Takeaways from Stanford’s season-defining win over Baylor

STANFORD, CA - JANUARY 12: Stanford Cardinal Director of Women's Basketball Tara VanDerveer watches her team's defense during the game between the Washington State Cougars and the Stanford Cardinals on Friday, January 12, 2018 at Maples Pavilion, Stanford, CA. (Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
STANFORD, CA - JANUARY 12: Stanford Cardinal Director of Women's Basketball Tara VanDerveer watches her team's defense during the game between the Washington State Cougars and the Stanford Cardinals on Friday, January 12, 2018 at Maples Pavilion, Stanford, CA. (Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Cardinal show Baylor they’re ready to contend.

STANFORD, Calif. — Behind a stout defensive effort and a solid showing of shooting from behind the 3-point arc, #11 Stanford took down #3 Baylor 68-63 on Saturday afternoon, handing Baylor its first loss of the season.

“This was a great win for our team,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Baylor has an outstanding team, and Kim does a great job with her team. I thought our team worked really hard, especially defensively in guarding their leading scorers. It’s a good bounce back from two weeks ago and I’m excited to keep it going.”

Stanford’s top player, senior forward Alanna Smith, led all scorers with 21 points while making 5-of-9 shots from 3-point range. It was a strong 3-points shooting performance for the Cardinal (7-1), making 13-of-30 shots from deep in their first game since losing at Gonzaga nearly two weeks ago.

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Meanwhile, Baylor (8-1) will now go on a two-week break before playing one game on New Year’s Eve ahead of a matchup with UConn on Jan. 3. But within this Saturday matinee, the Cardinal got some big help from the bench while locking down the Bears.

Baylor struggles with Stanford’s stingy defense

Entering Saturday, many people (including our own Blake DuDonis) expected this game to be high-scoring, as these two teams were both ranked highly in offensive categories. Baylor was averaging 88 points per game entering Saturday, first in the nation.

But as former Stanford player and current member of the Indiana Fever Erica McCall pointed out on Twitter, Stanford’s near two-week bye allowed the team plenty of time to set a strong game plan and focus in on the defensive end.

The result was Baylor’s worst offensive day of the season, shooting 34.9 percent (22-of-63) on the game, including a 2-for-20 second quarter and a 7-for-36 first half.

“When you’re playing a team like this, you can’t switch off,” Stanford senior forward Alanna Smith said. “You have to be focused, and that’s what we focused on for the last two weeks in practice. We need to lock in, we need to have grit, we need to have good body language. In this game, that showed that that’s what we’ve been working on, and we did a really good job.”

Meanwhile, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey felt that her team wasn’t mentally prepared to play right before their two-week break for Christmas.

“We were not very good today,” Mulkey said. “I’m disappointed in several players that didn’t show up. I need to look at the film was the reason they didn’t show up in because of what Stanford did, so I’ll refrain from going any further than that.”

It was a rough day in particular for Baylor senior center Kalani Brown, who went 2-for-7 from the field and 1-for-2 from the free-throw line for a total of five points, the fewest she’s scored in a game since she had four points on Jan. 11, 2017 against TCU.

Stanford’s bigs don’t give up much inside against Baylor, and the Cardinal’s discipline inside gave Baylor fits all night. Baylor missed 12 shots that were classified as layups and an additional 10 shots between the blocks inside the key. Mulkey said a combination of effective double- and triple-teaming on Brown, her own team’s mistakes and Stanford’s game plan were key.

“Their length altered some shots on our guards when they got good, open looks,” Mulkey said. “We didn’t find the open player much today. Credit them, they got deflections, they were physical, they harassed the ball when we got the rebound and would try to take off in transition.”

While there may not be many teams Baylor faces in Big 12 Conference action that can give them the combination of athleticism and size that Stanford can, this loss has to be concerning for the Bears as they get ready for the big game against UConn in Waco on Jan. 3.

Cardinal gets kick from Coffee

Part of what made Stanford so effective on the defensive end was solid contributions from their rotation of forwards and centers, which VanDerveer felt pleased with after the game. But on the offensive end, one player stood out in particular: senior center Shannon Coffee.

Used very infrequently over her time at Stanford, Coffee made the most of the opportunity to get an extended look and made 3-of-4 shots from deep on the night. Her final one came as the shot clock expired with 3:08 left in the game, stamping an exclamation point on the Cardinal’s night from deep.

“This has probably been her best game of her career, and she couldn’t have picked a better time,” Van Derveer said of Coffee.

She’s proven to be effective in the matchup against Baylor in two years in a row now, and of the 12 career 3-pointers Coffee has made during her time at Stanford, seven of them have come in two games against Baylor, leading Baylor coach Kim Mulkey to quip that the Stanford coaches should make her think every team they play is Baylor. VanDerveer believes the success in last year’s matchup helped her overall game in this one.

“She made some big shots, but her defense was really good,” VanDerveer said. “She played smart, she knew where she was supposed to be on the floor and she worked hard to get there. It was really exciting to have her have such a big game in a big game.”

But while Stanford may not use Coffee as heavily as they did against Baylor, the Cardinal tend to run deeper than most teams in the country, with no player averaging more than 32 minutes per game so far on the season. That also doesn’t include the fact that Stanford is missing two impact guards at the moment — senior Marta Sniezek and freshman Lexie Hull, who played in three games before getting hurt.

Combine that with the group that is healthy getting this win, and things are looking really solid on the Farm as Stanford hits the road for nonconference matchups at Tennessee and Buffalo this week and then Pac-12 Conference play beginning in January.

“We go to our bench pretty quickly, and we have a couple of people out who could help us too,” VanDerveer said. “I think it bodes well for us in the conference. I think we can build on this.”

Watching the minutes in Waco?

Stanford exploded to its big lead with a 24-11 second quarter that was, for good portions of time, against Baylor’s bench, as many Baylor starters picked up two fouls and then sat for extended portions of time.

Our own Ben Dull was also watching the game and broke down the amount of time that some of Baylor’s key contributors didn’t play to close out the first half.

It was also of note that Lauren Cox only played 16 minutes on the afternoon. While Mulkey didn’t name any players she was specifically frustrated with, it would be fair to deduce that Cox was one of those players. It will certainly be something to watch going forward with the Bears.