Saturday, November 26, 2022

An Easy Game

                                        Scouting the U of Hawaii team


    Stanford notched win number seven with an 87-50 victory over the Grambling Lady Tigers on day two of the Rainbow Wahine Showdown.  Unlike the game against the 26th ranked Florida Gulf Coast, the outcome of this game was never in doubt.  Stanford went up by eight (10 to 2) on Agnes Emma-Nnopu's two made free throws with 5:44 to go in the first quarter and Grambling never got closer.  It was abundantly clear early that, just as their record predicted, the Grambling team was totally overmatched in height and talent, although not in effort. Both teams played hard.

            Stanford started the game with its now regular starting five: Cameron Brink, Haley Jones, Hannah Jump, Kiki Iriafen, and Talana Lepolo, but they didn't play long. Substitutions started early.  The only Stanford players to be on the court 20 minutes or more for the game were Agnes Emma-Nnopu (21 min.) and Brooke Demetre (20 min).  The only players in double figures were Hannah Jump (19 pts), Lauren Betts (11 pts), and Ellena Bosgana (11pts). Betts added 13 rebounds to those points; her first double-double of her collegiate career! Stanford's starters hit 14 of their 22 shots but only Jump (19 min) was on the floor more than 14 minutes.  

            Hannah Jump's five three-pointers (5 of 7) should help to keep her firmly situated among the national leaders in 3 pointers made and in percentage made.  Cameron Brink's two blocks in eleven minutes may be enough to keep her among the national leaders in blocks.  Although Talana Lepolo has slipped a bit in terms of her assist and assist-to-turnover ranking, she still is second in the nation among freshman point guards on those stats.  Her continued solid play is a reminder of how helpful it is to have a solid point guard.

            The mood among the spectators, almost all of whom were family of the players, was considerably lighter than the day before.  There was laughter and a general sense of lightness.  Of course, there was still some concern that players were being allowed to mug our posts.  At one point spectators joked that there was no need to call a foul, after all, there was no blood and no broken bones -- but then Demetre got slammed in the face and it looked like there was blood.  Finally, a foul was called. 

    It seemed clear that the coaching staff wanted to avoid injuries to key players while allowing less experienced players to develop. As can be the case against less skilled teams, especially when playing younger players, things got a bit slapstick at times. But, after the tense game the day before, this easy game was a pleasure for fans. 

 

            A Family Affair 

 

            The crowds for these games make a slow night at Maples look like a full house.  There couldn't have been more than 75 fans present for most of the Stanford-Grambling game -- although the massive 10,300 seat arena made it virtually impossible to count.  Almost all the spectators were Stanford fans, mostly the family of Stanford players.  That was a real treat for us "regular" fans as we got a chance to see and sometimes meet the players' families and to watch them interact with their daughters (or sisters, or nieces, etc) after the game. For the players the multiple days in one location gives them time to relax together.


 

            One More Game

 

            Stanford has one more game remaining here in Hawaii.  This one is against the host team, the University of Hawaii.  They are a solid team with expectations to do well in their conference.  It is not a game to be taken lightly although, at least on paper, it shouldn't be as big a challenge as the first game against Florida Gulf Coast. 

 

 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Closer than the Score!



    Greetings from Hawaii where the Stanford Women's basketball team won their sixth game of the season in a game that was much closer - for three quarters - than the final 24-point margin of victory.  Stanford led by two points at the end of the first quarter, by four at the half, and by eight at the end of the third quarter. That was way too close for comfort.

            The CARD started out very cold - going two for seven from the floor over the first seven minutes of the game, with five different Stanford players missing shots. The team was kept in the game by Kiki Iriafen and the team's 10 for 10 performance at the free throw line (one missed attempt was wiped out by a lane violation).  After those first seven minutes, the Cardinal seemed to come in off the beach and their scoring and their defense began to pick up. 

            Florida Gulf Coast, one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country started off hot. The Eagles hit four of their first five three-pointers, allowing them to hold an eight-point lead after just less than four minutes had gone by.  This was not the cake walk expected by most of Stanford's fans (mostly family of team members with a handful of hard-core Bay Area folks and a few Hawaii transplants). 

 

            A Lead That Grew

 

            Stanford took the lead for the first time with 3:56 left to play in the first quarter on a Cameron Brink free throw (she was perfect from the line for the game).  The game stayed close, with FGC tying the score at 19 all with 22 seconds remaining in the quarter.  But Haley Jones hit a jumper with 9 seconds left to put Stanford ahead.  The Cardinal never trailed after that.  However, Stanford never led by more eight points until less than three minutes remained in the third quarter when the CARD briefly went up by 10 points.  Given FGC's identity as a three-point-shooting offense, an eight-to-ten-point lead is not a meaningful cushion.  

            Finally, in the fourth quarter the flood gates started to open for Stanford while fatigue - caused in considerable part by our strong defensive effort - appeared to take the legs out from FGC's three-point shooters (2 of 11 for the quarter).  Although FGC never gave up, the closest the Eagles got in the fourth quarter was eight points as the CARD steadily built its lead.  Tara substituted quite a bit throughout the game, perhaps wanting to avoid over taxing her players.he CARD plays three games here in three days.  Twelve of the fourteen players available (Ashten Prechtel was not) played at least five minutes and only Hannah Jump (36), Haley Jones (32), and Talana Lepolo (32) played over 30.  All the bench players made meaningful contributions with eleven players scoring. 

 

            STRANGE OFFICIATING

 

            The officiating in the game was a head scratcher.  In the first quarter the Cardinal shot 10 free throws, eight of them by our post players.  For the rest of the game Stanford only shot six more -- and none in the second or third quarters -- while FGC players mauled our post players.  It is true that Brink, Iriafen, and Betts towered over the shorter FGC players, but after the first quarter the refs seemed uninterested in calling the blows to the body, hacks, and holds that they had called earlier.  Curious.  And, of course, an audience composed largely of player families was not happy with that!  

