After taking on the Oregon teams this past weekend, Stanford men’s and women’s basketball move on to a slate of USC and UCLA, as the two squads attempt to maintain their positions in the Pac-12. With a mixed bag of results over the past two weeks, it’s time to take a closer look at these trends and determine whether they’re just flukes or for real. The Daily’s King Jemison, Sally Egan and Daniel Martinez-Krams share their thoughts on the women’s conference struggles, the men’s recent surprising successes, and the emergence of newly contributing players on both teams.
The Stanford women have a losing record in their last five games, going 2-3 across the contests and accumulating three of their four season losses. This culminated in the 40-point blowout of the Cardinal by the Oregon Ducks on Sunday. Do you believe that the team’s recent trend of losing games in the Pac-12 is a fluke or for real? Why?
King Jemison (KJ): Well, obviously the AP and Coaches’ poll voters believe it’s a fluke because they moved Stanford up one spot to No. 10 despite the 40 point loss to No. 3 Oregon. Stanford has three top-10 victories on the season, including a 68-63 win over No. 1 Baylor on December 15th. The Cardinal can beat great teams, and they have beaten great teams. They just had a horrible shooting performance against Oregon (5-22 from three-point range), on a day where Oregon had an incredible 12-16 showing from deep. There’s no excuse for allowing a team to make 75 percent of its three pointers, but it’s a mistake that can be fixed. Stanford will be okay; they just need to weather this rough stretch and get back to playing the brand of basketball that allowed them to beat Baylor and then rattle off 11 straight victories.
Want some more good news? The Selection Committee put Stanford at No. 7 in their initial rankings despite the ugly loss to Oregon. If Stanford can hold serve and get a two seed in the tournament, they should be just fine.
Sally Egan (SE): I’m going to agree with King on this one. While the past five games haven’t yielded the record Stanford hoped for, there have been some good pieces in this stretch. Specifically, other players besides Alanna Smith, DiJonai Carrington and Kianna Williams have been emerging as bigger contributors. Alyssa Jerome, Maya Dodson and the Hull twins have each posted solid stat lines in one or more of these past few games, addressing the depth concern from earlier in the season. If the Cardinal can find a way to take this depth and combine it with the strength shown in their 11 game win streak, they can still be a very dangerous team in both the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
Daniel Martinez-Krams (DMK): Losing games in the Pac-12 is most certainly for real. Women’s basketball is one of the few conferences in which the Pac-12 is truly the conference of champions. I’ll remind you of a quote from someone who I have previously called the greatest college basketball coach of all time. “There’s not a bad team [in the Pac-12],” head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Like maybe in the old days you could say, ‘Ahh, we don’t have to worry about this team, we’ll be up by 30 at halftime,’ but those days are over. Everyone says, ‘Oh, isn’t it great? I’m like, ‘Uh, not so sure.’ It’s great, so we’ll have our work cut out for us every game.”
The Cardinal are competing in a conference in which half of the teams have been ranked in the top 25. If Stanford is historically good this season, the Pac-12 is historically better. Oregon had not won at Stanford in 32 years until they dropped 88 on the Cardinal in a 40 point win. Dropping games in the conference schedule is not a fluke, or a passing phase or even a trend. It’s the new norm.
The Stanford men, on the other hand, have a winning record in their last five games, going 3-2 across the contests (4-2 in their last six), and “boosting” themselves to ninth place in the Pac-12. These wins included hard-fought road victories over Oregon State and Washington State. Is the team’s recent Pac-12 success just a fluke or for real? Why?
KJ: I earnestly believe that Stanford has as talented a roster as any Pac-12 school not named Washington. They can play with anybody, and when they stop making silly mistakes and getting in their own way, they can beat anybody, too. The win over Oregon State was a big moment for this young team because it was the first time this season that they beat a good team away from home. Unfortunately, they followed up that brilliant performance with an ugly showing at Oregon in which they scored four points in the first 14 minutes of the game. But they were playing without Daejon Davis in Eugene, and like the women’s team, they just had a really poor shooting night. Stanford has a chance to earn a top four seed in the Pac-12 tournament and thus give themselves a first-round bye. Since the conference tournament is their only route into March Madness at this point, that has to be the goal. Two wins this week over USC and UCLA in Maples Pavilion would go a long way towards that goal.
SE: Four of Stanford’s next five games are very winnable and should be a good indicator of how real their recent success has been. I’m hesitant to call the recent success real because out of the four victories, three came against the worst three teams in the Pac-12. The blowout of Oregon State was obviously positive because the Beavers are no joke, but Oregon should’ve been a winnable game and Stanford choked. This past weekend has been similar to the rest of the season in that the team seems to take two steps forward and then one step back. However, the next two home games against fellow middling teams USC and UCLA should be telling of where Stanford stands amongst the second tier of Pac-12 teams. After a tough game at Arizona State, they then face Arizona and Washington State, again two manageable games. If the Cardinal can extend this 4-2 streak to 8-3, they should be able to say they are truly a contender in the Pac-12.
