magnificent 6’3” frame deserve the world.
DMK: Although no longer a bench player, Alyssa Jerome, who has started the three games since Nadia Fingall’s season ending ACL injury, will decide the fate of the Cardinal season. In her first start, facing UCLA, Jerome was perfect from distance on two attempts, contributing six points. She has been quieter in the two games that followed, but Stanford will need her to be a presence inside to make up for the loss of 4.9 rebounds per game and an efficient 50 percent field goal shooting for eight points an effort.
Do you think that there’s another team in the Pac-12 that can truly challenge Stanford? What matchup should we be most looking out for? Why?
AK: I mean, maybe Oregon? The Ducks are already one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation, and their bout against No. 4 Mississippi ended in a 82-74 upset. The Cardinal defense may also be challenged by three of their veterans: Maite Cazorla, Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu. In particular, Ionescu performed incredibly well against Mississippi with 29 points, and for goodness sake, she has a Wikipedia page all to herself (and one with a picture at that!). She leads the NCAA in triple-doubles and broke Oregon’s assist record (formerly 608 assists). But whether or not Oregon is much of a threat, at least we know Arizona is definitely not.
DMK: The scary thing is that Stanford does not even know who to be looking out for in the Pac-12. Coach VanDerveer said it after the UCLA game, in which Stanford faced two double digit deficits, but it can be any team on any night. The three other ranked Pac-12 teams — Oregon one spot higher than Stanford at five, Oregon State and Arizona State — are obvious choices, but Stanford cannot be complacent against any team. USC, who currently sit dead last in the conference standings, led Stanford at halftime on the road. Last year, Oregon, Cal, UCLA and Arizona State all beat the Cardinal. However, if you are looking for who will duke it out in Las Vegas with a conference championship and an automatic bid on the line, Arman is right that the Ducks will be a formidable foe.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu, Asia Zhang at asiaz ‘at’ stanford.edu, and Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.