            

            Interesting Stats

            

            As previously mentioned, Florida Gulf Coast in basically a three-point shooting team.  Their offense is mostly shoot the three until the defense commits on the three point line, then drive to the basket.  FGC took 46 three-point shots in this game, but only hit 13 of them.  The CARD, by contrast, only took 18 three-point shots but hit 6, winning the 3-pointer percentage battle, but just barely.  However, Stanford shot over 52% from the floor overall while FGC only shot a bit over 34%.  That is how you win by 24 points.  And, of course, to nobody's surprise a Florida Gulf Coast team with no player over six feet tall lost the rebounding battle to the Stanford trees 58 to 21.  That rebounding edge helped stymie an offensive strategy based on high volume three point shooting.

            Excellent rebounding aided Haley Jones and Kiki Iriafen in recording double doubles.  Haley had a particularly impressive 24 point (12 of 18), 14 rebounds, three assists, and one steal performance.   She hit like a sharpshooter on pull up jumpers supplemented by driving baskets. Kiki got her 16 point 11 rebound line in only 14 minutes, due mostly to the interesting foul calls against her.  Cameron Brink also scored in double figures, hit 100% of her free throws, and barely missed a double double. And, it almost goes without saying that Lepolo was again a solid point guard, efficient in her shooting (3 of 4 including a three pointer and 100% at the free-throw line) and her passing. 

 

            The Big Picture

 

            Most pundits consider Florida Gulf Coast the toughest team of the three Stanford faces here in Hawaii, so this win is a good start.  But, as we have learned over the years, anybody can lose if they aren't focused. (Of course, this team is so deep that if the starters aren't awake, the next seven can probably bring it home.)  So, hopefully the team (most of whom we saw departing for the beach in the late afternoon) will be ready for the next two games.  


            No Questions - but one answer


        With three games in three days, I am going to hold the questions until Sunday.  But, we now know that the CARD came out of last Sunday's loss with their heads up.  Haley, in particular, let us know that she is going to be JUST FINE and Kiki continues to be on her way to shining star status. If there were any after effects from the South Carolina loss, it appears they were left on the beach.



Monday, November 21, 2022

An Overtime Classic

            The #1 team in the country took on the #2 team in the county on network television and the outcome was all that anybody -- except Stanford fans -- could want. As a showcase for women's basketball and the exciting, competitive viewing opportunity it provides, this game had everything.  The atmosphere was electric, and the packed crowd cheered loudly in support of their team.

            It was a battle.  Stanford won the first and third quarters, South Carolina won the second, fourth, and overtime.  Stanford was ahead at halftime 35 to 31.  The game was tied at the end of regulation on Aliyah Boston's shot in the last seconds.  South Carolina came back from a 4-point deficit early in OT, eventually turning a 2-point lead with 6 seconds to go into a 5 point, 76 - 71 victory. 

            This game was a classic. Nobody was turning this game off or channel surfing out of boredom -- ABC must have been thrilled. Even Stanford fans have a great deal to feel good about - albeit not as good as we would have felt if we had scored 6 more points or South Carolina had scored 6 less.

 

            The Good

 

            High on the list of things to feel good about: We have a POINT GUARD!  Talano Lepolo's six-assist with three-turnover, three of six shooting (including 1 of 1 from 3-point range), six rebounds, and one steal performance was not her best statistical game.  But for a freshman point guard against the #1 team in the country on national tv -- it was beyond impressive.  It is hard to remember that this was only Lepolo's SIXTH collegiate game. 

            We can also celebrate the continued development and display of Cameron Brink's awesome talent.  She was the best player in the game.Her 25 points led all scorers.  Cam's four blocks were second only to Ashten Prechtal's game high five. 

            Prechtal's performance was impressive.  Ash has a strong body and can really "bang with the big girls" down in the paint.  She can also hit the 3.  We expect to see more of her.

            The brief view of Lauren Betts was also encouraging.  Her development as a college player appears to be following Tara's standard method of bringing along young players -- remember Haley didn't start until well into her freshman year (and then quickly went out with an ACL). But we can expect that if we meet South Carolina again in March or April, Lauren will play more than four minutes.  

            Stanford's blowout wins against relatively weak teams had some fans wondering if this team was "for real" or would they fold against "real" competition.  Going toe-to-toe with the number one team in the country all the way through the last seconds of overtime is not folding.  This team can obviously play with anybody, and the good news is that many of the critical pieces are still young and learning.  

            

            The Not-So-Good

 

            The CARD out rebounded South Carolina, 47-41.  That doesn't happen often.  The Cardinal also shot a higher percentage from the floor, from the 3-pt line, and even from the free throw line.  They also had almost twice as many assists (15-9) and more blocks (10-7). Unfortunately, Stanford also had TWICE as many turnovers (22-11) - that contributed to South Carolina taking seven more shots than the Cardinal.  If Stanford wants another National Championship, they need to value the ball more.

            Stanford shot 40.9% from the floor for the game, but only 8% in the 4th Quarter.  Some of that reflects the stepped-up intensity of South Carolina's defense.  That step up is evidenced by the fact that almost half of Stanford's free throw attempts (7 out of 15) were in the 4th quarter. But some of the drop-off was due to Stanford's failure to execute.  There were mistakes - sloppy passes, five-second calls, questionable shot selection.... The question is, why?  The Stanford team is good enough to beat anybody.  How much of the problem was fatigue?  Three of our perimeter players, Haley, Hannah, and Talana, played OVER 40 minutes.  How much was the pressure to win?  Especially for a young team, the fear of losing can get in the way of winning.  All-American Haley Jones clearly wanted to carry her team to a win, maybe too badly. Several times Haley appeared to force shots when passing might have been a better decision -- or taking a pull-up or step-back jumper.  She has those shots in her arsenal, so why not use them? 

                        

            Questions for the Week

 

1.  How will the CARD respond to losing?

            This was a tough loss.  It's true that this is only November but losing a close game after leading for most of it can get into a player's or a team's head.  Will the CARD be able to learn the lessons from this game without staying stuck in it?  Hopefully a trip to Hawaii will help.

