Just one month separates the Stanford women from a postseason that will start with the Pac-10 Tournament in San Jose and will conclude, with or without the Card, in Indianapolis' RCA Dome, home of this year's Final Four. With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Stanford women appear poised to make a serious run deep into the NCAA tournament. In the Pac-10, the women now stand just six wins away from clinching an outright conference title. The Card will look to grab two of those victories when Arizona and Arizona State visit Maples today and Saturday.
How Stanford has evolved to the force they are today is a tale that readily brings a smile to fans of old-school basketball, a game played with sound fundamentals and the concerns of the team eclipsing any individual worries. Results from the season flesh out the sound fundamentals. The 1.15 offensive assist-to-turnover ratio more than doubles the .56 ratio allowed defensively. The Card convert 73% of free throws and they outboard their opponents by an average of 7.4 rebounds each game.
The team ethos is perhaps most evident on the Xs and Os of head coach Tara VanDerveer's clipboard, where the triangle offense has led the team to a 76.6 scoring average, 7th in the nation. The triangle is the ultimate team offense, an offense where players must synchronize the timing of their cuts perfectly, sacrifice their bodies on picks and selflessly distribute the ball. Defensively, the team has alternated between zone and man-to-man looks depending upon opponents and matchups. No matter the scheme, the team has relied heavily on helpside defense (additional pressure on the ball-handler from nearby defenders), especially on opponents' post players, to limit opponents to only 55 points per game.
New talent has helped Stanford immeasurably. If she can improve her outside shot and, honestly, perhaps even if she doesn't – she's just that explosive – last week's feature in Sports Illustrated will be the first snowflake in a blizzard for freshman phenom Candice Wiggins, leading the Card in scoring with 16.7 points per game. Wiggins headlines a class of newcomers that looks all the more impressive if you include Duke transfer Brooke Smith, a sophomore in her first year of eligibility on the Farm. These first-year Cardinal (Wiggins, Smith and freshmen Jessica Elway, Cissy Pierce and Christy Tichenal) comprise over 30% of the active roster and contribute 44% of their points. At #2 and #4 in the polls, #9 in the latest RPI, and games ahead of the rest of the Pac-10, this new crop of Stanford players appear well-poised to help the Card claim a #1 seed in the NCAA, provided, of course, they keep winning.
Stanford has looked comfortable both at home and on the road, in close games and in blowouts, from the opening tip to the final horn. The Cardinal have won every first half this season, last lost to a Pac-10 opponent in Maples nearly four years ago, and their #2 ranking in the Coaches' Poll matches their highest rank in more than eight years. One of the only feats Stanford has not yet accomplished is the defeat of an elite opponent – Stanford's strength of schedule is only 42nd in the nation, no other Pac-10 team is in the Top 25, and the highest ranked team the Card have defeated is #12 Texas Tech. Admittedly, the women did give now-#5 Tennessee all they could handle.
While statistics alone can give a basic feel for Stanford's domination, so complete has been the Cardinal's performance that no statistic can fully tell the tale of this storybook season. If the women keep playing as well as they have, they'll have an excellent opportunity to write a fairy tale of their own, a journey that ends a land far, far away – a place called Indianapolis.
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