February 17, 2021 

Takeaways from Stanford’s narrow defeat of Oregon

What does it tell us as we head down the stretch of Pac-12 play?

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Stanford’s Lexie Hull (12) shoots over Oregon’s Te-Hina Paopao (12) on Feb. 15, 2021. Photo courtesy of Stanford Athletics

Free throws help slow things down for the Ducks

The Cardinal were in complete control for much of the game. Oregon took its first lead with 6:18 to go. What happened down the stretch?

One very important thing was the dramatic change in the number of shooting fouls called. The game had featured zero trips to the line for either team for the entire first half and most of the third quarter.

Kiana Williams took the first free throws of the game at the 2:37 mark in the third period. The Ducks wouldn’t go to the line until the fourth when they hit five of their six freebies.

“I think we noticed in the first half that neither team had shot a free throw,” Stanford junior Lexie Hull said. “So, we knew it was going to be a physical one. They were calling it the same for both teams for the most part.”

As Hull notes, to say that there was an increase in whistles in the second half is not to say that there was an imbalance. The Cardinal went to the line eight times in the game. Both teams hit five of their free throws.

It was a dramatic shift in the way the game had been officiated, though. Oregon’s greater efficiency from the line helped the home team.

For much of the game, the Ducks had seemed flustered. The stoppages in play were not an enemy of a young group who needed to get ahead of things.

This is a double-edged sword for an Oregon team that has always been praised for its outside shooting. A jump-shooting team is less likely to get those opportunities to put points on the board with the clock stopped or to gather their breath during those stoppages.

With the strong inside play this season, it may be time for Oregon to look to a different identity.

40 minutes of great basketball

It wasn’t just about the different pace of the game with the increased number of fouls, though. The Ducks came out ready in the second half. For the Cardinal, it seemed like only Hull was able to bring it the way the team had in the first half.

The Ducks didn’t dramatically improve their scoring in the third quarter. Their 15 points were slightly lower than the 16 they put up in the second.

The difference was on the offensive end of the court for Stanford. The Cardinal had their lowest-scoring quarter of the game in the third with just 13 points. Their percentages plummeted with just 38.5 percent shooting from the floor and 20 percent from outside.

Hull scored seven of the Cardinal’s points in that period. No one else scored more than two. The Ducks outscored their visitors in both quarters of the second half.

The problem of having two quarters where they weren’t as effective cost the Cardinal in their loss to UCLA, as well. In that game, Stanford came out strong, but let the Bruins dominate in the second quarter. UCLA was able to maintain control in the third before Stanford outscored them in the fourth.

To be one of the teams that is still standing on the last weekend of games, the Cardinal will need to put together 40 minutes of great basketball. Even in their dominant win over Arizona, they had one quarter when they let the opponent gain their footing.

That is something that they will need to clean up as the postseason approaches.

Dominant frontcourts

On the topic of the inside play, it was thought that Oregon had the advantage in that aspect of the game. Having 6’7 Sedona Prince and 6’5 Nyara Sabally will do that.

If Prince is on the court, of course.

That wasn’t how things unfolded. It was the Cardinal that took control inside. It was their frontcourt on the line putting the winning free throws through the hoop. Meanwhile, Sabally carried the weight on the inside for the Ducks as her starting mate in the frontcourt mostly stayed on the bench.

Stanford won the battle for points in the paint 30-20. They won the rebounding battle 31-29.

For Oregon, the best rebounder was 5’9 Te-Hina Paopao who corralled nine boards. Sabally was second with seven rebounds. Prince managed just one in her 10 minutes on the court.

The Cardinal got nine from Cameron Brink, seven from Hull, and six from Haley Jones. While two of those are listed as guards, they are big guards.

If Fran Belibi can be a force for the Cardinal again, few teams may be able to go into a game saying that they have the advantage inside the paint.