 

2. Can we get Brittney Griner home?

       In addition to the regular moment of silence in honor of Brittney, Tara, Dawn Staley, and several members of the ABC/ESPN broadcast crew were wearing sweatshirts honoring Brittney.  The goal is to keep her in the public eye to build pressure for officials to bring her home, a worthy goal.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

White-out for Sunday

            Show Stanford Pride by wearing WHITE for Sunday!!!

            

            Before I get into any commentary, in case you read this BEFORE Sunday's matchup with South Carolina, STANFORD Basketball has called for a "white-out" on Sunday.  Red is the "road" color for both Stanford AND South Carolina.  Stanford wears white at home.  On Sunday, the best way to show support for the home team is to show up in WHITE! (Hopefully there won't be much of a South Carolina crowd at Maples -- but the TV cameras will have an easier time showing our crowd's support of the CARD if the crowd is in white.)

 

            Hannah Jump --the 3-pt star!

 

            "Shooters shoot -- shooters have no memory." Those two oft repeated basketball truisms were on full display at Maples Wednesday night as Hannah Jump tied her career high of eight 3-pointers (8 of 15) against Cal Poly scoring 24 points while playing only 23 minutes.  Her performance also demonstrated the confidence that the Stanford team, the coaching staff, and Hannah have in her shooting touch because Jump started out colder than the outside air.  She missed her first four 3-point attempts, going a dismal one-for-six (16.6%) in the first quarter of action.  But then...Jump went seven-of-nine (77.7%) for the rest of the game including one spurt in the 3rd Quarter where she hit three triples in the span of 73 seconds!  Amazingly, that 53.3% success rate from 3-point range is slightly LOWER than Hannah's 58.8% average so far this season! WOW!

            The good news for Stanford fans is that in addition to Hannah's incredible 3-point percentage, three other Cardinal players with more than 10 3-point attempts are above 40% on their 3-point shots - Prechtel, Demetre, and Nivar.  This is reflected in the team's 3-point success rate of 41% while holding opposing teams to 27.6%. We'll see how these numbers hold up when the competition heats up.  Our Pac-12 rivals have played some of the same California teams that the CARD have taken on with similarly dominating results.  

 

            You Can't Teach Tall

 

            This team is tall! What is even better is that our tall trees are talented and coachable! No amount of coaching or personal effort can turn 5'6'' into 6'5" (or better still 6'7"), but there have been plenty of tall players in the world of basketball whose footwork, hands, shooting touch, court awareness, and focus didn't allow them to turn their height into basketball success.   The Stanford "bigs" are all hardworking in addition to being talented and coachable. That's why Iriafen, Betts, and Brink all have double digit scoring averages while averaging less than 18 minutes-per-game of playing time.  Cameron Brink leads the nation in blocks and Lauren Betts isn't far behind.

            Of course, once again these successes and encouraging stats have come against teams who, come March, aren't likely to be playing, certainly not in the Sweet 16 or even the Round of 32.  It remains to be seen how we will perform against other elite programs, a group that includes virtually the entire Pac-12!  Sunday's game against South Carolina will be our first real report card.  The good news is that a game against a top opponent in November is a win regardless of the outcome.  These games show what is going right and where work needs to be done.  Remember when the Candice Wiggins led Cardinal got blown out the UConn in November only to come back and take the Huskies down in the National Semifinals?  

 

            Sloppy Doesn't Win Against Quality Teams

 

            The most disappointing aspect of Wednesday night's performance was the sloppiness!  There were post entry passes too tall for even Lauren Betts to catch -- and perimeter passes that were telegraphed so completely that they were virtually giveaways.  The much, much smaller Cal Poly team managed to get 23 rebounds (okay, yes, we got 44) because of a failure to box out. We can hope that these things will clear up when the pressure of a tough game is on -- but it is worrisome because bad habits, once developed, can be hard to cure. 

 

             Questions for the Week


1.  Will we fill Maples for the South Carolina game when ABC is broadcasting it?

            A match up between the number one and number two teams in the country is exciting, even more when the two teams are the winners of the last two National Championships with both going down in the National Semifinals in the year they weren't champs.  Add to that three of the nation's top players and two of the best coaches -- well it just doesn't get much better.  So, will fans show up for our team?  

        


 2.  Are College Sports Really for Student Athletes?

            This blog post is being written as the UC Board of Regents is meeting with the issue of UCLA jumping to the Big Ten on the table.  The question boils down to are decisions about athletic competition for college students being made based on the best interests of the students and the environment or based on the best interests of the athletic department's bottom line?  Are college sports actually COLLEGE sports or minor league professional sports enterprises masquerading as college activities?

            There is no denying that the broadcast deal the Big Ten has negotiated pays big - not just big - HUGE dollars to Big Ten schools.  The resulting cross country travel requirements might not even be too onerous for football players who only play once a week, usually on Saturdays.  But in other sports more than one competition a week may occur (basketball to name one) and competitions are scheduled throughout the week not just on Saturdays.  The notion of regularly adding multiple cross-country flights makes a total joke out of the requirement that student athletes be required to spend no more than 20 hours a week on their sports commitment.  It also makes a mockery out of the notion that student athletes are given a college education in exchange for their athletic efforts.  One simply can't get a quality education if, in addition to practice and game time, a player is spending 10 or 20 hours traveling at least every other week during the sport season.  

            Even worse, to my mind, is the distortion to the educational endeavor that these huge broadcasting deals create.  How much of the massive sports contract bonanza will go towards hiring top notch research scientists, gifted philosophers, social scientists, and other scholars whose expertise can help us solve the challenges we face: climate change, income inequality, racism, and the jump of animal viruses to humans among others.  When the highest paid person on the campus is the football coach, football success can become more important than educational excellence or even student safety. Hopefully, the UC Regents will take a vote for sanity.  If not, perhaps it will be up to legislative bodies to address this issue.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Dominance on Display

            Two more games, two more wins -- defeating Pacific 98 - 44 on Friday and University of Portland 87 - 44 on Sunday. To date the preseason has provided ample evidence that our team belongs among the elite women's basketball programs this season.  The CARD is talented, tall, and deep.  


