While the whole season has been structured by the ongoing effects of the pandemic, for the first time, No. 1 Stanford (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) could feel the effects on the court.
Before the game, Stanford announced that “due to COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing following its Jan. 3 game at Arizona State,” three players would miss the contest against No. 11 Oregon (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12). While Stanford was slowed down, the nation’s best still prevailed 70-63 to close out what head coach Tara VanDerveer called a “very challenging” week.
Friday was supposed to bring some normalcy to a Stanford team that has been on the road for a month living and practicing out of hotels. The game represented a return to the Bay Area inside of Kaiser Permanente Arena, the home of the NBA G League Santa Cruz Warriors and a site where the men’s team has played three of its games. Instead, the pandemic struck as close to home as it has so far this season, as Stanford was without three players — junior guard Lexie Hull, senior forward Alyssa Jerome and sophomore guard Hannah Jump.
“I’m really proud of our team, we really had to battle,” VanDerveer said. “This has been a very tough week for us.”
In the game, the effect was first felt in the starting lineup, where junior guard Lacie Hull replaced her sister Lexie and started for the first time since the 2020 Pac-12 championship game, the last time Stanford met Oregon on the court. But the effect on the team began even before the game.
Down to nine rostered players, Stanford’s did not have a 10th player to go five-on-five in practice. Assistant coaches Britney Anderson and Katy Steding stepped in to play the scout team, replicating the Oregon zone. Otherwise, Stanford was going four-on-four or even three-on-three in practice, where there was an increased emphasis on conditioning to compensate for the smaller roster.
The conditioning came in handy. Hull, sophomore guard Haley Jones, freshman guard Jana Van Gytenbeek and fifth-year guard Anna Wilson all played season-high minutes.
Stanford, however, could have used more time to figure out the zone. The Cardinal trailed by as much as seven, were in danger of losing the rebounding battle for the first time this season and had a season-high 17 turnovers.
“We can get better,” VanDerveer said. “Was it a perfect game? No, but I thought people worked really hard and tried to focus.”
With all of the off-court factors, it may come as no surprise that the person playing closest to home was the least distracted. Jones, back in her hometown of Santa Cruz, led Stanford with 18 points.
Stanford’s hotel was located five minutes from Jones’s house and 10 minutes from her grandparent’s house, so the Cardinal benefited from baked goods brought by Jones’s mother Monique.
“It’s great to be back in the Bay Area,” Jones said. “It’s a little weird, since I’m so close to home but I’m still staying in a hotel.”
While the arena is in her city, Jones had only ever played there before as a seventh grader at the halftime of a G league game.
“There’s something in the water that she knows she’s in Santa Cruz,” VanDerveer said. “She seemed very relaxed. Nothing upsets Haley, she just keeps playing hard.”
Wilson scored 11, showed off her sharpshooting 3-point ability (3-for-4) and led the team in rebounds with nine. Always in on the action, Wilson’s defense repeatedly earned praise from her head coach in the press conference. Her biggest moment may have come in the third quarter, when Wilson took a charge that gave Oregon forward Erin Boley her fourth foul and sent her to the bench. In that moment, the normally “calm and collected” Wilson was an emotional leader as well.
“Whenever she gets hyped, it just kind of boosts all of us,” Jones said. “We’re always on 10 anyways, so she just hypes us up even more.”
Stanford, which was already on a four-point run before the foul, ended the quarter outscoring Oregon 22-10 to provide crucial separation. After Stanford’s 13-0 run between the third and fourth quarters ended with over eight minutes remaining, Oregon closed the game on its own 16-6 run. Over that time, Stanford did not make a single shot from the field.
Oregon lost three players of its own to the first round of the WNBA draft last season but reloaded with the top-ranked recruiting class. While the Ducks showed promise, they are not the same team that swept Stanford in three games last season. Nor is Stanford the same team that was swept.
The beneficiary of VanDerveer’s short bench, Van Gytenbeek showed the promise of a top-ranked recruit. Stanford was plus-10 in her 14 minutes as she made all three of her field goals, including two from 3-point range, and did not turn over the ball.
“She knew that we needed her this game,” Jones said. “She stepped up, she played great, she took care of the ball, she hit shots, and she was aggressive.”
While Stanford missed Lexie Hull, Jerome and Jump, VanDerveer was able to say that the three are “doing very well.” For the rest of the league, that Stanford could beat one of the conference’s top teams shorthanded, may send a message.
“That’s scary,” Wilson said. “It’s amazing to be down three people — three important people too, whether it’s a leader, scorer, you know 3-point shooter, rebounder — and to not have those three pieces but understand that our team is playing for them… Moving forward, we know that we can do it.”
Friday also marked the return to the court for freshman forward Cameron Brink, who missed last game as a precautionary measure.
Stanford’s game against Oregon State has been postponed, a theme throughout the conference. Around the conference, only one other game is scheduled to be played Friday, between USC and Stanford’s next opponent, Utah.
Stanford has welcomed 12 teams to campus, though for the time being women’s basketball will remain on the road. Stanford Athletics spokesperson Brian Risso said that “There may be student-athletes living locally who aren’t training on campus. Those individuals would not be part of the testing program,” which implies that any cases in the women’s basketball team would not be announced by the department. Postgame, Jones said she would hope and pray that the team is able to play at Maples Pavilion again this season.
According to the AP, Stanford will remain in Santa Cruz through Sunday, relocate to San Mateo for Monday and Tuesday, then leave for Utah on Wednesday. The game is scheduled for Friday at 12:30 p.m. PT.
And classes start Monday.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.