We’ve almost reached the finish line. Ahead of the Final Four, here are 12 things on Stanford coming up just short in the Elite Eight against Notre Dame and Oregon advancing to Tampa where they’ll take on No. 1 overall seed Baylor in Friday’s national semifinal.
Boley ‘chess match’
Erin Boley has been a terrific addition to Oregon’s dynamic scoring attack. The Notre Dame transfer is shooting 43.3 percent from deep with the 49th most 3-point attempts (231) in Division I.
On top of preparing for another imposing 6-foot-7 presence inside in Baylor’s Kalani Brown, the Ducks must also prepare for 6-foot-4 forward Lauren Cox. Cox is an effective scorer and rebounder inside that can also facilitate Baylor’s offense from the top of the key and knock down open 3-pointers.
While the Ducks don’t have another physical presence quite like Cox in their starting lineup, they have the personnel to stretch Baylor’s defense thin with their shooting. Kelly Graves touched on this battle on Thursday.
“In this particular matchup, if they decide to go with Lauren Cox or Kalani Brown on her, she does play technically our four spot,” Graves said. “They’re going to have to guard her in the perimeter. So that’s an advantage, I think, for us.
“At the same time she may, and probably will at times, have to guard one of those inside kids. She just doesn’t have the length they do. It will be a fun chess match there.”
Injury update on Taylor Chavez
“Game time decision on her,” Graves said. “She was getting better. With something like that, you just never know. Yeah, she’d been practicing a little bit. We decided to let her lay low today, give her more strength hopefully for tomorrow.”
On Oregon-Mississippi State
Tricky Oregon handoffs
Hebard is often the ‘one in’ of Oregon’s four out, one in offense. When she steps out to the 3-point line, opposing bigs will often sag off. We saw the Ducks turn that into clean shot attempts for Ionescu and Sabally—a wrinkle to look for in Friday’s semifinal against Baylor in similar situations.
Eyes on Ruthy
What’s it going to take for Ruthy Hebard to be successful against Baylor’s front line?
Look no further than the final moments of Sunday’s win. At a key point in crunch time, Hebard came through with two key blocks at the rim—the stop before the shot, if you will.
No player will win every battle with Cox and Brown. Early work—keeping them from establishing deep position on the block—will be at a premium on Friday.
“40 minutes of extreme effort, focus and concentration,” Graves said. “She’s got her work cut out for her, whether she’s guarding Cox or Brown or whomever inside. They’re tremendous players.
“She’ll hopefully get some help from the rest of the team. In the end, she’s going to have to sit down there on that block and try to keep them as far away from the basket as possible.”
Negating the pressure
Oregon’s guard play was key Sunday in taking care of the ball against Mississippi State’s fullcourt man-to-man pressure and in limiting mistakes in the halfcourt against a team full of players that can close down space in a hurry.
The Ducks had just eight turnovers in total. Maite Cazorla’s presence is key as a trusted ball handler against pressure, allowing Sabrina Ionescu to spend some time off the ball and avoid exerting too much energy bringing the ball up every trip.
Satou v. McCowan
Satou Sabally drew McCowan on a switch three times. All three possessions led to a score.
I’ll still maintain that McCowan wasn’t necessarily ‘exposed’ in either matchup with the Ducks. Her execution of their defensive schemes would rank far down the list of reasons why they lost. But these possessions were a fun gauge for both players. Sabally is a load when she makes a quick, decisive move to the basket, even across from a 6-foot-7 center.
On Stanford-Notre Dame
Coffee over the top
Shannon Coffee was successful in the first half facilitating Stanford’s offense from the middle of Notre Dame’s zone. Her sheer height allowed her to turn and survey the floor before firing a laser to the open player.
Dodson challenged inside
Maya Dodson has been an anchor all season long with her rim protection and athleticism on the glass. She met a very capable match Monday in the form of the Brianna Turner-Jessica Shepard tandem, who did a good job of contesting some of Dodson’s looks around the rim. Turner’s springiness probably left Dodson feeling like so many Pac-12 foes that had to try to score over her at the basket all season.
She can make a big statement from the start of next season by taking a step forward as a finisher. Her leaping ability and long arms open up more possibilities. But in order to become more of a force as a scorer, she’ll need to be able to finish plays like those on a more consistent basis (with both hands).
Williams hitting shots
Kiana Williams wasn’t fazed by the moment—another promising sign for the future of the Cardinal. After hitting a pull-up jumper in transition, she knocked down two key 3-pointers in the first half allowing Stanford to begin building a lead.
Stanford will only get more dangerous in transition from here with a dynamic recruiting class en route. The Hull sisters will have an offseason to get more confident from behind the arc and slashing to the rim. DiJonai Carrington, already an extremely effective scorer at all three levels, will be able to build on this season’s success with the floor spread.
But the Cardinal lose All-American Alanna Smith to graduation—leader of the team and leading scorer. Williams drove much more of their success in 2018-19. Now we get to see if she can continue to grow in running the show and making the most of her own scoring opportunities.
Ogunbowale foul trouble…
Arike Ogunbowale picked up a third foul with 3:34 to play in the third and was sent to the bench for the rest of the quarter. This should have been good news for Stanford, leading by three at the time.
Instead, the Irish closed the quarter on a 13-4 run. Jackie Young scored or assisted on nine of those points. When one Notre Dame star left the game, another picked up the slack to put them back on top heading into the fourth. That, however, was complicated by…
…followed by Smith
Alanna Smith picked up her third foul with 1:11 to play in the third. Smith’s foul trouble has bogged them down before. Especially with Young on a tear, Stanford was going to need her presence at the rim to alter some shots and swallow up defensive rebounds.
Smith still managed to play 37 minutes. The Irish were also effective in limiting her scoring opportunities—11 shots in total, five of them 3-pointers.
Big shots by Lexie
Another positive for Stanford to carry with them into next season: Lexie Hull hit some tough 3-pointers in big spots as the Cardinal tried to claw their way back into the game in the fourth.
She only lost her spot because of a non-conference injury, and twin sister Lacie played well enough to hold onto that spot. The Cardinal return both as sophomores next season. They were plus defenders right away as true freshmen. Expect both to take off if they get more comfortable with their diet of spot up and cutting opportunities within the offense.
Previous editions of the column: Week 20 | Week 19 | Week 18 | Week 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1
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