Stanford notched its 12th consecutive victory in impressive fashion today, defeating the Arizona State Sun Devils 67-53 at Maples Pavilion. Unlike most of its previous games in the streak, the Cardinal did not cement the game by the halftime whistle. Instead, the second half saw Stanford increase an eight-point halftime lead to as many as 19, allowing the subs to enter and putting the game safely out of reach.
Leading Cardinal scorers were some very familiar names - Candice Wiggins netted 20 (15 in the second half), Brooke Smith chipped in 15 (11 first-half points), and Kelley Suminski added 12. The Cardinal started off slowly offensively – Wiggins made only two of eight first-half attempts and, despite great defense, sputtering offensive production ensured Stanford's halftime lead stood at only eight. The second half saw dramatic improvement in the offense, with guards Wiggins and Suminski combining for 23 second-half points after only nine in the first 20 minutes. The Cardinal strung together many of these points for an 11-0 run midway through the second stanza to bust the game open and roll to the 67-53 final margin.
The overwhelming positive Stanford can take from this game was its excellent defensive performance. After allowing 50 points in the second half to Arizona on Thursday, the Cardinal opened the game in a 2-3 zone, with tremendous success. The Sun Devils made their first field goal over nine minutes into the game and needed a late first-half surge to make the halftime score look respectable at 30-22. Stanford's inability to extend the zone all the way to the perimeter was the one defensive weakness the Sun Devils did indeed exploit, to the tune of four first-half three-pointers. However, Stanford adjusted in the locker room, shifted to man-to-man and matchup zones, and limited Arizona State's open looks in the final stanza.
The Cardinal now stand two victories from clinching a share of the Pac-10 title and if the Card win their next three games - at Cal, at UCLA and at USC - they will clinch the Pac-10 outright, the fifth consecutive year the Cardinal will have won at least a share of the regular-season conference crown. The Cardinal have rolled to this Pac-10 lead in large part due to their 12-game win streak, a streak during which they have won by an average of 20 points and climbed to #2/#4 in the country. If the Card win their remaining eight games (Pac-10 Tournament included), the selection committee would almost have to give the Card the #1 seed in the West. Stanford's likely tournament odyssey would then start in either Seattle or Fresno for the opening weekend, move to Tempe for the Sweet 16 weekend, and finally a shot at the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Next on the slate for the Card is a 7 PM Friday matchup against their hapless cross-town rivals, the California Bears. Berkeley stands at only 2-10 in the conference, and Stanford throttled them, 88-53, in their first meeting this season. The real test for the Cardinal will come in the following weekend's swing to Los Angeles, where Stanford will face two quality teams in UCLA and USC, who are a combined 17-7 in the Pac-10 and 29-13 overall.
The injury status of many Cardinal players is now much less murky than it was even a couple of days ago. Freshman guard Cissy Pierce's lacerated right hand is expected to heal in 10 days and fellow freshman Christy Titchenal should be healthy in two weeks, meaning both players could see playing time on the LA trip if they continue to heal. The outlook is not as bright for freshman Jessica Elway. Her broken hand will sideline her for an additional six weeks, pushing back her estimated return all the way to the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. All three freshmen are too late into their seasons to qualify for a redshirt, so they all will continue to play if and when they have healed.
Daniel Novinson is a freshman at Stanford University. He's broadcasting women's basketball on KZSU - listen along at kzsu.org or 90.1 FM. Daniel welcomes any feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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