Cinderella missed her appointment to the Women's Final Four this year. With all four #1 seeds advancing to Denver, the heavy weights of the game represented well and took care of business. The Lady Bears advanced to their 2nd Final Four in the past 3 years, and are looking for another championship banner, to go along with the 2005 National Championship.
Stanford is led Hall of Fame Coach Tara VanDerveer. She has made Stanford into a perennial contender for Final Four appearances, but has not won the big prize since 1990. Stanford is paced by the Ogwumike sisters, both natives of Houston, TX. Nneka Ogwumike is the older and better of the two sisters. She was named a First Team All-American, and will likely be the first pick in the WNBA draft this summer. She is a 6'2 athletic post that averages 22.3 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Joining her sister in the front court is Chiney Ogwumike, a 6-3 sophomore. She averages 10.1 rebounds per game and is probably going to be the player that at least starts the game guarding Brittney Griner. Chiney is the better defender of the two sisters, and was named the Pac-12 best defender this year.
Alongside the Ogwumike sisters is Jocelyn Tinkle, a tall wing player that is a very good shooter. She will have the size advantage over any of the wing players the Bears can throw at her, so that is a matchup to watch. The front court talent is evident in this game, with 2 First Team All-Americans and two other great players in Baylor's Destiny Williams and Chiney Ogwumike taking supporting roles. However, I am excited to see the action in the back court.
Odyssey Sims might be the most important player to the Lady Bears this year. Her growth and ability to create her own shot has allowed a lot of pressure to be taken off of Griner and the other players. Odyssey is the best defensive guard in the country, and is one of the best offensively.
She will face off against Freshman All-American Amber Orrange, a star in the making. The only problem for Stanford in this matchup is that Sims is a year older and is already a star. Outside of maybe Skylar Diggins, there is not a better guard left in the tournament. Baylor has to see a big edge in the guard play in this game; something that did not happen at the end of last year's run against Texas A & M.
Stanford runs a unique system in college basketball. They run a true Triangle offense that does an excellent job of spreading the court and minimizing help defense. This is a great offense to run against a defense like Baylor's, which is designed to funnel everything to Britney Griner as the guards over play their man and try and turn the ball over.
The Lady Cardinals also are very flexible with how they score and attack the defense. Against Duke, they used their quickness and outside shooting to extend the game. They made 7 of 18 from behind the 3-point line. In the previous game though, Stanford attempted and made their only 3-point attempt. They used their height advantage over South Carolina and scored inside at will.
Keys to the Game:
1. Get the Ogwumike sisters in foul trouble- This is something the Lady Bears have done repeatedly this year, mainly due to Griner's low-post presence. She is excellent at fighting for position and putting the defense in tough spots, either if they play her man to man, trap her, or use a zone. Griner and the other Lady Bears have to attack and put pressure on the Cardinal players to either foul or let the layup go. While Stanford bench might be deeper than Baylor's, any time you can get All-American players off the court, you give yourself a great chance to win.
2. Take away the 3-pointer. Stanford has two very good 3-point shooters in their starting lineup, in Tinkle and Toni Kokenis. As we see in the men's game, anytime you can get 10 or more 3-pointers, you give yourself a chance to upset any team. Baylor has to make sure to challenge shots and not let them get to that magic number.
3. Find a 3rd scorer. Griner and Sims will probably get theirs in this game, and Stanford will probably allow that, as no team this year has been able to fully stop both of these players. If they focus on Griner, then Sims has shown the ability to hit long range shots and get the ball into the paint. If the defense plays straight up, the Griner can go for 40 points and just take over any game.
The key this game will be finding that 3rd scoring option. In the Tennesse game it was Nae Nae Hayden scoring 18 points, hitting all 3 of her three-point attempts as the Lady Vols used a zone defense. In the Georgia Tech game, it was Destiny Williams scoring 18 points and getting open jumpers and layups as they double teamed Britney.
4. Attack Orrange. As we mentioned, Baylor has a big advantage at the point guard position. The Lady Bears season ended prematurely last year because the Lady Aggies pressured Odyssey Sims and got her uncomfortable early. I expect Sims to give a little pay-back to the Orrange in this game and get the Lady Bears back to the Championship game.
5. Stop the "other" Ogwumike sister. By other, I do not mean Chiney. I mean the one that is not guarded by Griner in this game. That will be the responsibility of Destiny Williams and Brooklyn Pope. I expect the sister that Griner does play to try and get Brittney away from the basket, giving more room to her sister against a smaller Baylor post player. How Baylor slows down this attack and rotates to help will be a big indicator in this game.