Around the Pac-12: best of Thanksgiving weekend

VICTORIA , BC - NOVEMBER 19: Nadia Fingall #4 of the Stanford Cardinal shoots the ball while being chased by a member of the California Baptist Lancers at the Greater Victoria Invitational at the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA) on November 28, 2019 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)
VICTORIA , BC - NOVEMBER 19: Nadia Fingall #4 of the Stanford Cardinal shoots the ball while being chased by a member of the California Baptist Lancers at the Greater Victoria Invitational at the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA) on November 28, 2019 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) /

Stanford goes 3-0, OSU wins big at Miami

We’re back with a slightly different approach to this weekly Pac-12 women’s basketball deep dive after an unexpected week off. The goal with these December columns will be to spotlight some of the top televised games of the past week until league play starts up and all of the games are available on the Pac-12 Network.

Washington State (4-3)

Some programs deserve the side-eye for weak non-conference scheduling.

Not the 2019-20 Cougars.

WSU lost its three games to Baylor, South Carolina and Indiana by a combined 72 points. The final scores aren’t the focus coming away from those four games. We have to remember that all of these teams are playing three games in three days. More specifically, remember where WSU is coming from: a 4-14 record in Pac-12 play. Only four of those 14 were single-digit losses.

Pac-12 viewers are already very familiar with seniors Chanelle Molina and Borislava Hristova. Now is the time to find out how competitive that can be from January to March with two all-league talents.

Molina played much better in the two top-10 matchups. Meanwhile, ‘Bobi Buckets’ struggled to find a rhythm. The Baylor line (15 points on 7-of-13 shooting) is misleading. She missed both shot attempts playing all 20 minutes in the first half. The Lady Bears were up by 20 by then.

The athleticism, length and stellar defensive play by some of Baylor and South Carolina’s top defenders completely disrupted WSU’s offense. Baylor’s Te’a Cooper and DiDi Richards singlehandedly blew up a handful of actions in the game’s first stint.

South Carolina freshman wing Brea Beal was a solid wing defender to throw at Bobi. Aliyah Boston and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan might be the best shot-blocking duo in the country this season. The Gamecocks’ hedging bothered both Molina and Hristova from the opening tip—highlighting another area of need for the Cougars.

Somebody else needs to step up as a release valve in those situations so they can go on the offensive while a 4-on-3 is still in play. WSU can also counter with more of the Molina-Hristova two-player game. They probably waited too long to take advantage of a chance to milk that against high-level competition before the game got out of hand.

Now the ball is in their court to learn from these games so they can become a better team in January than they are now and an even better one in February, etc. Who doesn’t want to see Molina and Hristova getting chances to make plays in crunch time against the likes of Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA in their final season?

A few more notes on WSU’s trip to St. Thomas…

  • It’s time for Hristova to be more consistent looking to aggressively pull 3-pointers off the bounce. She’s a really good shooter! If somebody is willing to duck under an on-ball screen, that’s the very best look they’re going to get barring a complete defensive breakdown.
  • Kamie Ethridge got too conservative closing out the first half against Indiana, pulling Hristova for the final minute-plus with two fouls. The Hoosiers tacked four points onto a 13-point lead, and the Cougars turned it over on two of their final three possessions. Bobi finished the game with three fouls in 33 minutes.
  • WSU’s star duo needs a few reliable shot-makers to emerge. Jovana Subasic knocked down her two 3-point attempts against Baylor. Ula Motuga’s back-to-back triples against South Carolina sparked a strong close to the second quarter against South Carolina. The rest of the Cougars shot 6-of-29 from the field against Indiana.
  • Molina is such a gamer. She plays with the fearlessness necessary to hit some of the tougher shots this team needs her to make to hang around as underdogs in high-profile matchups. On any given night, you’re going to see her take tough 3-pointers off the catch or bounce and toss in scoops and hooks over and around opposing bigs. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why she’s able to keep defenses off balance. You never know exactly what’s coming and she’s worked to turn herself into a threat from all three levels.

Stanford (8-0)

The Cardinal won all three games at the Victoria Invitational. One of the weekend’s most exciting games came before their ranked matchups with Syracuse and Mississippi State, though, as California Baptist nearly erased a 21-point third quarter deficit to come all the way back to stun the No. 3 team in the country.

Every member of the Cardinal looked completely powerless against Ane Olaeta for the majority of the game. CBU’s junior guard was living in the lane, completely torching some of Stanford’s top defenders on straight-line drives.

The Lancers got up 40 3-pointers in the contest and made 17 of them. Stanford shot a mere 4-of-23 from deep but were +12 at the foul line.

