Sunday, December 13, 2015

Into the Storm

By Wally Mersereau

The forecast for Saturday night in Austin was for heavy thunderstorms, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the city dry when I arrived. The temperature at 9 pm was 74 degrees. Will things be this benign in the UT arena tomorrow?

The Texas game is the toughest matchup the team has had so far. Stanford lost to the Longhorns last season and was the underdog going into Sunday’s game at Frank Erwin Center on the campus. At this point in the out-of-conference season undefeated Texas is nationally ranked 5/6 with Stanford at 12/14. My limited pregame research suggests the Texas edge will primarily come from its two excellent post players, 6-7 Boyette and 6-5 Lang. Can the Card keep them under control while finding a way to score against one of the best defensive teams in the country? On a day of possible thunderstorms outside, the Stanford women will be up against a potential tornado on the court.

Texas beat Tennessee 64-53 two weeks ago at Knoxville. Tennessee is currently ranked 16/15. Stanford will play Tennessee on Wednesday at Maples. If we can hang with the Longhorns on the road we should be ready for the Vols at home.

My observations at the Florida tournament two weeks ago were that Stanford has lots of improving to do—across the board. The Cardinal had a bye last week because of final exams. I am hopeful the team will be rested, but not rusty, and will show growth and broad improvement. To win this one will take a strong team effort, especially on defense. This is going to be a test. The players have just finished dealing with finals in the classroom, presumably passing their academic tests.

On Sunday morning the temperature was in the low 50s and the sky was gray, but there was only a light rain as I walked past the state capitol to the arena from my downtown hotel. I hoped for a strong Stanford showing against the home team, including a smart, well executed game plan. Tara and the team had two weeks to prepare for this one.

Well, it turned out the deciding factor was not the two Texas posts, although they played well enough. The Texas Tornado Stanford was not able to tame was composed of the quick, dead-eye Longhorn guards. They put Stanford in a hole from the start and the Cardinal never was able to claw its way back. Texas led by 4 at the end of the first quarter, by 7 at the half, by 11 at the end of the third quarter and by 8 at game’s end: 69-77. Stanford made an especially game effort in the end, but it was not enough. The closest the Cardinal could get was two points on two brief occasions before it quickly fell back. One major difference was the rebound margin, where Texas had 8 more O-boards than Stanford. This is an area where improvement should be achievable.

Any Stanford improvement since Florida was negated by the overall superiority of the Longhorns. The greatest weakness was defense. For most of the game the teams traded goals. Stanford needed some unsuccessful Texas possessions, but got only an occasional stop. Texas is a strong team, ranked just out of the top four. It played outstanding defense today that it combined with its stellar guard play and superior rebounding. Stanford was not embarrassed at Austin, it just couldn’t put together enough to come away with a win.

Here is a sampling of some player evaluations at this point:

Lili – the heart and soul of the team. The most reliable. The only player able to consistently convert dedication into effectiveness. Sometimes a bit slow to start, but always strong down the stretch. The one player at or near her potential, game after game: today was the fourth time this year that she scored 21 points.

Erica – able to achieve consistent double-digit scoring -- today she had another double-double -- but still lots of room for improvement in finishing and rebounding.

Bri – her strength is also her weakness. Her speed and effort often results in solid or even brilliant play, but occasionally puts her out of control on offense and defense.

Karlie – smart, with a balanced game, but not yet consistent enough.

Kailee – improving enough to be a starter -- as she was today -- and to stay in for major minutes. Beginning to score a few points -- today she had four, on one basket and two free throws -- but better scoring needed. Seems to be gaining confidence.

Brittany – for some time she has seemed tantalizingly poised to breakout, but still short of her potential. Had a very good game today, shooting 4 of 4 from three.

Alanna – shows flashes of brilliance, but lacks consistency. Has improved a lot in staying out of foul trouble. Almost certain to be an excellent player, but not there yet.

Kaylee – has lost her starting spot and played only 3 minutes today. Seems to lack confidence.

Marta – after not looking like a freshman, she now looks like a freshman.

This is a young team with diverse talents. It has stayed nationally ranked in the mid-teens. I think it will slowly and steadily improve, but it isn’t there yet.

Lili had a nice rooting section in her Texas homeland. Alex, another Texan, was given two brief appearances, her first of the season.

Tennessee lost to Texas by 11 points. Stanford lost to Texas by 8 points. Wednesday’s game looks like a toss-up. Maybe that game will show us some clear improvement. Hope springs eternal. Go Stanford!