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Basketball round table: Tightening the screws

The Daily’s Daniel Martinez-Krams and Stephen Ren share their thoughts on what the basketball teams need to do to clean up their on-court play

Senior center Josh Sharma (above) is averaging 5.5 rebounds per game on the year. (MICHAEL KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

It was a mixed bag of a weekend for Stanford basketball. Despite a 2-1 record overall, the teams showed inconsistency against their rivals, the Berkeley Golden Bears. The men went to the last second against Cal, winning on a reversed call by the Pac-12 refs. This would ordinarily be cause to celebrate, except that they almost gave Cal their first win in the Pac-12 this year and allowed them to break a nine-game losing streak. The women went a step farther and dropped a game to unranked Cal on the road, causing their ranking to fall out of the NCAA’s top ten. As the schedules reach a particularly difficult curve for both teams, it’s time for both groups to tighten the screws and clean up their gameplay. The Daily’s Daniel Martinez-Krams and Stephen Ren share their thoughts on the Oregon teams visiting the Farm, the men’s big men woes, and the women’s recent shift out of utter dominance.

 

After dropping a close contest to Cal last week, the Stanford women responded by dropping a 25-point win on their heads back on the farm. The team now faces their toughest challenge of the year, two top-10 matchups against No. 7 Oregon State and No. 3 Oregon. What, in your opinion, is the primary key to coming out ahead in these matchups?

Daniel Martinez-Krams (DMK): Three point shooting. In the Utah loss, Stanford shot 28.6 percent from distance. In the Cal loss, Stanford shot 21.7 percent from beyond the arc. On the season, Stanford is shooting 36.8 percent. Alanna Smith went a combined 5 for 18 from three point range across those two games during a season she is averaging 45 percent – which was over 48 percent before those games. Oregon wins by holding opponents below their season averages. The Ducks shoot a conference second best 42.1 percent from three compared to opponents’ conference second worst 29.7 percent. The Beavers shoot a conference best 43.0 percent to opponents’ conference worst 27.1. Meanwhile, Stanford is allowing 34 percent three-point shooting, fourth worst in the conference. Although the Stanford defense is historically good, they can hardly expect to win just hoping that the Oregon schools underperform their season averages. The Cardinal need to match and exceed the mark set by the Oregon aquatic life.

Stephen Ren (SR): Urgency. The team dropped the Cal game because they walked in already thinking they had won, and did not come out with the right energy. This was especially dangerous since it was on Cal turf, and the Cardinal allowed the Golden Bears’ momentum to build and build. The women’s team has to come into every game with championship intensity. Even if they’re playing freaking Paly High, they should never adjust the level of play because of the level of competition.

You could clearly see the difference in the Cardinal squad when they came out with fire and purpose to in the second Cal game — they steamrolled them 75-50.

Now that they have fallen even more behind in the Pac-12, they have all the more reason to go into every subsequent game with the same energy and focus. If it wasn’t clear on their minds before, now there should be no room for doubt. Every. Win. Counts. These next games against the No. 7 Oregon State and No. 3 Oregon are especially important, since Stanford will be vying with them for a top spot in the conference and in the playoffs.

A consistent theme for the Stanford men has been major contributors to the team falling into foul trouble early, specifically big man Josh Sharma. Sharma’s backup, Lukas Kisunas, has had some development issues of his own this season as a true freshman. What steps can coach Haase take to increase his production from the center position?

DMK: Firstly, Sharma did have the play of the game Sunday against Cal. I’m not referring to taking a charge on four fouls, which was cool, but waving goodbye to the hostile Haas Pavilion crowd who just moments earlier learned Sharma had not fouled out and their team would lose without the benefit of two points and a free throw. As the offense is run now, there is a heavy reliance on special players making special plays for themselves. Most of the time, that means KZ Okpala in isolation with a few spin moves, a Euro step and a finish with extra English. If Haase is able to run an offense where the big man is setting high screens, back door cuts are common and the center is not tied to the post, there will be more room underneath for not only the Josh Sharma’s of the world to produce, but more space for the whole team to succeed. Stanford’s big men aren’t being asked to dominate on the boards— Sharma’s 5.5 rebounds per game is third on the team— but they are being asked to park under the glass on offense. Sharma’s 46 offensive rebounds are 20 more than the second highest player, and that says a lot about where he is spaced on the court. More movement and a less stagnant offense should greatly lift Stanford’s center position.

SR: Work with Daejon, work with KZ. Stanford has set up some beautiful pick and roll plays with the guards and bigs. Though Josh Sharma doesn’t always stand out in the stat sheet scoring wise, you can be damned sure that the fans remember that he’s the guy who is throwing down those big dunks. Every one of those lobs and dunks means so much more than just two points— it energizes the home crowd, invigorates our team and demoralizes the opposition. Work more of those plays into the system, and to do that they should focus on building up their connection with the guards. They have to always expect the pass— if they’re open, there’s a good chance Davis is going to find them. Just build up that connection between the ball handlers, and the more dunks (and more wins) that are going to happen.

The seemingly unstoppable women’s team has looked surprisingly mortal these past few weeks, and are 1-2 in their last three Pac-12 games. What do you think has changed for the team since their dominant run in out-of-conference play?

DMK: The Pac-12 is an extremely difficult conference for women’s basketball and that cannot be overlooked or overstated. That being said, after a dominant sweep of the Washington schools capped by head coach Tara VanDerveer’s 900th win in the program, the team regressed in two road losses. Keeping in mind that Utah is currently ranked and Cal had been ranked throughout the early season, if the Cardinal were playing at the same level as when they faced now-number-one-ranked Baylor, neither of those games would have been close. What’s more, the team had continued to play at or above that level for much of early conference play, which is why I think the recent lull is a combination of a let-down following the celebratory 900th win and a team peeking ahead to the upcoming Oregon competition a little too soon. Of course, other factors are at play, such as the fact that Utah and Cal are both stellar teams, road environments are difficult, especially in a rival’s arena, key players are out with injuries and other players are finding their footing in the rotation; in a long season some games don’t fall your way.

SR: They have been dominant even after conference play started, winning their first seven Pac-12 matchups before the aforementioned 2-1 slip up against Berkeley and Utah. While I can’t speak as to what exactly caused their recent stumbles, I can definitely say that now that they know the frustration of defeat, this has hopefully instilled a stronger sense of urgency with the season as a whole. There is something different about simply wanting to win and wanting to avoid that gnawing, sour taste of defeat. Now that they’ve recognized their weaknesses, they can start to fix them. Now that they have realized they are not invulnerable, they can play as if their season was on the line with every game.

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