Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another good win on the Oregon Trail

By Wally Mersereau

Stanford didn’t see much sunshine from the sky in Oregon, but on the court the weather was really nice. Stanford did not play perfectly. There is lots of room for further improvement. But, all in all, this was a very successful road trip. Coaches, players and fans were well satisfied.

On Saturday, in its second game in near-new Matt Arena, Stanford beat Oregon 81-46, a margin two points greater than the winning margin over Oregon State on Thursday. The Ducks are a much different team than the Beavers. The Oregon goal is “run and gun”--play at a fast pace and aim for fast break scores. This requires a different defensive strategy than that used against OSU where the need was to contain 3-point shooters. Stanford succeeded defensively against both of these differing opponents.

How well did the defense do against the two Oregon teams? A good measure is to compare Stanford’s winning margins against Cal’s winning margins this weekend. Offensively, Stanford scored a combined 159 points against the two teams and Cal scored 158. A virtual tie in points made. But Stanford allowed a combined 68 points by its opponents and Cal allowed 139. Wow! Cal gave up 71 combined points more than Stanford! There is the answer. This was an excellent defensive achievement by the Cardinal against two different types of teams. Cal, while winning, let the opponents do what they like to do. Stanford did not.

Another satisfying aspect of the dual wins was the fine play and broad contributions from many Stanford players. Yes, Nneka and Chiney led the way by providing 63 of the total points, but other players provided a total of 96 points. The leading other point providers were Joslyn with 26 points, Bonnie with 17, Toni with 15 and Lindy and Sara with 11 combined points each. And everyone contributed to successful defense in both games.

How about ball control? Another “Wow!” is in order here. Toni had a combined 12 assists and 1 turnover, Amber had 7/1, Lindy had 6/0. As a team, for both games, Stanford had 42 assists and 13 turnovers, a ratio of 3.26/1 vs. its opponents combined with 17/31--almost twice as many turnovers as assists.

Three-point shooting was encouraging on this trip, with 10 being made at OSU and 8 at Oregon—at a combined rate of 37.5%. Combined totals were 5 of 12 for Bonnie, 4 of 10 for Toni, 3 of 6 for both Lindy and Sara and 1 of 3 by Joslyn.

Finally, how about free throws?—a category that has been troublesome for the Cardinal at times this season. Not on the Oregon Trail, where Stanford made a combined 29 out of 32 or 91% vs. its combined opponents with 15 out of 26 or 58%.

I could go on, but you get the picture. However you dice and slice this road trip it comes up looking good. And it felt good while it was happening.

I returned tonight on the same plane as the team. As we touched down at SFO and cell phones came out, the word spread up and down the aisle that UConn had lost to St. John’s and that Baylor was trailing Texas Tech at the half. A temporary giddiness swept over the players. But then Kate Paye broke in to say, “We need to take care of Utah,” and Nneka said, “Yes, we need to win out.” By the time the plane arrived at the gate the players had sensibly reverted to a “one game at a time” view of the future.

The trip to Oregon was a confidence builder, but the team is by no means over confident. In the three remaining games at Maples, I expect Stanford will “win out” at Maples, be ready for Cal and will enter the Pac-12 Tournament well prepared and with determination.

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