When there’s no worry about selling tickets, defense is the way to go.
Head coach Tara VanDerveer is well aware that defense wins championships and her team put on another masterclass on Wednesday. No. 6 Stanford (12-2, 9-2 Pac-12) beat Washington State (8-4, 6-4 Pac-12) 71-49 in the front half of an unusual two-game “series” this week.
If VanDerveer is the teacher, then fifth-year guard Anna Wilson is the TA. Washington State boasts the talented Leger-Walker sisters, including freshman guard Charlisse. She averaged 20.3 points per game coming into the contest, but smothering defense from Wilson limited her to six points — half of her previous career low of 12.
“I think Anna took it personally and just said, I’m gonna work really hard on you,” VanDerveer said.
Senior guard Kiana Williams handled Krystal Leger-Walker, Washington State’s second leading scorer. Williams played 38 minutes and Wilson played 35, the two highest totals on the team, even with the game in hand for much of the second half.
“The key was Anna Wilson and Kiana Williams,” VanDerveer said. “They worked their tails off the whole time.”
Wilson’s defense has been a theme all year. As a fifth year granted an extra year of eligibility, Wilson has used every minute to bolster her case as the team’s most important player. Her scoring does not usually pop, but she has become one of the team’s best outside threats, has assisted, rarely turns the ball over and has rebounded extraordinarily well from the guard spot.
“Anna Wilson was phenomenal,” VanDerveer said. “Everyone worked hard, every single player out there — Haley scrapping, Cam, everyone that went in, but Anna really was special.”
Sophomore guard Haley Jones and freshman forward Cameron Brink both had great games — 10 points and seven rebounds for Jones and 12 points and 14 rebounds for Brink — but the defense led the way. Even when it looked like junior guard Lexie Hull would take over the game in the first half when she was single handedly outscoring the opposition 15-9, the defense never faded.
“I think it really came down to Ki and Anna,” Hull said.
After a first half that VanDerveer called one of the best of the season and ended with Stanford on top 44-18, Stanford took a step back in the third quarter. The Cardinal had seven turnovers in the period after just three through the entire first half. Stanford also conceded the boards to Washington State in the second half, and for just the second time this season lost the rebound battle 40-38.
“We are not an elite rebounding team and until we really get serious about rebounding we won’t be,” VanDerveer said. “We should have learned that lesson against UCLA and I think especially in the second half we let them get too many O-boards.”
Inside, however, Brink had no match. The freshman has flashed brilliance throughout the season, but seemed to put all the pieces together on Wednesday in the starting lineup for the second game straight. The key was just staying on the floor. Brink played a season-high 25 minutes and stayed out of foul trouble. She had a double-double by the time she reached 12 minutes, which she punctuated by a flush 3-pointer from the right wing. Although she has tied for the team high, she had not led the team in rebounds before notching 14.
“If she’s in the game she’s gonna do that,” Hull said. “She’s been in foul trouble the past few games so to see her be able to play a lot of minutes tonight was really exciting.”
In other news, Stanford learned on Tuesday it would be able to return to Maples Pavilion for its Feb. 5 game against Colorado.
“Our team is ecstatic,” VanDerveer said. We have been living in a hotel since basically November.”
“The wear and tear on people — the being in hotels and being on buses, practicing in high school gyms, no power in the gym and it is dark,” Vanderveer continued. “No other team except for maybe our men’s team has been dealing with what we are dealing with and we are absolutely thrilled to go back to Maples and it is just — we want to play well this weekend so we can be back in our gym and enjoy it.”
Before speaking with the media, VanDerveer voiced her frustration that she scheduled back-to-back games against Washington State. Kamie Ethridge’s team is poised to build on a strong second half that saw them figure out Stanford in certain ways. Hull noted this, but also said the team would be looking forward to the challenge.
The two teams will run it back Friday at 12 p.m. PT.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.