Last year when then-No. 3 Stanford women’s basketball played the Washington Huskies on the road, they had travelled from Spokane the day before after a narrow and hard-fought win over Washington State, and had been caught in an unexpected snowstorm the night prior to playing, as such the Card didn’t play to the best of their abilities. The Huskies snapped the Card’s 21-game win streak and ended its 14-game drought against Stanford with an 87-82 victory.
Unable to connect from anywhere on the floor in shooting, the Card trailed by double digits for most of the second half despite ending the game with a drastic advantage in rebounding (57-38) and witnessing impressive games from seniors Mikaela Ruef (16 points, 22 rebounds) and Chiney Ogwumike (23 points, 14 rebounds).
Hot shooting from guard Bonnie Samuelson kept the game within reach at the end as her three triples and 11 points (of her total 14) in the second half rallied the Cardinal offense.
This season, the senior guard/forward has earned her way into the starting lineup for the past five games, shooting 40 percent from behind the arc and averaging 7.7 points per game. Just as she knocked down clutch shots against Washington last year, Samuelson has come through when needed, such as against Colorado in the Pac-12 opener last weekend to end a Cardinal scoring drought and help the team pull away from the Buffs.
Despite its similar reliance on Samuelson’s sharp-shooting, this year’s No. 15 Stanford women’s basketball team (10-4, 2-0 Pac-12) has a vastly different style of play to that of its predecessor.
In last year’s loss the Card had no trouble defending the key, grabbing rebounds and being the aggressors underneath the basket due to the presence of Ogwuike and Ruef. Stanford was very much a post-oriented team centered around the pair. It was shooting that was the Achilles heel in that game.
Fast forward to this season and Stanford has no true post presence and relies a lot more on guard play and their ability to knock down shots. As head coach Tara VanDerveer emphasized at the beginning of the season, rebounding is the weakness of the Cardinal and will be a determinant factor in who gets to play. Although Stanford was able to pull off the upset win over Connecticut earlier this season, the Card lost to unranked Chattanooga, surprising most except for VanDerveer who claims that the team will have to grind out wins and not expect any game to be a guarantee.
“We were struggling a bit offensively over the past two weeks and we’re still trying to figure some things out,” Samuelson said. “We are a completely different team than I have ever been a part of here at Stanford. Beating UConn showed us the potential that we can have if we get things to work and really play the best that we can. Even coming from that game and having lost a few games, we’re still very motivated and people are really working hard to try to remedy that and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Now that the Card has made it through the preseason and the first weekend of Pac-12 play with wins, albeit close ones, the discrepancy in rebounding between last season and this season has become apparent, with the Cardinal only outrebounding their opponents by a slight 54-50 margin.
Although the Card are not off to the same undefeated start as last season, their strength of schedule will have prepared them immensely for the rest of the Pac-12 conference—a conference whose parity in talent has been steadily increasing the past few years.
“Our preseason schedule is going to be huge for the rest of the year. We pretty much played the best teams in the country so we will not be seeing anything that we haven’t seen before going forward,” Samuelson said. “We’ve had a lot of situations where there have been close games and where we’ve needed to execute and make big plays and that will really help us with the Pac-12.”
Stanford will take on Kelsey Plum and the rest of the Huskies and attempt to rectify the loss from last year when it plays at Washington on Friday. Washington has already proved its potential by dismantling No. 5 Texas A&M 70-49 in December. However, they lost to Arizona State 62-48 in their Pac-12 opener. Plum is averaging 25 points on the season as the team’s leading scorer and led the charge against the Card with 23 points in last year’s matchup in Seattle.
“As a team our main goal is to keep playing better and to keep getting better as the season goes on,” Samuelson said. “We know that a lot of teams in the Pac-12 have been having really good teams the past years and some really good players and we know that everyone is going to come out and play their best game against us. It’s going to be tough but we’re very excited for the challenge and we all believe that we can have just as successful of a year as last year so we’re working hard to achieve that.”
The Cardinal tip off against the Huskies Friday night at 7 p.m. and Sunday at Washington State at 1 p.m.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.