If last week’s win was about how good No. 1 Stanford (11-0, 8-0 Pac-12) could be without three key players, today was a lesson in what top ranked really means.
Stanford played smothering defense, shot the lights out and limited turnovers en route to a 82-54 win over Utah (3-8, 2-8 Pac-12) to start off its weekend road trip on a high note.
Two weeks ago, Stanford played Arizona State, which normally would have minimal bearing on a trip to Utah. Only Arizona State has had COVID-19 cases within its program, which made junior guard Lexie Hull, senior forward Alyssa Jerome and sophomore guard Hannah Jump high-risk contacts.
For the next 10 days, after finding out on Tuesday, Jan. 5, all three players were in quarantine. All three missed Stanford’s win over Oregon, watching together over Zoom in their rooms instead. The three were resigned to bodyweight workouts in their rooms without access to shoot or practice with the team.
So by the time they finally saw the court again in Utah, it was no surprise that they could not be locked down for long.
“We were really excited,” Hull said. “At the beginning of the game we’re like, ‘We’re back — let’s do this.’ I think we had a little extra energy prior to the game and excitement for today.”
Hull scored 14 points with five rebounds while returning to the starting lineup — her starting position was filled by her sister Lacie Hull last week. Meanwhile, Jerome started for the first time this season on Friday afternoon, and for the 26th time in her career she secured two boards in 20 minutes. And Jump played a team-high 25 minutes in Utah, shot 5-for-10 from 3-point range and added five rebounds and two assists.
“It definitely taught me not to take any game for granted,” Lexie Hull said, adding with a laugh, “I could be in quarantine tomorrow, who knows. Hopefully not.”
“They were very happy, as we are, to have them back,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “It’s great to have all 12 of our players practicing, playing so well and being so excited.”
Only 11 players checked into the game, however, as sophomore guard Haley Jones, the team’s leader in points, rebounds and assists did not start for the first time this season.
“Haley was unavailable for the game, and that’s all I’m gonna say,” VanDerveer said.
VanDerveer’s message to her team was similarly succinct.
“First thing Tara told us in the locker room before we went out for warm up was, ‘Let our defense get going. Let our defense create offense,’” said senior guard Kiana Williams. “Utah has incredible shooters, so we knew we had to be up into them and take away their shots. And so we did.”
In the first quarter alone, Utah turned the ball over eight times, including three Stanford steals. The Cardinal held Utah’s leading scorer, guard Brynna Maxwell, to half of her season average 14 points. Utah’s 44 shot attempts were just two-thirds of Stanford’s total.
Taking advantage of defense turned to offense, Williams shot 3-of-7 for nine points in the first period alone. The seven field goal attempts were more than half of her game total of 13 and the nine points half of her game total 18. Instead, the importance of Williams’ early play was how it opened up the court for her teammates.
No matter how well Williams is playing, her defender has to be ready for a shot attempt. But when Williams is going 6-for-10 from 3-point range, the whole floor opens up around her. The space created on the court allowed for four other Stanford players to finish in double figures.
Sophomore forward Ashten Prechtel had what VanDerveer considered a “breakout game” with 14 points, 2-of-4 on 3-point shooting and seven rebounds. In the process, she took minutes from sophomore forward Fran Belibi, who contributed 13 points and six rebounds.
“Everyone is really excited for other people. They’re a very unselfish team,” VanDerveer said. “We have great leadership with Kiana, Anna Wilson and Alyssa really leading the way by starting the game and starting well and then encouraging other people.”
Freshman forward Cameron Brink played a team-low eight minutes before fouling out.
“More than anything, today was just really exciting to get back on the floor and play with my teammates,” Lexie Hull said.
Stanford had a week between its last game and today’s matchup following the postponement of the meeting with Oregon State. The turnaround this time returns to the typical two days as Stanford heads to Colorado to play the Buffs at 11 a.m. PT. Sunday’s game will be televised on Pac-12 Network.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.