Women’s basketball seemed to have lost its identity in its back-to-back losses. The undefeated season ended when Colorado became the first team to shoot above 41% and the alarms began to sound when UCLA outrebounded Stanford by 13.
Consider the identity, effort and focus all recaptured. No. 5 Stanford (12-2, 9-2 Pac-12) dominated the boards and got back on track with an 86-59 win over USC (6-7, 4-6 Pac-12) in Santa Cruz.
“Obviously much better effort today,” were the first words of Hall of Fame head coach Tara VanDerveer’s postgame press conference.
“I think our team responded well to some of the, maybe you know, less than stellar things that we did Friday night,” VanDerveer said.
The renewed effort started with the veterans — senior guard Kiana Williams, senior forward Alyssa Jerome and fifth-year guard Anna Wilson. Williams had 16 points and shot 5-of-8 from distance. Wilson contributed eight points and seven rebounds. Jerome brought a pregame speech that junior guard Lexie Hull struggled to find the words to describe.
“She always seems to hype us up,” Hull said of Jerome.
Stanford faced the possibility of losing three games in a row for the first time since 2000-01, and none of the three seniors wanted to be a part of that piece of history.
“We had to put the hammer down,” Williams said. “We can’t drop three in a row.”
Although VanDerveer wanted her team to come out of the opening whistle aggressive, Stanford had a slower start. VanDerveer was telling Wilson from the sideline to take her shot. Often, players would make the unselfish play — an extra pass — but miss an open look. The passes also turned to turnovers, where Stanford struggled once again; the team recorded a season-high 18.
Five came off the hands of sophomore guard Haley Jones, who otherwise had a great game with 18 points and 11 rebounds. But turnovers, which VanDerveer called the “bugaboo” also impacted VanDerveer’s substitution decisions. Nine different Stanford players had checked in within four minutes of tip-off.
“If it’s a, what I call a bonehead turnover, we got to sub them out,” VanDerveer said. “This isn’t high school, this isn’t pick up. We have to take care of the basketball.”
“She wanted people to be aggressive on offense and then some people were doing too much,” Williams said, referring to VanDerveer’s game plan and the struggles the team had implementing it. “We really got to cut down on our turnovers.”
Stanford only found its footing when USC’s reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Alyssa Pili limped off the court. The Trojans led 18-17 at the time, but Stanford scored the next 14 points of the game.
To that end, Stanford had a season-best, plus-31 margin in rebounds and limited USC to just five offensive rebounds; the only time an opponent has had fewer this season was when the two teams met in December. The effort came on the heels of UCLA securing 21 offensive rebounds, the most by any opponent.
“We need to continue that,” VanDerveer said. “We need to continue getting on the O-boards. We need to continue keeping teams off the glass on us.”
Had Stanford been able to assert the same rebounding dominance against No. 6 UCLA, perhaps the team would have managed to regroup following the loss to Colorado that ended a program-record-tying six weeks atop the AP Top 25.
“A lot of the things that we didn’t do in those two games came down to effort, and today I think we really saw a lot more effort out of everybody and really crashing the boards and getting rebounds,” said Hull. “That was the biggest turnaround for our team I think.”
“We don’t want a loss to be because we didn’t try hard enough,” Hull added. “That should never be a reason.”
Trying to find that spark, VanDerveer made a switch to the starting lineup. She inserted freshman forward Cameron Brink for her first career start in place of sophomore forward Fran Belibi. Both players benefited. Brink tallied eight points and nine rebounds, but most importantly avoided the “knucklehead” fouls. Belibi scored 12 and added seven rebounds off the bench for the first time this season.
“We needed to change, and we needed to get people’s attention that, you know, if you want to be out there, if you want to start the game, you got to play better,” VanDerveer said.
For the second straight week, Stanford is poised to fall in the AP poll. At least this time, there is some momentum and positive film to review. The team will take tomorrow off before flying to Washington on Tuesday. Stanford will first play its rescheduled game at Washington State in Pullman on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. PT before facing Wazzu a second time and then traveling to Seattle.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.