“We’re not going to settle with being No. 1 and we don’t really pay attention to rankings,” said sophomore guard Haley Jones. “We just want to continue to widen the gap between us and our competition.”
Faced with its second straight top-ten matchup, No. 1 Stanford (8-0, 6-0 Pac-12) used a familiar recipe of dominant defense to showcase the gap between itself and No. 6 Arizona (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) on Jan. 1. In points, the gap was 81-54, the largest road margin of victory against a top-six team in program history. In everything else, it was Stanford showing off that despite the new year, it is very much the same top-ranked team.
The defense began with fifth-year guard Anna Wilson, who made herself a problem for the Wildcats. Tasked with corralling Arizona’s star guard Aari McDonald, who came into the game averaging over 20 points per game, Wilson delivered blanketing defense. McDonald shot just 3-for-18 against Stanford for 12 points.
“Her defense was phenomenal,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer.
Wilson also shot 3-of-5 from the field, all from beyond the arc, and grabbed nine rebounds. While she refrained from bragging about herself, choosing instead to highlight the talent of McDonald and the contributions from her teammates, Jones had no problems heaping praise on her teammate.
“Anna gives us a lot of leadership,” Jones said. “She also brings a lot of energy and positivity. Even when she’s not the highest score on the team, she’s still making all those hustle plays. She makes you want to play hard for her.”
When Wilson rested, junior guard Lacie Hull became the primary defender on McDonald. From the bench, Wilson was able to pick up on things Hull was doing and implement them by the time she was on the court again. When the Arizona guard found her way into the paint, Stanford’s bigs were ready to alter the Wildcats’ shots.
Freshman forward Cameron Brink had a career-high five blocks to go along with 11 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore forwards Fran Belibi and Ashten Prechtel each had a block of their own.
With four members of Stanford’s coaching and support staff unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols for this weekend’s games, Katy Steding (who was charged with scouting Arizona) was the only assistant coach next to VanDerveer on the bench.
In the scouting report, one emphasis was Arizona’s talented bigs. With 11 days since their previous game, Stanford focused in film sessions on learning each Wildcat player’s go-to moves and when to provide help defense.
“Having to be on the road and having to step up a little bit more, I think that’s really allowed us to focus in a little bit more,” Wilson said.
The Cardinal have now held their opponent below 30% shooting in six of the team’s eight games. Arizona, which entered the new year averaging 74.6 points per game, scored a season-low in points. The Wildcats had just six extra chance points and 19 fewer rebounds.
Coming into the game, Stanford had shot 69.3% from the free-throw line; on Friday night, the Cardinal made a season-high 25 free throws on just 28 attempts. VanDerveer noted that the team, which arrived in Arizona early from its indefinite road trip, took advantage of the practice gym. On an off day, every player was able to get into the gym to work on free-throw shooting.
“It’s exciting to make them pay for fouling us,” VanDerveer said.
Jones was 10-for-10 from the line and led the team with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Only 11 times before in program history has a player been perfect with at least 10 attempts.
Between contributions from a different player every night, opportunistic offense and the suffocating defense, Stanford is looking the part of a No. 1-ranked team. Next up is a trip to Tempe to take on Arizona State Sunday at 3 p.m. PT.