The nation’s highest-touted recruit is starting for the nation’s top-ranked team. Locally based guard Haley Jones shot 6-of-9 from the field in her fourth game in the starting lineup with a game-high 15 points and six assists to accompany seven rebounds.
Jones got it done all over the court with four jumpers and two layups.
“I think it’s my teammates,” Jones said. “I’m still learning and I’m listening to all of them. All the freshmen are able to feel comfortable with this team. We know they have our back no matter what we do.”
Playing as the No. 1 team for the first time in seven seasons, Stanford (8-0, 0-0 Pac-12) handled Ohio State (6-3, 0-0 Big Ten) 71-52 in Maples Pavilion on Sunday. The win was the 1,100th in program history.
Two games prior, the Buckeyes unseated No. 2 Louisville and earlier in the season were within two at halftime against now-No. 2 UConn, but they could not replicate such a performance against the Cardinal.
“We didn’t really talk about number one,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “We want to be number one. We always have a target anyway. We want to be number one when it counts.”
Coming into the game, Kierstan Bell had led Ohio State in scoring but was held scoreless on 0-for-8 from the field, having been defended largely by Jones.
“We just played really good defense,” Jones said. “[Bell] has a lot of great ball handling skills so I think that we’re just trying to stay down and not go for shot fakes.”
“She’s not just a good freshman, she’s a good player, period,” VanDerveer said of Jones. “She plays every position, she has stamina, she plays hard and she’s versatile. Her biggest advantage is her brain.”
Jones’ one blemish, though, was a sore spot for the entire Cardinal side. Her seven turnovers were the most for a team that committed a season-high 21, ahead of five from junior guard Kiana Williams and four off the hands of freshman forward Fran Belibi.
“If I had one bone to pick with this team it’s we turned the ball over too much,” VanDerveer said. “We can do better, and I think the team wasn’t happy about it either.”
At times, the offense was “sloppy,” in VanDerveer’s words, as it tried to break the Ohio State press defense.
Stanford was saved by the 24 turnovers committed on the other side of the court by the Buckeyes. Both teams snagged 15 steals, with the Cardinal led by sophomore guard Lexie Hull’s career-high seven. All seven were recorded by halftime, but Hull could not tally another and had to settle with a tie with her twin sister Lacie and five others for fourth in single-game program history.
“It really comes down to our coaching staff and the way they scout,” Lexie said. “We go through a lot of what the other team is going to run as best as we can and that really helps to know the passing lanes that are expected.”
“She was all over,” VanDerveer said.
On Sunday, Lacie was among four Cardinal not dressed for action, alongside senior guard Mikaela Brewer, senior guard DiJonai Carrington and junior forward Maya Dodson.
With the absences, four of the 10 Cardinal to see minutes were freshman, though only Jones started.
After a 1-for-7 start in the first half, Lexie burst out of the gates in the second with a 3-pointer and a 3-point play and finished with 13 points. That total was matched by Williams and Belibi, who also had a team-high eight rebounds. For the past 21 season, Stanford has taken a two-week break for exams, and Sunday’s contest improved the Cardinal to 17-4 in first games back from the break.
“It was just finding my rhythm again,” Lexie said. “Especially coming off two weeks, I think everyone will get anxious in that first half.”
Junior forward Nadia Fingall was an efficient 4-of-5 for nine points and freshman guard Hannah Jump continued her success from range with nine points on 3-for-7 from distance. Entering the contest, Jump’s 50% 3-point percentage was ninth in the sport.
Stanford’s two blocks fell short of its fourth-in-the-country 6.5 blocks per game, as did its 37 rebounds compared to the seventh-best 46.88 rebounds per game. Ohio State shot just 38.6% from the field, though that mark was considerably better than Stanford opponents are faring on the season, with the 30.7% field goal defense slotting in as fifth-best in the nation.
Stanford led 37-23 at halftime but was braced for a third quarter letdown. Two of the last three Stanford opponents won the third quarter, and the lull appeared to return as the Buckeyes went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 12 and force VanDerveer to take a timeout. Hull scored the next two, and the Stanford lead never fell below 14, soaring as high as 21.
For VanDerveer, it was just her fourth time facing the team she coached for five seasons in her last stop before joining the Farm, and the first time in Maples Pavilion. Stanford is now 2-3 against Ohio State. Stanford’s first loss came when VanDerveer was at the helm of the Buckeyes.
“It’s fun to be able to learn when you win,” VanDerveer said. “That’s a great situation for our team to be in. I don’t think Haley or Lexie are satisfied with today’s game. If you were to do it over you would want to take care of the ball better or finish on some shots.”
Stanford, which has yet to play an opponent on its regular home court, returns to action at Maples Pavilion on Wednesday to take on Tennessee at 7 p.m. PT.