Stanford's triangle offense is lethally efficient, ranking seventh with 76.8 points per game and ninth with 47.1% overall shooting, of the 324 Division I-A teams that dot the women's basketball landscape. The offense contributes to, on average, a 20.8-point margin of victory, good for eighth in the nation. While the vast majority of squads would gladly trade for Stanford's defense, the defense is still a notch down from the elite offense. Field goal percentage allowed (35.8%) and scoring defense (56.0 points per game) rank 36th and 23rd respectively. Nonetheless, with 23 games down, Stanford stands with the fourth-best winning percentage in the land because it excels at the details of the game: free throw percentage, rebounding margin, three-point percentage, assists and turnovers all rank in the top-50 nationally.
Further breaking down 21-2 Stanford's performance shows how the Card are growing stronger through the course of their season. While many factors contribute to this improvement in game performance, the most important is that fifth-year senior guard Susan King Borchardt has reclaimed her starting spot for Pac-10 play, after sitting out most of the non-conference schedule injured. Her outside shooting is a threat both in itself and in its ability to stretch opposing defenses, often to the breaking point, and the statistics certainly reflect Borchardt's outside capabilities. Borchardt has scored 97 points in 13 conference games on 54.5% shooting and has helped the team improve its shooting percentage from a non-conference 45.4% to 48.5% against much tougher Pac-10 opponents.
The team's two leading scorers, freshman guard Candice Wiggins and junior center Brooke Smith, are both in their first season of play on The Farm, and both have grown as they've gained familiarity with their teammates. Wiggins' play has picked up in nearly every facet of the game, from scoring to ball-handling to rebounding. She has improved from a non-conference 16 points per game, .70 assist-to-turnover ratio, and 3.5 rebounds per game to 17.7 points per game, a 1.17 ratio,, and 4.8 rebounds per game against tougher Pac-10 teams. Brooke Smith, too, has grown in the triangle offense through the course of the season, as she averages one point and half an assist better in Pac-10 games. Most impressively, at 61.3% on the season, Smith's shooting accuracy ranks in the top-10 nationally, and her shooting percentage against stouter Pac-10 defenses is nearly four percent higher than against non-conference foes. Smith's statistical improvement has come as Borchardt and Wiggins have increased their scoring, limiting Smith's touches.
Perhaps the more raucous and more familiar Maples Pavilion, which the team acquired a month into the season after renovations were finalized, can partially explain this recent statistical dominance. A Pac-10 foe has not knocked off the Cardinal at Maples in 35 tries, a streak stretching back to March 2001. Including non-conference opponents, the Card's home win streak stands at 19, third best among the 324 Division I-A squads.
Whatever the reasons, since the start of 2005 Tara VanDerveer's charges stand an undefeated 12-0; the 12-game winning streak is good for fifth in the nation. All these dozen victories came by double-digit margins, and the Card notched many impressive accolades in the games. The Card went to Tucson and snapped Arizona's 34-game home-winning streak, then the longest in nation. The Cardinal provided the home faithful with aerial fireworks against UCLA. Stanford drained 15 three-pointers, a mark fifth in the nation this season and one short of the all-time school record. In that game, the Cardinal also netted 100 points, marking the first time the Card hit the century mark in three seasons. Two nights later, Stanford scored "only" 94 against USC, icing the game on first-half shooting of over 70%. That first half was not that abnormal, as in their last 10 games, the Card have made more often than they've missed, shooting 51.8% (289-of-558).
A couple of areas of concern do still linger - first and foremost the defense, where the numbers have worsened since conference play tipped off. Pac-10 opponents are shooting nearly four percent better beyond the arc than non-conference foes, and even ignoring Pacific's 26-point output, Stanford is surrendering nearly three more points per game to conference opponents. Admittedly, other teams may be getting stronger offensively as their seasons progress, and the quality of play is much higher in the Pac-10.
The team's second-half performance provides much of the reason for this defensive decline. Stanford is 22-0 in the first half, but only 17-5 in the latter stanza, where they allow an average of nearly seven more points per game. While many of the games have been blowouts and substitutes have seen significant playing time, the team's defensive effort and execution have both waned down the stretch. The Arizona game perhaps best illustrates this problem, as the Wildcats managed 50 second-half points on 65% shooting.
Nonetheless, on the whole, this year's numbers compare well with those of previous Cardinal teams, even the national title squads of 1989-1990 and 1991-1992.
The 56 points currently allowed per game would be the Cardinal's stoutest scoring defense in history. Offensively, this year's 47.1% field goal percentage is the highest since the 1997-1998 squad, and the 76.8 points per game are the second-highest in that span of time. This year's team plays lower-scoring games than the title teams of the early 1990's, but this year's scoring margin of 20.8 is comparable to the 21.1 of the title teams. Also, the 2004-2005 squad is more physical, as their rebounding margin of 6.7 boards per game is more than a rebound per game better than that of the title teams.
Ultimately, to compare favorably with these great teams of Stanford's past, this year's squad will most probably need to perform well in the final minutes of close, pressure-packed games, a scenario this year's team has not often experienced. The Cardinal have split the only four single-digit games they've played, and none of these games have come in 2005. However, free throws often play a crucial role in close games, and this year's squad performs well from the charity stripe. While this year's free throw percentage (73.1%) is lower than the last two years', due in large part to Nicole Powell's great accuracy from the free-throw line, this 2004-2005 team is more accurate than Tara's teams the eight seasons prior to that. Most importantly, this team shoots nearly as well as the national-title teams that averaged 74.8%.
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 email@example.com.
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