 

            Stanford's first loss -- of a quarter

 

     One measure of how thoroughly the Cardinal has dominated opposing teams in their first four games is that the 4th quarter against Portland was the first quarter of the season that the CARD did not win. It was 19 to 20 with Portland hitting a 3 pointer in the last few seconds. In their first four games Stanford has outscored opponents by an average of 49 points, shot 56.3 % from the floor while holding opponents to 26.6%, out rebounded opponents by 21.5 per game (48.2 to 26.8), and assisted on 55 more baskets than opponents (22 vs 8.3 per game).  The CARD also shot over 42% from the 3 pt line while holding opponents to 26.6 % and averaged 8 blocks per game.  Furthermore, all 15 players have played in every game averaging at least 3 minutes per game.  Only three players, Haley Jones (22.5), Hannah Jump (21.8), and Talana Lepolo (20) have averaged more than 20 minutes per game.

            One of our early questions, which freshman will be the first to get a starting nod and when will it happen, has been answered.  Talana Lepolo had her first start in game four.  Lepolo is, as Tara says, a natural point guard.  She brings the ball up the court effectively, even against pressure, has great court vision, and runs the offense well.  Her 11 assists to zero turnovers in her first game foreshadow what is likely to be an impressive career, filling a real need. It also appears that having Lepolo take up the point guard role frees Haley Jones to deliver the full performance -- scoring, rebounds, and assists -- that we have come to expect from her.  Perhaps it is a coincidence, but Haley's first double digit scoring game was Talana's first game starting at point guard.  

 

            Cameron Brink likes going home

 

            There is always a question of how a player will respond to playing in front of a home crowd.  Brink clearly enjoyed it. Her stat line for 21 minutes of play was 12 points, 9 rebounds, 8 blocks, and 2 assists to go with zero turnovers and only one foul! The only weak spot has been her 57% free throw percentage.  She can hit them -- we look forward to seeing her improve that stat.  

 

            The tough tests are coming

            

            There is one more tune up against Cal Poly before the big test against South Carolina at noon on Sunday, November 20.  That should be quite a game.  Dawn Staley has said she thinks her team is better than last year's -- but from all appearances so is the Cardinal.  The question is, which team has improved more.  Let's show up and give the home team the support they deserve.  

            Following that game, Stanford is off to Hawaii for three games in the Rainbow Wahine Showdown over Thanksgiving weekend.  That includes two teams, Florida Gulf Coast and U. of Hawaii, that participated in last year's NCAA tournament.  Following the Hawaii trip, the Card come home and play Santa Clara, then three tough teams -- Gonzaga, Tennessee, and Creighton -- before opening Pac-12 play December 23 against CAL, led by Jayda Curry.  Fasten your seat belts -- or better yet -- get ready to stand and cheer!

 

            Questions for the week

 

1.  How many players will be in the rotation when the season heats up?

            So far, all 15 players have played in every game.  That's easy to do when a team is winning by a ton.  But, what will the rotation look like when the competition gets stiffer?  Tara has been pushing pace hard with the idea that players can sub out to prevent fatigue.  And, when the bench includes Fran Belibi, Ashten Prechtel, Brooke Demtre, Elena Bosgana, Indya Nivar, and Lauren Betts it is hard to imagine not going 11 deep regularly. 

 

2.  How often will we see Cameron Brink at the 3?

            Stanford has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to "bigs." Brink, Iriafen, Belibi, Prechtel, and Betts are all players who belong on the floor.  Figuring out the combinations to get them out on the floor requires a hall of fame caliber coach -- luckily we have one.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Basketball Royalty -- the Stanford Cardinal and Steph Curry

            Coach VanDerveer reports that her father used to tell her, "You can't win the Kentucky Derby on a donkey." There is a lot we don't know yet about this team, but we do know that Tara has a team of blue-ribbon thoroughbreds.  This team is stacked -- from the seniors to the freshmen.  They defeated Cal State University Northridge (CSUN) 104 - 40.  In the process the CARD shot 55.9% overall, 47.8% from 3, and 73% at the charity stripe while holding CSUN to 25% overall and 21.1% from 3! 

            Emblematic of the broad spread of talent, the team's assist leader was senior Haley Jones (7), the three-point shooting leader was senior Hannah Jump (5), the rebounding leader was junior Cameron Brink (11), and the scoring leader was freshman Lauren Betts (18) -- while sophomores Kiki Iriafen and Brooke Demetre joined Jump, Brink, and Betts in double digit scoring! Junior Agnes Emma-Nnopu tied with her fellow junior Brink as the steals leaders.  It is easy to see why Tara says, "We don't have a star, we have a galaxy of stars." 

            The CSUN game introduced fans to one of those stars, as we got our first real view of the talent Lauren Betts brings -- her size, her moves, her amazing hands, and her soft shooting touch. Betts is a true center and brings back memories of the interior dominance Jane Appel brought to the Cardinal. She shared the lead in blocks (3) with Brink.  It was almost comical watching CSUN players turn away from one tree only to run into the other when the two were briefly in the game together during the first half. Betts scored 18 points in 13 minutes of play, mostly in the second half with fellow freshmen. As the season progresses, we can expect to see her spend more time on court with the starting unit.  The other encouraging aspect of her performance was her eagerness to learn -- she listened intently as coaches gave her suggestions for how to improve her positioning and her play. 

            After magical performances on opening night, the other freshmen came back to earth, solid but not astronomical.  Nivar went 0 for 4 from the floor while collecting five rebounds, three assists, a block, and one point on a free throw, while Lepolo had two assists and her first turnover while going 1 for 2 from the floor and hitting both her free throws.