Taylor Mikesell doesn’t believe in slumps

When Taylor Mikesell joined the Ducks, she was anointed as one of the experienced transfers who would help make up for the loss of greats like Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard, and Satou Sabally.

That’s a lot to put onto any player who has never played a Pac-12 game even if she is headed into her junior year.

Mikesell looked like she was going to blend in seamlessly through her first few games with Oregon. She hit 80 percent of her 3-pointers against Seattle, going 8-for-10 from distance. Then, she went 3-for-6 against Portland.

But those were against Seattle and Portland, not UCLA, Arizona, or Stanford.

Once getting into Pac-12 play, Mikesell has seen her numbers drop in both attempts and percentages from outside the arc. Even when she has had success from the perspective of percentages, it has been on few attempts. It has also been primarily against the teams in the bottom half of the conference.

Since going 1-for-3 against UCLA on Jan. 3, Mikesell went 4-for-29 from outside. Overall, she was 14-for-47, so she wasn’t shooting great from inside the arc, either.

That made her performance against the Cardinal all the more encouraging.

In perhaps the biggest game of the season so far, Mikesell connected on five of seven attempts from the floor. When she stretched the defense to the 3-point line, she made good on two of three attempts. She also went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe.

“I’m one that doesn’t really necessarily believe in shooting slumps,” Mikesell said. “I think that it’s just kind of the next shot. I mean, it’s bound to go in. It’s a regression to the mean. My dad has said that to me since I was growing up. I don’t know what I was, (but it) was pretty bad. But… it’s gonna flip on its head. Kind of had been relaying that to all my teammates. We’ve all been kind of struggling, but when it flips and it goes in, it’s a good thing to see.”

Sixty-five percent of her shots this season have come from outside. When those shots were not falling, she struggled to find a way to contribute on the offensive end.

Even free throws have been difficult to find. Mikesell has only taken free throws in six of Oregon’s 17 games. For a player who has hit 19 of 20 free throws this season, it’s an easy way to give her team some offense when the shots aren’t falling during the run of play.

Mikesell will never be a drive-first guard. She’s a shooter, and she’s been a very good one throughout her career.

It doesn’t hurt to have an extra wrinkle to the game, though. Against the Cardinal, she was able to take advantage of it.

What’s next?

Both teams head into matchups with Top 10 opponents this week. Stanford is looking to hold onto the top seed in the league while Oregon is looking to improve its lot for the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Ducks will see No. 8 UCLA in Westwood on Friday. That’s a team that edged them out 73-71 in Eugene.

It’s a big opportunity for Oregon. They stand in fourth place in the conference. They need a lot of help to gain ground and improve their seed for Las Vegas.

Beating the team ahead of them would help make up ground in winning percentage, which will determine those seeds. As it now stands, the Bruins are at 10-3 in the league giving them a 76.9 winning percentage. The Ducks are at 9-5 with a 64.3 winning percentage.

Oregon needs to defeat UCLA and win at least one more of their final three games if they hope to overcome the Bruins. They also need help from both Oregon State and USC.

Whoever wins that battle will likely get the No. 3 seed and avoid a match-up with the top seed in the conference semifinal. It starts on Friday night.

As for the Cardinal, their biggest game is on Monday on ESPN2. They will face No. 10 Arizona in a game that could determine who wins the regular season and gets the top seed in the Pac-12 Tournament.

The Cardinal dominated the matchup in Tucson, but the Wildcats hope they are both different teams this time around. Arizona knows that they must defeat Stanford if they want to get that top seed.

If the Wildcats win out, they would end 15-2 in conference play, giving them an 88.2 winning percentage. Arizona has a good chance of winning its other two games against California and Arizona State, assuming that both games are played.

If Stanford loses to Arizona but wins its other two games against ASU and Cal, the Cardinal would end 18-3 in league play. That 85.7 winning percentage would land them behind Arizona.

That all assumes that no one can make up any of their missing games and no more games get canceled. Stay tuned…

Written by Kim Doss

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