By Sofia Scekic
The Stanford football team grabbed the nation’s attention in late 2020 after practicing in a public park in Bellevue, Wash. Following Santa Clara County’s ban on contact sports, the self-proclaimed “Road Dogs” lived on the road for their final three games of the season and had to creatively adapt to their lack of a home stadium for nearly a month.
Now, the Cardinal women’s basketball team is in a similar predicament. No. 1 Stanford (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) has played just one game, a season-opening 108-40 rout of Cal Poly on Nov. 25, in Maples Pavilion at Stanford this season. Since then, three home games were cancelled due to COVID-19 issues with opposing teams and multiple others have been moved to Las Vegas and Santa Cruz so the Cardinal has been able to play regardless of Santa Clara County’s pandemic-induced restrictions.
While men’s hoops has played multiple home-away-from-home games in Santa Cruz this season already, Friday’s game will mark the first game of the season in the city 40 miles south of Stanford for the women’s team. And, unfortunately for the Cardinal, the team coming to town is the one to whom the Cardinal has lost three straight and five of the last six matchups.
The rivalry between Stanford and No. 11 Oregon (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) has been one of the better matchups in the NCAA recently, as Oregon head coach Kelly Graves has led the Ducks to multiple conference titles and overseen the team’s rise to national prominence over the past few years. The Oregon women are coming off a close 73-71 loss to then-No. 11 UCLA (6-2, 4-2 Pac-12), a loss that ended a 27-game win streak that started on Jan. 12, 2020. A hungry Ducks team will arrive in Santa Cruz with the intention of winning its fourth-straight game against the Cardinal, but Stanford has never lost four in a row to Oregon. The Cardinal’s current three-game losing streak is the longest losing streak the team has experienced against Oregon since at least 1981.
The Cardinal looked nearly unstoppable over their first eight games of the season, winning seven of eight games by at least 20 points. However, they nearly let their last game against unranked Arizona State slip away. After holding ASU to 6.25% shooting and jumping to a 19-4 lead by the end of the first quarter, the Cardinal defense went cold in the second quarter, where they were outscored 21-15. The Sun Devils clawed their way back after halftime, coming within four points midway through the third quarter and trailing by six points with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Free throws sealed the win for the Cardinal, as the team made three in the final nine seconds to secure their ninth straight win to start the season.
Despite the solid free-throw shooting to close out the ASU game, the Cardinal have not been particularly good at the charity stripe this season. Junior guard Lexie Hull is second in the conference with a .909 free throw percentage, but the team as a whole is shooting just over 73%. Head coach Tara VanDerveer emphasized the importance of becoming better as a team from the free throw line before the team’s Jan. 1 matchup against then-No. 6 Arizona (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12), saying that her players were able to take advantage of an empty practice gym on their day off to practice shooting from the foul line.
The Cardinal, typically very good at taking care of the ball and limiting offensive turnovers, turned the ball over 17 times last game while forcing only 13 ASU turnovers. Stanford is averaging fewer than 13 offensive turnovers per game, but forcing more turnovers could be a recipe for victory for the Ducks; Oregon has scored 186 points off turnovers through their first nine games this season. The Ducks average about one fewer offensive turnover per game than the Cardinal but force nearly 16 per game, slightly fewer than Stanford’s average of 17 forced turnovers per game.
Both teams are among the best in the conference and nation both offensively and defensively. Stanford boasts a +33.7 scoring margin, good for fourth in the nation, while averaging 85.4 points per game and only allowing 51.6 points per game. Oregon averages scoring similar to Stanford’s; offensively, the team has averaged 83.6 points per game while giving up 57.1 points per game for a +26.5 average scoring margin. The Ducks’ 49.2 field-goal percentage this season is the best in the Pac-12 and 12th in the nation but will face a tall task against a Cardinal defense that has allowed opponents to shoot just 30.1% from the field.
Oregon’s inexperience could prove to be the difference-maker in Friday’s Top-25 battle. The Bruins led by three points entering the fourth quarter in the Ducks’ most recent game, but Oregon allowed UCLA to go on a 14-6 run to stretch their lead to 11. The Ducks answered with an 11-0 run to tie the score at 71, but UCLA’s experienced players put the team on their back to outsmart the younger Ducks team and seal the two-point win. Oregon also allowed the Bruins’ two best players, preseason All-American Michaela Onyenwere and Charisma Osborne, to score 55 points combined. Stanford has numerous scoring threats, with five players averaging double-figure scoring, so the Ducks will find their hands more than full as they attempt to cool Stanford’s red-hot offense.
The game will tip off at 11:30 am PT at the Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz.