It was a home game for Stanford, but the court read “UNLV” and “Runnin’ Rebels.” Sophomore guard Haley Jones did not seem to mind.
For the second straight game, Jones set a career-high in points, this time with 29 in 27 minutes. Jones completed the double-double with 13 rebounds and had three assists.
Due to Santa Clara restrictions, Stanford is making a home in Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus. A day after blowing out UNLV and first-year head coach Lindy La Rocque ’12 as the away team, No. 2 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) gave the same treatment to Washington (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) in the Pac-12 opener with a final score of 83-50.
Most impressively, Jones finished 14-of-15, with the only miss coming on a 3-pointer. It was the best shooting percentage in a single game by a Stanford player since 1981 (minimum 10 attempts).
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Jones said of her historic performance. “I’m just thankful for my teammates. They know where I like to shoot it on the floor.”
As a freshman, Jones admits she was trying to find her way around. The former No. 1 recruit cemented herself as a starter, but her season was cut short by an injury after 18 games. As Stanford played its way to the conference championship game, relying heavily on then-junior guard Kiana Williams, Jones watched from the bench. Then, the season was cut short for everyone by the pandemic.
Of course, the time on the sidelines was spent productively. During the games, Jones would sit next to La Rocque, who was then a Cardinal assistant coach, and the former Stanford point guard would point out different reads. Between games, La Rocque worked with Jones on film study.
All of that came together in year two for Jones. Through three games, she leads the team in minutes (77), field goal percentage (76.2%), rebounds (31) and assists (13). In her sophomore year, she has eschewed a tentative approach for an aggressive one, and it is paying off.
At 5:10 in the third quarter, Jones was single-handedly beating Washington 25-23.
All of this came while Stanford was adjusting to a new “home” court. Unable to practice Monday through Wednesday, head coach Tara VanDerveer had to scale back practice on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s game.
“They kind of still do feel like away games,” Jones said. “I’ve never played in an arena that I’ve liked more than Maples.”
VanDerveer emphasizes Jones’s ability to let the game come to her. For Jones, that means leaning into her strengths.
“As of right now, I’m not just going to dribble down in transition and take a three if I can drive to the basket,” Jones said. “I’m not going to try to make some crazy pass if it’s not there. I know where my little niches are on the floor, and I know what I like to do and where my teammates like to be and what they like to do so I try to let those things come to me in the flow of the game.”
Jones’ fellow sophomores were the only other players to reach double figures. Forward Fran Belibi shot 5-of-8 with five rebounds and 12 points and guard Hannah Jump went 4-of-9 from behind the arc for 12 points and added four rebounds.
The fourth member of the sophomore class, which was ranked behind only South Carolina’s group, is forward Ashten Prechtel. Prechtel had seven points and nine rebounds of her own, but on Sunday, VanDerveer credited her with improved defense against Washington center Darcy Rees. In the first meeting against Stanford last year, Rees scored 12 points. On Sunday, she was held to two.
Defense has been a high point for Stanford early in the season. Stanford shut out Washington for over eight minutes stretching across the first and second quarters. The fantastic defense allowed Stanford to overcome the shooting struggles of Williams and junior guard Lexie Hull.
Hull was 1-of-6 from the field and 0-of-5 from 3-point range and Williams shot 1-of-12 and 1-of-8. As a team, Stanford made just 8-of-35 from distance.
As always, Hull was more than capable of contributing on defense. Along with her twin sister Lacie and fifth year guard Anna Wilson, Stanford has a steady core of dominant defense.
Only one Washington player leaked into double figures scoring: center Quay Miller with 10. Stanford outrebounded its opponent 58 to 34.
For Williams, who called her missteps “fixable,” her contributions extend well beyond the court. As Stanford tries to live out of a hotel, maintaining morale is an added effort on the veteran leadership.
“Me and Anna, we’re constantly like ‘Did you talk to this person today?’ or ‘I’ll check in on her,’” Williams said. “It’s really hard living out of the hotel.”
The situation is an added barrier to a season in which Stanford has serious title aspirations and VanDerveer could soon become the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history. With Sunday’s win, VanDerveer is at 1,097 for her career — one shy of the legendary Pat Summitt’s record.
At the same time, it is unclear when Stanford’s next game may be played. The contest against Washington State was postponed for COVID-19-related reasons. UC Davis is next on the schedule, but that “didn’t look like a good option” according to VanDerveer in the morning. That leaves Cal, where Stanford is expected to travel on Dec. 13 as the next game.
Still, VanDerveer cautions that things may have changed.
“I haven’t checked my phone since the game and things happen so quickly,” VanDerveer said speaking to the media postgame. “I don’t know more right now, but we’ll just keep playing.”
Stanford’s Hall of Fame head coach also took the time to thank her former player and assistant coach La Rocque for scheduling the game and allowing Stanford to use the space. VanDerveer then thanked Washington head coach Jody Wynn and the entire program for changing their travel plans to play in Las Vegas.
Talking up the safety of the near-empty hotel, VanDerveer told the press, “Come to Vegas y’all, it’s awesome,” but may have also been speaking to potential opponents.
“We’re always looking for good games,” VanDerveer said. “We’re here in Vegas, we don’t know what our schedule is. I’m on the phone, we’re working the phones trying to get games.”
Whoever is next on Stanford’s schedule will likely be playing the top-ranked team in the country. With No. 1 South Carolina’s (4-1, 0-0 SEC) upset loss at home to No. 8 NC State (4-0, 0-0 ACC), Stanford is poised to assume the top spot in the AP poll.
“Rankings are important in March, let’s hope we’re playing in March,” VanDerveer said. “If we’re number one in March, then we can talk about it.”