February 23, 2023
Can Stanford win with an old-school offensive scheme?
'We have to maximize our strengths'
It was the Stanford Cardinal’s game against Creighton on December 20 when the die was cast.
“Creighton decided they were not going to guard people (on the perimeter),” said Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer. Four games later, Cal did the same thing and took Stanford to the final minute before losing 60-56.
“Different people have decided to follow that model, playing soft on people and we’ve seen a lot of teams do it,” VanDerveer said, days away from the Cardinal’s closing weekend of the Pac-12 schedule, one that might determine whether or not they win another conference regular-season title. “Creighton was the first game that we saw what I am calling the extreme scouting report. They were basically gambling.”
Creighton’s gamble had more impact on Stanford’s season than a 72-59 loss might suggest.
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It literally has forced the Cardinal to change the way it plays since. The Stanford teams we all know, the ones who balance their size and length inside with the ability to break your spirit from beyond the 3-point arc, is a relic. At least for the rest of this season.
The Cardinal is going old-school, taking advantage of its post depth – starring junior All-American Cameron Brink and freshman Lauren Betts – and one of the nation’s stingiest defenses to pave their path for a national title run.
“It’s our meat and potatoes,” VanDerveer said. “We have to maximize our strengths.”
Stanford is heading into the cold, stormy mountains to take on Colorado on Thursday and Utah on Saturday. The weather is going to be difficult. The trip itinerary has already been changed, with the team flying into Denver, rather than Boulder. The competition will be no picnic either.
First up is the No. 21-ranked Buffaloes, then followed by No. 8 Utah in Salt Lake City. Stanford is 14-2 heading into the weekend, Utah is 13-3 after losing in Tucson to Arizona last Friday.
A slip against Colorado and Stanford will find itself playing to defend its title in the final game of the regular-season.
Then comes the postseason, beginning with the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas. If Stanford puts itself in position to play for a national championship, they are going to have to “grind”, as VanDerveer calls it, for another 10 games.
They will need Brink, who has scored in double figures in 21 straight games, and Haley Jones, who is averaging 13.3 points and 8.9 rebounds a game and nearly four assists a game, to lead the charge that looks different than the one they probably thought. They will more from a surging Betts, who has scored in double figures in four of her last five games, having scored four times in double figures her previous 23 games combined.
Over its first 15 games, Stanford hit 128 3-pointers (8.5 per game). In six of those games the Cardinal hit at least 10. In the last 14 games, Stanford has hit 75 (5.35) and only one with more than 10.
Senior Hannah Jump, one of the country’s surest shooters from beyond the arc is paying the price for opponents’ willingness to back off of shooters. Instead they are focusing on her. Jump has connected on just 27 treys in the last 13 games.
VanDerveer said the Cardinal need to work harder to get Jump open, set better screens, and find her in transition.
“Different people have stepped up at different times,” VanDerveer said. “Agnes (Emma-Nnopu), Talana (Lepolo) and Brooke (Demetre) are all shooting good percentages. We’ve got good shooters, they just need to be patient. The thing for Cam and Haley is, that’s not their shot. Once they started taking better shots, things started going better.
“It’s going to be a grind. We are depending on rebounding and defense and making sure we have good shot selection,” VanDerveer said. “We are going to people on the block. So let’s get on the block and get to work.”
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.