Nadia Fingall took home tournament MVP honors and made the most of her size advantage inside, working hard to establish deep position right in the middle of the restricted area. She opened the game with a face-up jumper and two scores inside. The start to the third quarter was even more deflating for CBU as Fingall scored seven points on three duck-ins in the first 96 seconds of the period.

The problem?

CBU made life really tough for all of Stanford’s bigs on the other end with their excellent spacing, Olaeta’s constant dribble penetration and capable pick and pop partners. Fingall, Alyssa Jerome and Ashten Prechtel struggled to recover to open players at the 3-point line.

Fran Belibi, despite the five turnovers, ended up giving them the best chance to grind some possessions to a halt with some switching. Belibi had nice moments corralling Olaeta on a drive and sliding with her on another trip to force a pull-up jumper.

The Cardinal appeared to have pulled ahead for good in the third quarter. With their lead still at 17, CBU answered with back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers as Stanford turned it over twice and missed a layup.

(I only know this because I combed through the play-by-play log; the FloHoops stream cut out for the final five minutes of the third. The experience with the service was largely positive—as it should be, having to pay $30 to watch the Thanksgiving weekend games on their platform—but the WSU-South Carolina stream was borderline unwatchable due to its constant choppiness.)

The CBU game was the kind of win Stanford should proudly hang its hat on as they played without two key returners early in the season with four true freshmen battling for minutes and Fingall still in the early stages of her return from an ACL tear.

Their persistence won out in the end. They did a better job of staying in front of Olaeta. Lacie Hull blocked an Olaeta layup and stole the ball on the ensuing inbound. Belibi recovered to block an open 3-pointer moments later as the Cardinal clung to a four-point lead.

A few notes on those two other notable wins for Stanford….

  • Fingall continued flexing her muscle inside against Syracuse on her way to a double-double that including seven offensive rebounds. Hannah Jump helped break Syracuse’s zone and the game wide open with eight 3-pointers in 29 minutes off the bench.
  • Stanford will hope for good news on Kiana Williams after she exited late in the Mississippi State game with an apparent knee injury.
  • The flashes were there for Haley Jones, too. She became the de facto point guard when Williams went down. One of her biggest strengths right now is her ability to attack the basket in transition. Because she’s playing a lot of minutes at the 4, opponents will really struggle to get matched up and keep her in front of them.
  • Any Jones-Belibi action from the top of the key oozes potential. Jones tossed in a gorgeous lefty finish off the glass on a give and go against some extended pressure.
  • The three wins in three days were even more impressive knowing they did it without DiJonai Carrington. The Cardinal held the senior out more as a precautionary measure and are approaching the best stretch in their schedule to ensure she’s at 100 percent. The Cardinal don’t play again until December 15. They’ll kick off another important three-game stretch hosting Ohio State and Tennessee before traveling to Austin to play Texas.

Oregon State (7-0)

It was tough to be overly critical of Miami for not giving the Beavers more of a fight on their home floor. The prevailing thought: Oregon State is just going to do this to people.

Getting three consecutive stops is a common aspiration for a reason. CBU got right back in its game against Stanford, and OSU blew the game open to start the second half and never looked back.

Miami opened the third with two missed jumpers and an offensive foul. OSU answered with three 3-pointers—one by Kennedy Brown, two by Destiny Slocum.

Brown’s resolve has been important. She’s taking nearly 40 percent of her shots from downtown according to Her Hoop Stats. The need for her to make shots has been accentuated by the Taya Corosdale injury as we covered last time.

She shot a combined 2-of-14 from deep over the weekend against Miami and Liberty. But she just kept shooting the open ones. In fact, OSU’s big lead shouldn’t have been seen as much of a surprise looking back on the shots they were getting early.

Aleah Goodman, Slocum and Brown combined to miss four really good looks in the first quarter. Miami was going to continue surrendering them with their defense tilted more toward having ample help in the paint. Goodman, Slocum and Kat Tudor are simply to good to leave open.

Brown spacing out and taking those open triples from one pass away when her defender follows their instincts to help out will be a massive swing factor. For example, ideas of throwing it inside to Taylor Jones or getting Pivec going downhill lose some of their bite if teams don’t care that Brown is open 24 feet from the rim.

To that end, Madison Washington had a big impact defensively playing her role in making life difficult for Beatrice Mompremier. Washington blocked Mompremier twice by simply sagging off her player and having a foot in the lane as Mompremier faced up and started some of her drives.

The All-American couldn’t expect an easy look even if she steamrolled the initial on-ball defender with Washington firmly planted in the lane waiting to contest shots around the rim.