 

            Basketball Royalty in the House

 

As with Monday's game, the CSUN team was totally overmatched.  Stanford again came out strong on offense and defense, winning every quarter decisively. The only issue for the night was the question of who was the best three-point shooter in the gym, Hannah Jump or Stephen Curry?  Steph watched much of the game with his wife Ayesha. This team must have reminded him of the Warrior's strength in numbers slogan. (He used his mother's season tickets next to her college roommate, Cameron Brink's mother.) Hannah Jump hit five threes, a bunch back-to-back, and while most of the world considers Steph the best, Tara says she would bet on Hannah in a three-point contest with Steph.  That's a contest it would be fun to watch!

 

            Joy on the Bench

            

            It is fun to watch this team's energetic and exciting play on the court -- it requires playing with real pace to hit 104 points in 40 minutes.  But the most enjoyable show may be watching the enthusiastic support for the players on the court from the players on the bench. They not only celebrated made threes, they stood up as the shots went up, then erupted when the shot went in!  This is clearly a team that is willing to pass up a good shot to get a great shot -- and the fact that they appear to genuinely revel in their teammates' success must make that easier.  They do seem to realize that this is a team sport - and they seem to be having as much fun playing it as a team as we are watching the team play.

 

            Things may get rougher from here

 

            This weekend brings the team's first road trips. Maples has been a comfortable nurturing space for the freshmen to get their college player initiation.  Friday night's game against the University of the Pacific, the team that Stanford defeated two years ago to make Tara the winningest coach in women’s basketball. The Pacific team will be well coached, and they won their first game, but they are not likely to present a serious challenge to the CARD even with the added stress of a road game.  Sunday's game in Portland against the University of Portland may present a bigger challenge.  But in reality, Stanford's first real test of anything other than their focus will be the game against defending national champion South Carolina on November 20.  This team is simply too talented and too well coached to lose to most teams as long as the players are focused and playing with intensity. The South Carolina contest will provide a real measure of this new version of the Cardinal.  

 

            More Questions         

 

1.  Will the officials ever stop allowing teams to pummel our "bigs" - especially Cameron Brink?

            Although the officials called almost three times as many fouls on CSUN as on the CARD and their 6'6'' center fouled out, (28 - 10), the CSUN number could easily have been doubled.  It's not that the officials did such a bad job, but with tall players it's hard to watch both the hacks on their arms and the banging against their bodies.  At least our players will be ready for the physical play in the tournament.

 

2.  What will it take to fill the stands?

            This is a repeat question -- but it really is frustrating to see so many empty seats at Maples for a game that isn't even on TV (beyond live stream).  There were more students in the stands than in past years, and it was a mid-week game conflicting with some classes.  Hopefully when the Pac-12 season starts more students will show up.  It would also be good to see more families -- especially with young girls in attendance.  This is a fun team to watch with very personable players, like all-world Haley Jones.

 

3.  What will college sports look like in the future?

            Stanford is somewhat of a unicorn in collegiate sports -- at school that competes meaningfully at the highest levels with genuine student athletes.  But as the pressure for billion-dollar media deals causes schools to send student athletes on semi-constant cross-country plane rides throughout the season and play games at crazy hours, will Stanford be able to continue running its sports program at a high level and in the interest of student athletes?  


4.  Is anybody reading this blog?

            Since this is a new FBC blog, it is hard to know if it is of interest.  If you have enjoyed it, please leave a comment and if you have ideas for improvements of items to cover, please suggest.  Thanks!!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Season Has Begun

            Stanford has its first win as the 2022-23 basketball season has officially begun -- Stanford 86 - San Diego State 48.  The starting five were the same players who had started against Vanguard: Haley Jones, Cameron Brink, Hannah Jump, Kiki Iriafen, and Agnes Emma-Nnopu. Unlike last week's exhibition, this time the CARD started fast on offense and defense, rattling off ten points before SDSU put the ball through the hoop. The score was 25 to 4 at the end of the 1st quarter. SDSU, another team with only one player over six feet tall, was clearly overmatched. SDSU did better in the other three quarters, but never seriously threatened.


            Playing time was spread around. All fifteen Stanford players participated with twelve scoring.  Haley played the longest at 23 minutes. As a team Stanford shot 51.6 %, 20 percentage points more than SDSU's 31.6%. Stanford spread the scoring around with four Stanford players scoring in double figures (Iriafen, Brink, Bosgana, and Nivar), led by Iriafen's 16 points and Elena Bosgana's 15, career highs for both. Another encouraging stat - Stanford shot 84.6% from the free throw line. 

            

 

            The All-Americans

 

            Cameron Brink took up where she left off last year with six blocks, 13 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Brink's three pointer on Stanford's opening possession got the scoring going and announced that she is going to shoot the three ball. It was a real treat to watch her "don't you try to come into my house" face as she decisively swatted away the shots of the much shorter SDSU players. Cam's eight-blocks-in-20-minutes performance was the second highest block total in the country.

            Haley Jones was a leader and a force on the court, but only scored six points to go with her five assists.  Playing the point, a new position, seems to interfere with other aspects of her game -- and of course, SDSU focused considerable defensive energy on her.  We can expect her scoring to go up when Stanford actually needs her to score and as she becomes more accustomed to point guard duties.  Of course, Haley may not need to get that familiar with the role as Talana Lepola is making a strong case for taking over at point guard. Against SDSU she had 11 assists in 20 minutes and, as in the intersquad scrimmage and exhibition game, ZERO turnovers! Talana's assist total tied her for 5th in the nation for total assists -- one below Baylor's Jaden Owens who played 33 minutes -- it seems quite possible that with 33 minutes Talana's assist total would have equalled the 13 that was tops in the country.

 

            Still some rough spots

 

            In the early going Tara had a pretty quick hook -- it was "one foul and you sit."  It is also clear that these early games give Coach VanDerveer a chance to play different combinations of players as she sorts out this relatively young team. All the substitutions gave the game a disjointed feel. The machine isn't running smoothly yet -- but the parts are fabulous and the promise is great! 

