As the third quarter wound down, freshman guard Jana Van Gytenbeek found herself on the ball late in the shot clock. The rookie, relatively inexperienced, was feeling the pressure.
Then, junior guard Lacie Hull made a backdoor cut to the hoop, and Van Gytenbeek found her with a flourish. No. 6 Stanford (17-2, 14-2 Pac-12) had the game in hand with a 41-point lead at the time, but the bench still went wild.
Van Gytenbeek played a career- and game-high 26 minutes in the Cardinal’s 83-41 wire-to-wire win over Utah (5-11, 4-11 Pac-12) in Maples.
In this unusual season, the players were assigned seating on the physically distanced benches. Van Gytenbeek has been sitting directly behind head coach Tara VanDerveer and associate head coach Kate Paye.
“She gets an earful from both of us,” VanDerveer said. “We know that her development is really key to our team so we want to make sure she’s seeing the things that we’re seeing and we’re talking to her about.”
“I’m just a sponge,” Van Gytenbeek said.
So far, it’s been working. Van Gytenbeek scored 12 and spread the floor while shooting 2-for-5 from beyond the arc. Most importantly, she distributed, including three assists to tie the team high, compared to just one turnover. For the season, her 2.67 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best on the team.
While she has been learning, Van Gytenbeek has also been cheering on her team from the bench. Today, she traded minutes with the senior she is set to replace next season, guard Kiana Williams. For Williams, it meant playing just 14 minutes, her fewest since a game against UCLA on Dec. 29, 2017 during her own freshman season. In her short time, Williams breezed through the Utah defense, scoring 13 points on 5-for-6 from the field including 3-of-3 from distance.
As she has been all year, Van Gytenbeek celebrated Williams. But on the pass to Hull, Williams had a chance to celebrate Van Gytenbeek.
“To have my teammates cheer for me is really big for me,” Van Gytenbeek said.
“I was excited to be able to cheer for her,” VanDerveer told her team after the game, “instead of hearing her cheering for our team.”
In practice, it has been a competition. Van Gytenbeek lines up opposite Williams or fifth-year guard Anna Wilson, who has flourished in her starting role.
Another Cardinal set a career high in minutes: freshman guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu. VanDerveer seems excited for Emma-Nnopu’s development and thinks she can become a contributor on the level of Wilson. To that end, the freshman has been staying after practice to work with Paye. She hauled in 8 rebounds and made one free throw to ensure that each Stanford player scored on Sunday — though sophomore forward Ashten Prechtel was unavailable.
Still, there are areas to improve upon. One of Stanford’s season-low seven turnovers was a shot clock violation, and the Cardinal heaved up numerous desperation attempts at the buzzer. The bigger note, however, is that Stanford had just seven turnovers a game after a season-high 15 earlier in the week against Colorado.
Stanford’s defense was at its best, holding an opponent below 30% for the seventh time this season and bottling up Utah’s leading scorers, guard Brynna Maxwell and guard Kemery Martín. Both average double figure scoring but combined for just eight points. Utah’s 41 points, 1-of-22 shooting on 3-point attempts and 24.1 overall field goal percentage were all season lows.
Stanford’s offense was on the other end of the spectrum, eclipsing the 80-point mark for the first time in five games, shooting 51.6% from the field and 10-of-23 from long range.
Along with Williams, sophomore forward Haley Jones and freshman forward Cameron Brink got it going early. Jones had 12 points and six rebounds while Brink recorded the second double-double of her career with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. All of their work helped VanDerveer distribute her minutes.
“Yes, Kiana got it going early, Haley got it going early, Cam did some really nice things early for us but I really think this was about our team depth,” VanDerveer said. “There’s a lot of times when you sub, things drop off really quickly and you got to sub people back in, and I never felt that that was going to happen today.”
“I never know what my minutes will look like. I just try to stay prepared and keep the scouting report in my head,” Van Gytenbeek said. “If I’m not in there I’m still going to be cheering and helping my teammates in any way I can.”
VanDerveer had been preparing for a game like Sunday, which looked to be a sneak peek of the future. At the same time, it was a statement about the team’s championship aspirations.
Stanford will hit the road again and head north to Oregon. First up will be Oregon State on Friday at 8 p.m. PT.