A trip to Sweet 16 on the line
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The No. 2 seed Stanford Cardinals host No. 7 LSU Tigers in the Round of 32, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.
Stanford made the Elite 8 last season and regularly make deep runs in the NCAA tournament, but a win would mark LSU’s first Sweet 16 since 2014.
LSU and Stanford don’t have much recent history at all, much less in the tournament, but they met in the 2006 Elite 8. That was during LSU’s five-year run to the NCAA Final Four, which was a much different time: Stanford had Brooke Smith and Candice Wiggins and LSU had sophomore Sylvia Fowles and the National Player of the Year Seimone Augustus, who drew a charge and made free throws to win the game for LSU 62-59.
The 2020 contest could end up as close as the 2006 meeting, and the winner will take on the winner of Missouri St.-Northwestern in the Sweet 16 in Dallas.
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How did they get here?
After missing the NCAA tournament last season, LSU (20-10, 9-7 SEC) relied on contributions from a group of veterans in 2019-20 before the career-ending injury of senior Ayana Mitchell.
She averaged 13.0 points per game, 8.5 rebounds (team high) and led the league in field goal percentage. Junior Khayla Pointer leads the team in minutes, assists and steals and averages 14.8 points per game. Both were All-SEC Second Team members.
To open the NCAA tournament, No. 7 LSU beat No. 10 Iowa State 69-55, led by Pointer’s 19 points and 8 assists. The point guard leads the ship and is the team’s leading scorer.
“It all starts with Khayla Pointer. We go as she goes,” said LSU head coach Nikki Fargas after her team’s SEC tournament win over Florida. “Her ability to get other players involved before she gets herself involved makes us a better offensive team.”
Stanford finished with a 27-6 (14-4 Pac-12) record. The Cardinals lost only one non-conference game (not including USA exhibition), a 64-69 game to Texas, and in conference play lost to Oregon, UCLA and Arizona. Their RPI ranks fifth, according to Her Hoop Stats.
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, No. 2 Stanford beat No. 15 Idaho 67-58 and the Cardinals were led by difference maker Kiana Williams 22 points and 7 assists. Williams, a member of the 2020 All-Pac-12 team, leads the team in both scoring and assists.
Lexie Hull, a member of both the All-Pac-12 and All-Defensive teams, averages 13.5 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 6 per game. The Cardinals also suffered injuries of their own, to freshman Haley Jones and senior DiJonai Carrington. Jones (11.4p, 4.2r) and Carrington (7.6p, 5.2r) would have been important pieces in the Stanford’s tournament run.
How do they match up?
According to Her Hoop Stats, Stanford had a stronger season, ranking higher in just about every category.
Where they rank similar are opponents points per game and they both also rank fairly low in possessions per 40 minutes, which is why this game could be a low scoring, closer game similar to their last meeting in 2006.
Their common opponents include Mississippi State and Tennessee, two teams LSU played twice. The Tigers lost both games to the Bulldogs, the first by four and the second (in the SEC tournament) by 30. Stanford beat Mississippi State by 5 in November. LSU split games with Tennessee, losing 58-63 in Knoxville before winning at home by 10. The Cardinals beat the Lady Vols 78-51 in December.
How does LSU win?
It’ll be a tough climb the Tigers to get an upset, but it is March after all. To get the win though, multiple players offer up points so LSU can have a balanced offensive attack. At the least, someone will need to contribute those 13 points Mitchell would be able to offer. A player like Jailin Cherry or Awa Trasi needs a breakout game/tournament.
Of course, LSU will need to depend on Pointer running the ship and Faustine Aifuwa making herself known in the paint early on. With their scoring assets limited, Pointer and Aifuwa will be the Cardinals defensive targets, but the two can’t have an off-game against the Cardinals in order to win.
The two have to find a way to score, get steals and make transition buckets while limiting the scoring threats of Williams and Hull.
It’s a tough task, so Tigers need a big game all around.
How does Stanford protect its home court?
While LSU would love for Stanford to play like it did Feb. 16 at Colorado, with an ending in favor of the Tigers of course, Stanford can’t misstep.
The matchup favors Stanford in many ways, but understated also is the fact that the Cardinals are hosting and will have a sixth man (the crowd) on its side. On the court, Stanford needs simply play its game as it normally would.
Stanford could have a clear path to a win, which should be an easier task than what LSU would need to do to win. The Cardinals need: another high-scoring output from Williams, scoring and rebounding contributions from Hull, Pointer, LSU’s floor general and leading scorer, taken out of her game, Aifuwa’s touches limited in the paint.
This formula doesn’t include the March factor, which is the possibility that someone can have a breakout game for LSU, but if Stanford defends the biggest threats, it could simply play its own game into another Sweet 16.
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