 

            Next UP

 

            The next game is at 6 pm Wednesday, Nov 9, against Cal State Northridge (CSUN).  Unlike the first two teams the CARD have faced, CSUN has height.  Their roster lists a 6'6' center and multiple players over six feet.  For some of the Stanford "bigs" it may be refreshing to guard somebody closer to their own height instead of the short players they have been lining up against (and dominating).  CSUN is likely to come in grumpy as they lost to CAL in their first game.  Perimeter defense will be important.  Against CAL, CSUN shot better from 3 pt range (55%) than overall (33%). We can expect another fun, high energy game.

 

The Questions

 

1.  When will Talana Lepolo get into the assists record book? 

            Her 11 assists in 20 minutes of play against SDSU were only one assist short of putting her into the multi-player tie for 6th place on the single game assist record.  What happens if she gets 25 or 30 minutes?

 

2. What's going on with Fran Belibi's hand?

            It seems clear that Fran is not 100% -- and her hand is obviously taped. She still did her opening dunk, but seemed limited in the game. Stanford protects player's privacy so we don't know what's going on.  We just hope it heals soon. Fran is a senior after all.

 

3. Who will sign on signing day?

            Stanford already has three verbal commits for next year -- and there are other prospects, including JuJu Watkins.  But, nothing is a done deal until the letter of intent is signed. 


Thursday, November 3, 2022

A 77 point win!!!

            Stanford 102 – Vanguard 25!  A 77-point margin of victory is impressive.  Of course, it’s hard to believe that a team whose tallest player is only 6’1” can present a real challenge to the Stanford trees, especially since our team has not only height but also quickness and intensity. 

One could almost feel sorry for the Vanguard players being on the losing end of such a lopsided score.  Yet, they can go home and tell friends that they played Stanford at Maples and were in the lead for several minutes.  True, those minutes were in the first five minutes of the game as Stanford players let go of their season opening jitters and figured out how to handle all those short bodies running around out there.  But it was a game for the first ten minutes.  

Then it became an exhibition of the amazing team, or as Tara calls them, the galaxy of stars that wear Stanford uniforms this year and a vision of how bright those stars will shine for years to come.  Everybody played, with nobody going more than 18 minutes or less than 6.  All of the players showed that they belong here! On one particularly memorable play, Lepolo made a three-quarter court pass-on-a-rope to a streaking Iriafen who caught the ball almost under the basket, stopped on a dime, gathered herself and put the ball through the hoop.  Wow!

 

Top Take-aways

 

Our All-Americans (Haley and Cam) are All-Americans -- they didn't do anything surprising, but they certainly didn't disappoint.

 

The promise Kiki Iriafen showed at the Red-White scrimmage was no fluke.  She is athletic, strong, agile, quick, intense, and basketball smart! Make room for her on the All-Pac-12 and All-American lists. This was her first game as a starter but it DEFINITLY won’t be her last. 

 

Agnes Emma-Nnopu, Wednesday's other first-time starter definitely looks like another Stanford lock-down defender.  She harassed the Vanguard point guards all the way up the court and several times came within less than a second of getting a 10 second turnover on them. At 5’11” she is a big guard but she has quickness and defensive concentration. We can expect her to get major minutes this year, maybe as a frequent or even regular starter.

 

Hannah Jump has gotten her season opening jitters out of the way.  In the Red-White scrimmage she didn’t hit a 3 and she opened this game missing her first three shots – but after that she went 4 for 6 on threes.  


Fran Belibi, with one hand taped, can still contribute — she even tipped a rebound to herself, grabbed the ball one-handed and put it back up!  

 

Our freshman guards are talented and mature.  Talana Lepolo again had a boatload of assists (6) and zero turnovers, plus a rebound and two steals.  Including the Red-White scrimmage, that gives her two games with major assists and no turnovers! Indya Nivar showed her athleticism and quickness.  She and Lepolo have the potential to be a backcourt combo for the ages. Jzaniya Harriel also showed talent at the point – hitting both of her 3-point shots along with 5 rebound, 4 assists, 1 block, and 2 steals! Impressive. We can expect those three to challenge each other for time at the point over the next several years! 

 

The Greek connection is starting to show promise.  Elena Bosgana "stuffed the stat sheet" in her 17 minutes on the floor -- 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal on the plus side, along with one personal foul and one turnover. 

 

Lauren Betts is 6’7.  That is TALL! In addition to Lauren’s smooth moves, soft hands, and great shooting touch – her height altered every shot attempt put up when she was defending the rim – she caused a ton of misses even though she didn’t have an actual block. Despite having been ill last week and getting poked in the eye at practice on Tuesday, Lauren showed why she ranked number one among last year's high school seniors. Just wait until she is physically 100% and adjusted to the college game.

 

The next round of questions

 

1. How is Tara going to carve up the minutes with this much talent?  

There are 200 minutes (40 minutes x 5 players) available in any basketball game (as long as we avoid overtime) -- so how are those minutes going to be divided? If the game is at all in jeopardy, you can expect to see Haley and Cam (as long as she isn't in foul trouble) on the floor...but who else and in what combinations?

 

2. Will - or when will - one of this year's freshmen start their first game?

We could actually start with the question of which freshman will it be? Lauren Betts is a true talent.  But, point guard is a place where we have a real need and Lepolo already looks ready! Haley, our last number one recruit, didn't start in her freshman year until well into the season (and went out with an injury shortly after that) and Tara doesn't often start freshman point guards.So, who will it be -- and will it happen?  When?


3. How will the rules on NIL change the game?

In a world where schools and coaches get huge payoffs from college revenue sports, many people have felt it unfair for students to not be paid.  Of course, students get their college scholarships -- and a Stanford scholarship is worth plenty both in terms of the quality of the education and in terms of the value of a Stanford degree for one's career trajectory.  Additionally, Stanford students really are student-athletes.  Case in point, several students including Haley Jones missed practice on Tuesday because they had classes! Stanford doesn't prohibit student athletes from taking difficult classes or majors - as some schools reportedly do.  And, hopefully most of the players who commit to Stanford Women's Basketball are here for the Stanford education (of course that includes the chance to be coached by the winningest coach in women's basketball). 

