After closing the season out on a four-game win streak that included key victories over Oregon and Oregon State, No. 11 Stanford women’s basketball (24-6, 14-4 Pac-12) will begin its conference title defense this Friday in the Pac-12 tournament against either 5th-seed Washington or 12th-seed Colorado.
Because UCLA (22-7, 14-4) owns a head-to-head win over the Cardinal, the Bruins earned the third seed in the Pac-12 tournament while the Cardinal dropped to number four. Stanford still earned a first round bye, however, and will use that rest to scout the first-round matchup between the Huskies and the Buffs.
Stanford has looked strong against each of their possible opponents in the regular season. Against 12th seeded Colorado, the Cardinal are 2-0 and have looked dominant in all facets of their play. In their most recent matchup, Stanford cruised to a 30-point victory off a strong third quarter performance, with four different Cardinal players scoring in double digits throughout the game.
However, the Cardinal may face a slightly more unfamiliar foe if Washington can escape against Colorado. In the regular season, Stanford faced the Huskies only once, earning a 16-point victory behind a superb performance from junior guard Lili Thompson.
In fact, the Washington win in many ways became the springboard for Stanford for the rest of the season. Before their regular season matchup, the Cardinal were a measly 5-3 in conference play and looked ill-prepared to compete against the conference’s best teams.
After capitulating on the road, mustering only 36 points in Pauley Pavilion against UCLA, the Cardinal decided to focus on changing mental aspects of their game, a shift that ultimately helped them defeat 25th-ranked Washington five days later.
“I think our mentality changed,” Thompson remarked of the turnaround. “For all of the X’s and O’s that we worked on, [head coach Tara VanDerveer] said that it’s a mentality [thing] at the end of the day.”
Since that game, which came exactly midway through the conference regular season, the Cardinal seemed to regain their typical dominance, winning nine of their final 10 games. In that span, the Cardinal were able to quell a streaking Oregon team and dominate a talented Oregon State team that was ranked seventh in the nation at the time. Furthermore, the only loss in this remarkable 10-game run occurred at the hands of No. 10 Arizona State in a tightly contested game in which the Sun Devils squeaked by Stanford in overtime.
As the Cardinal prepare for the conference tournament in Seattle, they will need to remember the difference in mentality that the Washington game brought them. For the Cardinal team, the key will be to stick to their own brand of grit, teamwork and adaptability.
Through this recent run of dominance, the Cardinal have excelled because of their depth and versatility on both sides of the game.
Offensively, Stanford’s expected leaders have been inconsistent many times throughout the season. Thompson, who had a superb scoring year during the 2014-15 season, has been streaky on offense; yet, different Cardinal teammates have generally stepped in to provide key offensive sparks throughout the season.
The same remains true with the Cardinal defense, which is name to the second best field goal percentage allowed in the country. While a lot of the defense relies on Stanford’s big frontcourt, the depth and adaptability of the defense allows quick rotations and solid defense throughout the entirety of each game.
The Cardinal will begin their title defense on Friday in Seattle. While the opponent may not greatly effect the Cardinal’s mentality, Stanford should benefit from having a little more rest than their adversary.
The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks and tipoff is at 8:30 p.m.
Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu