No team has hit more 3-pointers through the first three games of the NCAA Tournament than Stanford. A total of 43 made 3-pointers at a 47.8% clip is historic.
But that’s not all first-seed Stanford (28-2, 19-2 Pac-12) is taking into its Elite Eight duel with second-seed Louisville (26-3, 14-2 ACC). It will be Cardinal vs. Cardinals — two of the four teams to be ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 this season. A game in the Alamodome with a spot in the Final Four is hanging in the balance.
For sure, 3-point shooting will be a battle. In six postseason games, Louisville is limiting opponents to 21.9 percent shooting from deep on 105 attempts, a stretch which includes a loss to NC State in the ACC championship, a team also seeded first in the NCAA Tournament.
Stanford’s effort from deep is led by senior guard Kiana Williams, the program’s record holder for made 3-pointers, and sophomore guard Hannah Jump, who Williams suggested might be the next to hold the record after the first round. For her 3-point prowess, Jump is providing Stanford with a lot more than shooting.
“Hannah Jump has come off the bench for us and has really improved since last year,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “She’s one of the players getting up early, coming over for an eight o’clock shoot. She’s one of the players that’s doing extra biking when you know when we have an off day.”
One of the many Stanford players to benefit from having a gym in San Antonio, as opposed to the months on the road in the regular season, Jump has shot extremely well as of late, including five-of-seven last round.
Her minutes have expanded this season as she has added dimensions to her game. She is still an incredible shooter, but also has become a defensive asset and a rebounder.
“My freshman year, shooting was always something I knew that I was able to do, able to provide for the team,” Jump said. “I think the difference from my freshman to sophomore year was just kind of realizing that I could do a lot more for this team. So I put in a lot of work on the offseason getting in shape. I’m really focusing on eating better, my nutrition, and just kind of figuring out what I could do with this team to help them out this year.”
Jump, along with forwards Fran Belibi, Haley Jones and Ashten Prechtel, is a member of the vaunted sophomore class ranked second in their year behind South Carolina. While a year later less of the focus is on the Funky Four, Stanford will need all of them to perform at their best to reach the Final Four. VanDerveer saw the improvement from her entire team, but focused, consciously or not, on the sophomore class.
“We’ve been steadily improving. And in this particular game, we had some great contributions from a lot of people,” VanDerveer said, then rattled off the name of every member in the sophomore class. “We got great contributions off the bench from Hannah Jump, Ashten Prechtel stepped in and helped us. … Fran Belibi came in and gave us a good game. I thought Haley played a really steady game. This is a young team with a lot of potential to keep growing, and I see really great growth. If it’s called peaking — I don’t really think of peaking as the way I look at it but improvement is. I’ve seen great improvement. I’m really excited about that.”
On the other hand, Louisville has one player remaining from the 2018 clash in the Sweet 16 with Stanford: Dana Evans. The guard is a two-time ACC Player of the Year and, unfortunately for Stanford, found her stroke in the win over Oregon. Evans matched a career high with 29 points, her first over 15 points in the postseason.
“She did get going — didn’t she Pepper,” VanDerveer said in response to an astute question by Pepper Persley (who makes me feel old). “Dana is a great player, and it’s just a matter of time. She’s a very confident player, a very talented player, so we’re going to have to work very hard, and I think it’s going to be a job by committee. A lot of different people are going to have to guard Dana and are going to have to work very hard to do a great job defensively. But I have confidence in our team and our players, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Where Stanford has its sophomores, Louisville has its freshmen. Its 2020 class, headlined by Hailey Van Lith and Olivia Cochran, was ranked fifth in the espnW HoopGurlz Class Rankings, one spot ahead of Stanford. Both are in the starting lineup and both were named to the All-ACC Freshman Team.
The other two starting players, Cal transfer Kianna Smith and All-ACC Defensive Team member Mykasa Robinson, make for a formidable five. Louisville has been fantastic when leading at halftime, with a season-long 24-0 record, but are 1-3 when trailing. The defense holds opponents to 60.1 points per game, and below 70 points 25 times, including 42 against Oregon in the Sweet 16.
Louisville has also shot well from the free-throw line in the tournament (26-for-30) and completed the third-largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, coming back from down 18 to beat Northwestern. In March, the little things matter.
Stanford will counter with fifth-year guard Anna Wilson, who will no doubt lead the committee approach to slowing down Evans. Beyond that, there is Stanford basketball, which is trying to reach its 14th Final Four.
“We need people to come out and play Stanford basketball which is not rocket science,” VanDerveer said. “You’ve got to take care of the basketball — Louisville turns people over. You’ve got to get good shots, and get more and better shots than they do. You’ve got to play great defense and rebound.”
A shot at the Final Four is on the line tomorrow at 6 p.m. PT.