But the rules have changed. College athletes can now be paid for the use of their name, their image and their likeness. How is this going to change recruiting or the expectations of student athletes?  It's hard enough to navigate the challenges of being a student and an elite athlete.  What effects will the need to navigate the world of NIL contracts -- and worrying about gaining followers for their various social media accounts-- have on that burden? Time will tell.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

RED -WHITE and GREAT all over!

The scrimmage: RED and WHITE and GREAT ALL OVER!          

            

            Fans got their first look at the 2022-23 Stanford Women's Basketball team on Saturday, Oct. 29.  The team did not disappoint.  It was abundantly clear that this fifteen-woman team of four seniors (the Fab Four, the Funky Four, the Finals Four -- or just four winners?), two juniors, three or four sophomores (depending on where you count last year's Redshirt Jzanyia Harriel), and a boatload of freshmen have all the pieces needed to be National Champions.  All the returning players returned improved, and the freshman showed promise.  The biggest disappointment was due to the wrap on Fran Belibi's hand, that injury meant she didn't play despite being the "Red" captain for the Red - White scrimmage. 

            Before getting into a review of the various players' performances that will likely resemble most viewers' analysis, I want to comment on one interesting aspect of the women's game.  It is increasingly "position-less." Despite having two players on the watch list for the Lisa Leslie award for outstanding center (Belibi and Betts), Stanford only lists 6'7" Lauren Betts as a center.  Similarly, Haley Jones is on the small forward watch list, but Stanford lists her as a guard.  Many Pac-12 teams don't list any player as a center. With "bigs" like Cameron Brink running the floor like sprinters and hitting 3-point shots, the game has clearly changed.  

            In addition to the game changing, our coach has changed too.  The video of Tara dancing (or trying to) with Cam and Haley at the Pac-12 media day leaves long-time Tara watchers smiling and almost scratching our heads.  Maybe it's because the winningest coach in women's basketball is smart enough to know that you need to change when the players change, maybe it's that age has given Tara the wisdom to know that life should be joyful, or maybe it's just having nothing left to prove, but Tara has definitely "loosened up." We're waiting to see what dance moves she'll bust out when it's time to celebrate the completion of this year's season.  

 

            Now to the scrimmage....

 

The Upperclassmen


            Haley Jones, the "White" captain, demonstrated the court vision, smooth moves, tenacity, enthusiasm, and leadership that should make her a serious candidate for National Player of the Year.  Cameron Brink, the 2021-22 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, has only gotten better and her 3 pt. and midrange shots have become legitimate parts of her offensive repertoire. Both look to earn the All-American honors that preseason ratings have recorded.

            Senior Hannah Jump had a slow day from the 3-point line but scored often with improved confidence on pull up jumpers and drives to the basket. We look to see her put all the pieces together. Her regular 3-point drill after the scrimmage (she puts up what seems like a bazillion shots from all the spots on the floor) showed that her 3-point stroke is still on target so we can expect to see it when the season starts. Her fellow senior, 6-5 Ashton Prechtel was the same solid presence in the post and reliable 3-pt shooter that she has been throughout her career. Junior Agnes Emma-Nnopo, a feisty defender last year, showed that she can make life difficult for opposing guards coming up the floor. 


The Underclassmen


            Last year's freshmen demonstrated the improvement that a year's experience in the college game can be expected to provide, especially Kiki Iriafen.  Kiki is a candidate for Tara's designation as a player whose practice performance "is going to make me play her."  We can expect her minutes to be at least more than double last year's 6.5 minutes-per-game average despite Stanford's loaded group of "bigs." A more confident Brooke Demetre showed off the scoring prowess that she flashed several times last year (remember Florida Gulf Coast?) and showed defensive improvement. However, sophomores Demetre and Bosgana may have trouble finding substantial floor time this year given the talented group of upperclassmen ahead of them.

            That brings us to the five true freshman and one red-shirt freshman -- a highly anticipated group. Center Lauren Betts, the 6'7" high school player-of-the-year, played sparingly especially in the second half. When in the game she demonstrated smooth moves and a soft shooting touch. The rest of the freshman group are guards.  Talana Lepolo and Indya Nivar showed skills that reassured fans who have been worried about the point-guard role.  Lepolo's poise and command at the point made it hard to believe that she has not played a single official minute as a college player.  She showed good "handles," facilitated well, and knocked down her three-pointers when needed.  Nivar didn't show quite as much comfort at the point, but her quickness up the floor and offensive skills suggest that her future is very bright.  

            

Now it's time for our next batch of questions!

 

1. Can the Cardinal stay healthy?

            The tape on Fran Belibi's hand and the silence when Haley Jones headed to the locker room after a nasty fall served as a reminder that injuries can disrupt promising seasons.  Sedona Prince's recent college career ending injury and the season ending injuries to UConn's Bueckers and freshman Ice Brady will undoubtedly impact the trajectories of their teams.  We can expect that minor injuries and illness will result in players missing a game or two here and there -- our team has the depth to weather that.  The question is can Stanford manage to avoid the catastrophic injuries that result in crazy things like a number one seed losing to a sixteen seed....? Not many teams can lose a superstar and still end up holding that National Championship trophy.

 

2.  Can Stanford go undefeated in the Pac-12 two years in a row? 

            That is a hard trick to pull off even once and the Pac-12 teams have all gotten stronger.  But, can anybody beat the Cardinal?  By early March we will definitely have the answer. 

 

3.  How quickly will all the pieces fit together?

            As good as the team looked in the Red-White scrimmage, there are still some rough spots.  Will they be polished enough to give this team a win over South Carolina three weeks from now?  Lauren Betts has the tools of a true center, but will Lauren be ready to play against Aliyah Boston in her 6th college game? How about the freshman point guards? Of course,  November is only important because it gets a team ready for March and April...so perhaps the better question is will these early game help the team be better when it counts.