DMK: As far as “success” goes, the Cardinal’s recent strong showings in the Pac-12 are certainly for real. This is exactly what I would expect from a Stanford team with considerable talent, a good head coach and players who buy in to the system playing in one of the worst conferences in the nation. A mediocre .500 record is precisely what this team was built for, but if nothing else the variance in quality of play is surprising. Stanford looked like the second-best team in the conference taking names down in Corvallis, and then in Eugene it looks like the team forgot their own names, let alone how to shoot. Everything the team did earlier in the nonconference season, taking Kansas to overtime and playing a stellar half against UNC, aligns with their moderate success in a weak conference. As far as if this is for real long term, look no further than the young talent on this roster. Stanford will be around competing for second place in the Pac-12 for a while.
Two Stanford players who have stepped up in the past few games, emerging for various reasons, have been Maya Dodson and Bryce Wills. Dodson returns to the women’s team after missing a chunk of the season due to injury and has made meaningful contributions on offense and defense. Wills has gotten a starting role with Daejon Davis sidelined and has consistently improved his facilitation and ability to score. Are these players’ recent rises just flukes, or are they for real? Why?
KJ: In both cases, Wills’ and Dodson’s recent play is absolutely for real. Both of those players were big-time recruits who have tremendous talent, and they’re both starting to show off that talent on the big stage. Bryce Wills looked like the only competent player on Stanford’s roster against Oregon as he scored 13 points on five of 10 shooting, including a monster one-handed slam. Had he not gone 3-9 from the free-throw line, he could have racked up an even more impressive game. But as coach Haase has repeatedly said, Wills is growing up before our eyes, and that should continue over the rest of the season.
Maya Dodson, meanwhile, didn’t have such a great game against Oregon (eight points on 4-13 shooting), but she is starting to carry an increasingly heavy load of the offensive burden. She’s averaging 8.5 points per game, fourth on the team, while shooting 52 percent from the field, putting her second only to Alanna Smith. Dodson is also second to Smith with 28 blocks on the season, and she swatted away four against Oregon State alone. If she can continue her rise, Stanford will be much better off with two stars in the front court.
SE: Arguments can be made that the success of both players is real, though I think Dodson especially is only just beginning to reach her potential. Over her last four games, which are her first four back from injury, she’s posted more blocks than Smith and has started every game. The fact that coach Tara VanDerveer trusts Dodson enough to start immediately after returning to full health shows that she believes Dodson could be in for a big late season push. Expect Dodson’s production, especially offensively, to increase significantly as she shakes off the cobwebs from not playing in over a month. On the men’s side, there’s no reason to believe Bryce Wills’ production will decrease. While the step up could be attributed to the Davis injury, Wills has shown flashes of potential throughout the season, such as his 10 point games against San Francisco and Portland State. The injury to Davis has allowed Wills to show what he is fully capable of, and while Davis will likely return to a starting role once he has recovered, expect Wills to remain a large part of the game plan, as his production these last six games brings a much-needed boost to the Stanford offense.
DMK: Wills was a four-star prospect ranked No. 77 overall in the 2018 class according to our friends at ESPN. Dodson was five-star talent, rated as the 11th best player in the nation according to ESPN HoopGurlz. Uh yeah, their success is real.
In the case of Dodson, we have last year’s averages to fall back on. In 11.3 minutes per game, she had an average of 3.5 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks. Across forty minutes, that is an average of 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks. Sounds pretty similar to her 15.6/8.3/2.4 slashing line from this year, right? Dodson’s 0.8 blocks per game were tied for 14th in the Pac-12 last year, and her 1.9 rebounds per game this year are second in the conference behind only Alanna Smith. Dodson captained Team USA to bronze at the FIBA U17 World Championships in the summer of 2016 before she went back for her senior year of high school to captain that team for the third straight season to a Region A championship. The 2017 Georgia USA TODAY Player of the Year scored 1,100 career points, grabbed more than 500 rebounds and had over 200 blocks in high school as a two-time state champion. The fact that she is now finding such obvious success at Stanford is no fluke.
Another three-year captain, Wills averaged 15.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 3.0 blocks and 2.5 steals for Iona Preparatory School. Competing in the USA Select team in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament at the Under-18 FIBA World Cup, Wills averaged double digits. Wills, who has started 15 of the team’s 22 games preceding the Davis injury, is finally beginning to find himself. I think it’s more apt to say his recent struggles are not for real, as the freshman shooting guard is just one for 12 on three-point attempts in conference play with 24 turnovers to 19 assists. I would expect Wills to come on a lot stronger as he develops.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu, Sally Egan at egansj18 ‘at’ stanford.edu, and Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.