first “big stage, bright lights”, nationally televised game of the season,
Stanford lost to UConn at the XL Center this past Monday, 68-58. The game started out sloppy on both
sides but eventually the Huskies began to execute, UConn frosh Kaleena
2010-11 national high school player of the year) began to heat up,
and Nnemkadi (Nneka) Ogwumike battled early foul trouble. Now, one day removed, lets all take a
deep breath (I'll wait… "breathes in, breathes out") and take a calm and
composed look at what did and didn't happen.
"Be the best
Regardless of who won Monday's game both of these teams still have a
long way to go before becoming a national championship contender. That's the objective of these tough
early preseason games - to gauge where you are at. Tara VanDerveer said something to our
team that I’ve found to be 100% true: "The most important thing about November
is what you learn and how much you improve". Allow me to take you back almost
exactly four years to the date, the Paradise Jam tournament in St. Thomas,
V.I. in 2007. We lost to UConn
66-54 (don’t let the final score fool you, we were down by as much as 26). Tara and crew analyzed that game,
then we practiced until we got better and fixed the weaknesses UConn had earlier
exposed. That very same year we
beat the Huskies in the Tampa Final Four semi-final game. Moral of the story: It’s most important
to be the best come March/April.
Young/ First "Big Stage" Game
played seven people (I am not
going to count Brianna Banks, who played just five minutes). 154 of the 200 minutes available for
playing time went to players with at least one full year of major
playing-time experience at an elite level of women’s college hoops. The entire UConn starting five has been
in this moment before - albeit with the comfort of the security blanket that was
three-time Wade Trophy winner Maya Moore- but nonetheless, that veteran
Veezy" is still running the triangle offense. Last year’s team of veterans ran this
like a science. It is a great
offense for teams that a) know all the options for both strong side and weak
side and b) are patient, smart, and can read what the defense is giving
them. The triangle offense takes a
lot of time and practice just to learn all the different options. It can take some players YEARS to
completely understand why to run a specific option or how to take advantage in
the most effective way (i.e.: utilizing the right patience or timing). In November, we still look like a team
that is working to get comfortable in its motion offense.
Did on "D"
surprise here; UConn pressed.
Sometimes with a full court player (the goal there is to fluster/look for
steals) other times with a three-quarter court zone press (the goal here is to
contain - take time off the clock and trap in strategic spots). The constant press never allowed Stanford
to get comfortable. Once Stanford
got over half court, UConn fell into a pretty aggressive yet thoughtful player
defense. They pick up high and turn
the guard into one side of the court creating very bad angles. It makes the entry pass to get into the
offense very hard to make. The player
guarding the ball plays you tight. If you put the ball on the floor
they force you baseline into the help-side defense. So for “newbies” to the
triangle offense, its tough to run the play when you can't get to your
spots, see the pass, or pick up your dribble early enough to get the right
timing on passes to cutters. OK,
lets play Devil’s Advocate. Let's
pretend you were able to get into your offense, and that you did hit the “high
low” option, or found the timing for the back-door cut option that usually works
against “other teams”. Now you have
the challenge of making the right decision because UConn is SO DARN "help-side
aware". They are always there and
early. At that point it's up to a
Stanford player to pull up, avoid the charge, make the extra pass, or pass out
of the double-/triple-team down low (The Ogwumike sisters might benefit from
watching old tapes of Jayne Appel passing out of the double). UConn still had no answer for
Nneka. But then again, who
Did on "O"
looked further along in their progress than Stanford did at this point of
November. They do a great job of drawing the defense out of the paint
with four players high or executing on the weak side of the offense for
back cuts to the rim or flare screens around the three-point line. The UConn guards, Bria Hartley and
Tiffany Hayes in particular, did a good job drawing the defense with penetration
and kicking out for threes in both transition and in the half-court set. However, the question many of you might
have asked is....
“WHO was guarding Kaleena
UConn frosh is VERY good, but definitely not the best guard in college hoops
right now. Someone or some people
are going to have to commit to locking players down. And it’s not necessarily a one-person
effort. A good defender is only as
good as her team’s help-side defense.
When there is good help-side defense, the on-ball defender can force a
player baseline (the goal is to keep penetration out of the middle) into the
help. A drive baseline without help D is a basket with a foul. A drive baseline into help D is a bad
shot, charge, a travel, or a steal.
This is one of the more overlooked areas where the graduated Kayla
Pederson will be sorely missed this year.
In the past, if an opposing player succeeded in beating one of Stanford’s
guards, they’d head right into 6’4" Kayla. She was aware of the player driving
before the player with the ball even considered it.
battling from injury she came in as a solid post sub, contributing productivity
in points and rebounds. She’s a
hard worker and you can’t argue with her size. She just needs to stay on the floor
because in the past she has been foul-prone.
showed she was not afraid of the moment.
The freshman came in off the bench and was aggressive without trying to
do too much. She made smart passes. She hit open threes. When UConn defenders flew out on her she
made good reads and took a quick dribble pull-up jump shot. I have said this before and I’ll say it
again, Jasmine has a lot of emotional and mental characteristics that I think
will help her be successful in this program. I hope this performance translates
to more playing time for her.
fast. She handles the ball best when
moving north to south as opposed to east/west. She uses her speed to beat defenders
very well and I was excited to see a Stanford player attacking the basket. However, if you drive past your defender
for a semi-contested layup and don’t come away with the bucket or at least a
foul you’ve just given the defense what it wants. A quick missed shot. Toni’s aggressiveness is the bright spot
the next step for improvement is after she beats the first defender, she must
make her decisions earlier, before getting too deep into the paint. There were times she drove when she had
the penetrate-pitch; times she pulled up when she had the drive to the
rack. Of course - it’s easy for me
to point this out from the comfort of watching the game in my living room. UConn's D doesn’t make it easy to make
the right choices under pressure with little room and time. And it is also very possible to know
what the right decision is, but not know how to execute it at the moment. I can remember a few of my own “why am I
doing this?” moments while hopelessly driving into a stout
Nneka cannot foul. Not if Stanford wants to compete in
top-level games. When Nneka gets a
silly foul early you can consider that equal to a turnover …or worse! She needs to know better than that. But sometimes you can’t control the refs
and sometimes the refs make ridiculous calls. I thought Nneka did a great job of being
a leader off the court and coaching her teammates from the bench. She also kept her head during foul
trouble and when she did come back on the floor she was dominant - without
hesitation or need to warm up. She
is a very emotionally mature player.
But still… she can’t do it alone.
needs more than “just Nneka”
calling this a bright spot because that translates to open opportunity. If you can play, help, and want more
playing time - the spot is open for the taking. It will be interesting and exciting to
see who steps into the light for the Cardinal.
So remember: it’s early!
There were a lot of bright spots in the
midst of the loss. And more
importantly there’s a lot to learn and loads of time to improve.
for reading. Do you have something to say/ ask? Hit me up on
the Author: New Bootleg WBB columnist Rosalyn Gold-Onwude played guard for the Cardinal from 2005-2010 and was a team leader
on four Final Four teams during her outstanding college basketball
finishing up as Stanford Women's Basketball's all-time leader in games played