After 10 games, No. 1 Stanford (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) is rolling. The Cardinal has been ranked atop the AP poll for a program record-tying six straight weeks despite playing just one game at Maples Pavilion.
From Jan. 5-10, Stanford practiced and played in Santa Cruz, and the team arrived in Utah on Wednesday. Over the weekend, Stanford will take on Utah (3-7, 2-7 Pac-12) on Friday and Colorado (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) on Sunday.
Nationally, Stanford is fourth in field goal percentage defense (31.1), fifth in scoring margin (31.0) and eighth in rebound margin (14.8).
Still, not everything is rosy. While Stanford is 13th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.45), over the last three games the Cardinal has had at least as many turnovers as assists. Against then-No. 6 Arizona, Stanford had 16 of each, facing Arizona State there were 15 assists to 17 turnovers and in the gritty win over then-No. 11 Oregon, Stanford had eight assists to 17 turnovers.
The caveat from the Oregon game is that Stanford was missing players on the court due to COVID-19 protocols for the first time. The three players to miss the game — junior guard Lexie Hull, senior forward Alyssa Jerome and sophomore guard Hannah Jump — will be available for Friday’s game against Utah.
Ahead of the weekend’s games, here are three thoughts on the program.
Can’t keep up with Jones
Since returning from a season-ending injury she suffered in 2020, sophomore guard Haley Jones has been spectacular. Jones currently leads the team in points, rebounds and assists per game. The last Stanford player to lead the team in all three categories for a full season was Nicole Powell in 2003-04.
Nationally, Jones is 38th in field goal percentage at 0.570 and is behind only sophomore forward Fran Belibi (.576), Washington State’s Ula Motuga (0.582) and freshman forward Cameron Brink (0.623) in the conference standings.
Within the conference, Jones leads the Pac-12 in rebounding (9.4), and is sixth in scoring (15.2), 11th in assists (3.5) and 12th in blocked shots (1.1).
Remarkably, Jones is 195th nationally in points per game. Stanford has done an incredible job of sharing the scoring duties from game to game. Each of the five players who are averaging double-digit scoring have also led the team in scoring in at least one game.
The tape on her play is elite. Here, she does not let the defense get set, playing with the pace that head coach Tara VanDerveer has been begging for from her team.
She uses her 6-foot-1 frame to gain position, drives with conviction and finishes off the glass. Jones’ ability in transition is why Stanford is so dangerous when she gets a defensive rebound. Whether she is scoring herself or dishing to a teammate, Jones pushing the floor is almost an assured bucket.
In the above clip, Jones finds Belibi from 40 feet out in stride for an easy but crucial two points. Even in a half court offense, few defenders can match up with Jones.
Jones, maneuvering in the paint around two defenders, is able to get an open look for herself. Finally, because there can never be enough, here is a clip of Jones’ court vision to once again connect with Belibi.
On the topic, few players in the entire sport can cover ground like Belibi. Stanford is nurturing a special talent and so far Belibi has thrived in her starting role.
For how special Jones has been, Brink has been Stanford’s best player on a per-minute basis. Per 30 minutes, Brink is recording a team-high 8.1 made field goals, 13.2 rebounds, 4.7 blocks and 6.6 trips to the free throw line.
The problem is that she is also averaging 4.3 fouls per 30 minutes, which, along with a crowded rotation, explains why her season high in minutes is just 21. Even if Brink is not pushing senior guard Kiana Williams’ 31.3 minutes per game, for a player who can do all of the things in this video, that simply is not enough.
In what may have been her best game statistically, Brink fouled out in 10 minutes against USC, but by that point she had 12 points, 6 rebounds, an assist, two blocks, a steal and had not missed a shot.
After the historic win over Cal, in which VanDerveer tied the all-time wins record, Brink spoke to the media about her play. Answering a question about staying on the court, she ended the answer by saying, “I can improve.” The conference’s block leader should be VanDerveer’s first call off the bench, but has yet to show a consistent ability to stay on the court.
Now, Brink is recovering from injury and played just 13 minutes against Oregon after sitting out against Arizona State. Through the nine games in which she has played, she has scored 99 points, which is the most for a Stanford freshman since Chiney Ogwumike ’14 also scored 99 in 2010. Of course, Ogwumike also started every game in which she played that season, while Brink has yet to start for the Cardinal.
Meanwhile, VanDerveer should continue to find ways to allow freshman point guard Jana Van Gytenbeek to run the offense. Understandably behind other guards in the rotation, Van Gytenbeek has still made the most of her minutes.
Per 30 minutes, she is averaging 6.3 assists, by far the most on the team, and her 3.4 assist to turnover ratio is also the team’s best, belying her age. Against Oregon, she was able to come off the bench to score eight crucial points. With each game, she has looked more comfortable in a catch and shoot role.
Commitment from the Betts
Before Stanford even travels to Colorado to take on the Buffaloes, the Cardinal received fantastic news from the state. Lauren Betts, the top-ranked high school recruit in the class of 2022, announced her commitment to Stanford on Wednesday.
Betts will join Van Gytenbeek, sophomore forward Ashten Prechtel and Belibi to represent the centennial state for Stanford. Scouts like her size (she is 6-foot-7) but give her the edge for her contributions on the international stage. At the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, Betts averaged 12.2 points and 13.5 rebounds through six games for Team USA.
The commitment marks a continuation of strong recruiting for Stanford, which last signed the top recruit just two years ago in Jones. Betts, from Grandview High School in Colorado, is the first player to sign in the class of 2022.