Wrapping up with a few quick hitters on this game…

  • Brown also managed to stop a Mompremier lefty drive with her anticipation. Both Washington and Mikayla Pivec loomed as potential helpers on the other side. Knowing that, Brown simply beat Mompremier to a spot to force a turnover.
  • Jones flashed some excellent feel out of the post in the second quarter. A soft double team had arrived. That second defender wasn’t crowding her in any way, and you saw Jones take a beat to survey the opposite side of the floor while essentially daring that defender to do something. They stayed put in no man’s land, and Jones went into a quick move to turn over her left shoulder to score over Mompremier with her strong hand.
  • Tudor had a nice moment attacking down the baseline to set a teammate up for an open 3-pointer with the four-guard lineup on the floor. (Is it too early to give it a name?) She later drilled a 3-pointer all over Mompremier right in front of OSU’s bench.
  • Mompremier did most of her damage with her jumper, earning that coaching staff yet another tip of the cap for forcing an opponent’s best player to score without getting to their bread and butter as often.

Oregon (6-1)

Louisville-Oregon delivered, sure to be one of the best games of the regular season.

Not a typo: Starting wing Jazmine Jones, one of the team’s best defenders to throw at Satou Sabally and Sabrina Ionescu, picked up a fourth foul less than 15 minutes into the game. The Cardinals still managed to take a five-point lead into the break. Jones would return with 2:36 left in the third and play the rest of the way.

Louisville’s defensive approach and execution against this high-powered offense was the story of the day, made even more impressive knowing Jones’ constraints due to foul trouble.

The Cardinals start two bigs and slotted one of them onto Minyon Moore. This opened several doors. They were going to be able to switch any Moore-Ruthy Hebard pick and roll. The two defenders involved in that action were going to be their two bigs, both reasonably capable of banging inside with Hebard.

Moore, of course, isn’t Oregon’s primary ball-handler, but this neutralized a secondary weapon that will be very effective against 90-plus percent of their competition. Kylee Shook spent most of her time on Moore, and the 6’4” big was also able to sag off of Moore when she was off-ball to clog up the lane.

Arranging the matchups in that fashion also allowed Louisville to keep a wing on Erin Boley, allowing for even more viable switching combinations while vaporizing Boley as a pick and pop threat.

Conversely, the Cardinals were picking at Oregon’s pick and roll defense, beating their soft hedges by quickly making the first pass while two were still on the ball. Shook was the recipient of many of these passes and made the most of her chances to make the next one, knock down an open jumper or take advantage of the head start to carve out room in pursuit of offensive rebounds.

With Jones in foul trouble, the mere availability of Dana Evans and Elizabeth Balogun—both went the full 40—came at even more of a premium. Norika Konno was Louisville’s most notable presence off the bench, knocking down a few key shots in 17 minutes.

Louisville was willing to live with Moore making jump shots. She ended the day 2-of-6 from deep. Oregon can’t be upset with that mark, either. Moore isn’t to blame for the 6-of-35 shooting from deep. But expect Louisville’s strategy to accelerate the process for the Oregon staff as they decide how much that sagging defender hurt them on the possessions that didn’t end with a Moore shot attempt and prepare a counter for a similar approach from a future opponent.

Now, two things can be true. The Cardinals made a big statement with their defense in this game and put some food for thought on tape for future Oregon opponents to chew on, but the Ducks also flat out missed some good shots to contribute to that 6-of-35 mark.

Ionescu shot 1-of-9 from deep. Sabally was 2-of-11. Erin Boley and Taylor Chavez were a combined 1-of-9.

As difficult as Louisville’s task was defending the Ducks like they did, Oregon also knows they won’t beat top-shelf competition if their best players miss this many shots. Ionescu and Sabally had plenty of chances, and none of their starters were limited by foul trouble.

If anything, Oregon failed to lean more on Hebard trying to go to work in the post as the game wore on. Their approach didn’t quite reflect her status as a potent low-block option that even like-sized players such as Shook and Bionca Dunham will struggle to stop one-on-one.

The win comes with massive NCAA Tournament seeding implications for Louisville should they manage a top-two ACC finish.

Remember that Saturday was only Sabally’s fourth game of the season. Her schedule hasn’t been all that kind to her, going straight from the Team USA exhibition to EuroBasket qualifiers to arrive just in time to make her 2019-20 season debut against Syracuse.

Now’s a good time for Sabally and the Ducks to get a week at home before hosting South Dakota State, one of their three biggest non-conference tests.

  • In case you missed it, here’s the previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12’ on Aari McDonald’s 44 points against Texas, Utah’s overtime loss to South Dakota and Stanford escaping in OT against Gonzaga:

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