After Stanford's methodical dismantling of the Missouri Tigers, Tara VanDerveer will have her troops prepped and ready to take on the red-hot Oklahoma Sooners in Monday's second round matchup in Tempe, AZ. Coming off of a Big XII Conference Tournament Title, Oklahoma is everyone's darkhorse favorite to reach New Orleans and should they advance to the Sweet Sixteen, the Sooners would play for the Final four on their own home court in Norman, OK. Stanford would love nothing more than to ruin Oklahoma's homecoming by pulling off the upset Monday night. In addition, revenge may be on the minds of some Cardinal players. In 2001, Stanford traveled to Norman to play a preseason conference game and in a controversial play, LaNiesha Caulfield of Oklahoma fouled Susan King (Borchardt) which resulted in Borchardt tearing her ACL and missing the remainder of her freshman season. However, if Stanford is to advance to their second Sweet Sixteen Appearance since 1998, they must keep their emotions in check and play with the same intensity and hustle they displayed against Missouri.
Oklahoma is full of battle tested and gritty players who have survived the grueling Big XII Conference and are showing that they are hungry to return to the Final Four, a feat they accomplished just two years ago. Leading the charge for Oklahoma will be the energetic and athletic backcourt trio of Dionnah Jackson, Maria Villarroel, and Erin Higgins. Jackson is a 5'9" junior point guard who leads her team by example through her offensive and defensive contributions on the court. She makes the plays that are necessary for the "W", whether it entails scoring, setting up screens or playing great defense. As the playmaker for the team, Jackson leads the Sooners in assists, with 156 on the year. She also chips in with 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. She uses her athletic quick step to stop and pop the mid-range jumper or drive deep into the lane for the easy basket. Jackson also leads the team with 72 steals, allowing her to push the tempo of the game up a notch and set-up easy plays for her teammates while in transition. The Big XII regards Jackson as the conference's top defender and as a result, she usually draws the assignment of shutting down her opponent's top player at every game. Coach Sherri Coale proclaims that Jackson is the most underrated player in the nation and with her recent overall play, it is hard to argue with that assessment. Fellow guard Villarroel is an offensive machine, using her blinding quickness to get herself to the rim and finish in traffic. On the season, she is averaging 14.8 points a game and shooting at a 54.8% clip from the field. Villarroel can also be an outside threat, as she has hit 37.5% from beyond the arc. Despite being only 5'8", Villarroel is a very strong rebounder and grabs a team-high 6.3 boards a game. In fact, Oklahoma is a very strong rebounding team and despite not having much size in its starting line-up, the Sooners manage to outrebound their opponents by a 7.0 margin. While Jackson and Villarroel provide scoring relief on the inside, redshirt freshman Higgins provides the offensive spark on the outside. She is an amazing shooter with incredible range and has proven she can light up the court at any moment. Shooting a respectable 35.4%, Higgins has made 57 threes on the season. The 5'9" guard tore her ACL last year and was determined to come back stronger than ever. In addition to her outside shooting, Higgins is a player who makes smart decisions with and without the ball. Her determination and hustle on the court are also staples of her game. Six-foot sophomore Laura Andrews will look to provide some much needed depth at the guard position for a thin Sooner line-up. Though she is not a consistent offensive threat like her backcourt mates, Andrews makes up for it with the intensity and grit she shows during game time.
Despite the small stature of their post players, the Sooners succeed in the paint due to the quickness and basketball smarts of its players. Redshirt senior Caton Hill is the undeniable emotional leader for the team. Tearing her ACL a year ago gave the 6'1" forward a chance to hone her leadership skills, and her team is now reaping the benefits. Hill plays with a passion and toughness that is unmatched and energizes her team when necessary. Though listed as a post player, Hill is a versatile scorer, with the ability to drive to the hoop, hit the mid-range jumper, or drain the long bomb. She is Oklahoma's best three-point shooter, hitting 41.7% of her attempts from downtown. The senior captain is putting up solid numbers for the year, averaging 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. In addition to her offensive contributions, Hill is considered the Sooners' top defensive stopper in the paint, using her quickness and basketball sense to deny the ball to her opponents. Accompanying Hill in the post is freshman forward Leah Rush. Coming off a career high 23 points in Oklahoma's first round victory over Marist College, the 6'1" forward is an aggressive scorer who can post up well in the paint. She contributes 8.1 points a game, while managing to pull down a respectable 4.1 rebounds. Sophomore center Beky Preston brings size off the bench, as she uses her 6'3" frame to gain good post position near the basket for scoring and rebounding purposes. On the year, Preston is garnering 4.5 points and 4.6 rebounds a contest.
Sherri Coale's team uses their speed to defend against taller opponents and plays a hounding man-to-man defense. Their ability to create the turnover bodes well for the Sooners, as they like to push the ball up the court and score in transition. To defend against the Sooners' attack, Stanford must focus on Jackson and Villarroel and limit the number of times they penetrate deep into the paint. Look for Borchardt and junior Sebnem Kimaycioglu to defend against these two speedsters. In addition, Stanford must not let Higgins or Hill get hot from the outside, or else it will open up the middle for either Rush and Hill to work down low, or create space for Jackson and Villarroel to drive to the hoop. If there is one person Stanford cannot afford to find an offensive rhythm, it is Hill. As mentioned before, she is the heart and soul behind Oklahoma and if she is playing inspired basketball, her team will get fired up. If Stanford shuts Hill down, then Oklahoma's chances of advancing diminish significantly.
Stanford's plan of attack will have to rely on the balanced scoring they exhibited against Missouri. Four players finished with 10 points or more. Nicole Powell led the way, with 17 points; Borchardt, T'Nae Thiel, and Kelley Suminski chipped in with 14, 13, and 10 points, respectively. The Cardinal displayed great ball movement through out the game and utilized screens to find open players. Stanford needs to continue to attack the basket and not settle for jump shots. Suminski, Powell, and Borchardt all did a nice job of driving to the hoop and either kicking it out or finishing the play. Rebounding will also be key on Monday night. If the Cardinal can control the boards, they have an excellent shot at knocking off the Sooners. In addition, fatigue may become a factor. Oklahoma does not have a strong bench and four out of their five starters played 30+ minutes Saturday night, where as Powell was the only Cardinal to play more than 30 minutes against Missouri.
With so much riding on Monday night's game, it will be a test of wills and a battle for the right to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Both teams are extremely well coached and each has a senior leader on the floor in Nicole Powell and Caton Hill. How Stanford defends and rebounds against a quick and gritty Sooner team will determine just how far the Cardinal women can go in this tournament.
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