 

4.  Will Judea Watkins accept the crowd encouragement to "come to Stanford?'

            Okay, this may be a silly question while this year's team is just coming together, but it would ease the angst of fans dreading the departure of all-world Haley Jones to have the top recruit of 2022-23 available to plug the hole she will leave behind. Judea Watkins and her family were on the sidelines for the scrimmage and at one point the crowd raised a sustained chant, "Come to Stanford, JuJu." We hope she will.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A TON of Exciting NEWS and some Questions

LOTS of news!  

 

First, the Red and White scrimmage is happening on Saturday, Oct. 29 - doors open at 11 am.  This will be our first chance to see the team ranked #2 in the country in preseason polls and, not surprisingly, picked as the team to beat in the PAC-12. 

 

Next. there is a new game on the schedule -- Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 6:pm with Cal State Northridge (CSUN) at Maples.  That gives the CARD back-to-back 6 pm games at Maples starting with their official season opener Monday, Nov. 7 against San Diego State.  (The 7 pm game Wed. Nov 2. game against Vanguard is an exhibition.)

 

In pre-season honors, two players -- Haley Jones and Cameron Brink have been named Pre-Season All Americans, with Haley being named a 1st team APA All American.  FOUR Stanford players have been named to the preseason watch list for positional awards.  Haley Jones is on the list for the 2023 Cheryl Miller Award given to the top small forward.  Cameron Brink is on the list for the 2023 Katrina McClain Award to the nation's top power forward.  Senior Fran Belibi was named to the 2023 Lisa Leslie Award list along with Freshman Lauren Betts, the WBCA High School Player of the Year for 2022.  That is a LOAD of recognition for the Cardinal players.  Additionally, Stanford Senior Hannah Jump has been identified by ESPN writers as one the the 10 players poised to have a breakout season (https://www.espn.com/womens-college-basketball/story/_/id/34823666/women-college-basketball-top-breakout-players-2022-23).  WOW!

 

Overall, this year's Stanford team is LOADED!  Eight players of the 12 players who attended high school in the US were McDonalds All Americans with two (Haley and Lauren) being named High School Player of the year in their senior seasons!  It seems quite reasonable to think that history might repeat itself, the CARD following a National Championship with a Final Four appearance and then a second National Championship just like 1990 and 1992.  We'll see.  But, regardless, we can expect an exciting year of great basketball from a team and coaching staff that set the bar for student-athletes as student-athletes.

 

As we gear up for this sensational season, there are some questions we are waiting to have answered:


1.  Who will play point-guard?

            Most pundits note that Stanford's biggest weakness last year was at point-guard against quick, physical, athletic teams - and that was with Anna Wilson backing up Lacy Hull.  Haley Jones can do it, of course.  Haley has proven that she can play almost every position on the floor -- making Coach Tara's comparison of her to Magic Johnson quite appropriate.  But, playing at the point limits other aspects of Haley's game and many believe the Cardinal will be stronger if one of the three true-freshmen or our redshirt-freshman is able to step up and play the point.  Given how reluctant Coach VanDerveer has been to start a freshman at point-guard, it will take something for her to turn over the direction of this star-studded team to an untested player.  However, at the Pac-12 media day Tara was very complementary of her potential point guards -- calling Telana Lepolo one of the best freshman point guards she has seen and mentioning the excellent play Indy Nivar, who played on USA Basketball's gold medal winning U18 team this summer. Tara also said good things about red-shirt freshman Jzaniya Harriel and Carto Valley native freshman Lauren Green.  So, by tournament time, who will be getting the major minutes at the point?

 

2.  Which sophomore will be the most improved -- and will she match the Jeanette Pohlen standard?

            Tara has often said that the biggest changes often come between a player's freshman and sophomore seasons.  Those who have been around a while will remember the way Jeanette Pohlen came back for her sophomore season with almost unrecognizable changes to her body and her game after a grueling summer of workouts.  There are rumors that Kiki Irafen made impressive progress over the summer (we've seen the videos of her two-handed dunks) and Brooke Demetre is also said to have made real progress -- but where do their improvements rank on the "Pohlen scale"?

 

3. What will the offense look like on a team with 5 players listed at 6'3'' or above (and that doesn't even include Lisa Leslie Center Award nominee Fran Belibi)?

            For the last few years Tara has often used a three-guard or even a four-guard offense.  But, given all the talent among her tall trees it seems likely that the Stanford offense will be some version of Fear the TREES! How that will mesh with a Princeton offense may have the Cardinal watching Warriors tapes...Part of the answer may revolve around how quickly Lauren Betts makes the adjustment to the college game and how smoothly she and Cameron Brink are able to work together. Fasten your seat belts for this high flying team.

 

4. Will Hannah Jump set any 3-pt records? 

            With 183 career 3 pointers, Hannah would need to obliterate the single season 96 made 3-pointers record jointly held by Jeanette Pohlen and Karlie Samuelson to get even close to Kianna Williams' 311 career record.  But, merely equaling that single season record would move her up to third, behind only Kianna and Candice Wiggins....

 

5.  What other single season or career records might fall this year?  

            Because there was no NCAA tournament their freshman year- meaning as many as six fewer games -- (and we have no 5th year seniors taking a COVID year), it is unlikely that any records for career totals will be set this year.  There could easily be a lot of single season records falling - and possibly some career percentage records.  But, let's face it, for Stanford players team success and not individual records are the goal -- those individual records only matter if they were in the service of the CARDINAL doing well -- and hopefully they will. The sustained excellence of this program is amazing.

 

6.  Will this finally be the year that Stanford Women's Basketball gets the home game sell-outs it deserves?

            It is somewhere between ridiculous and crazy that virtually the only sell-out crowds the defending National Champion Stanford team played in front of last year were in other team's arenas! Now, some of that may have been about COVID -- after all people in the Bay Area took COVID seriously.  And, some of it may have been about the crazy schedule that TV games create (8 pm on Friday nights, 5 and 6 on weeknights) -- but Stanford's amazing coaching staff and fabulous student-athletes deserve a packed house of fans.  Let's all commit to getting to the games and bringing friends!  See you at Maples.

An Easy Game

                                                 Scouting the U of Hawaii team      Stanford notched win number seven with an 87-50 victory ...