LA Conquered, Oregon Awaits

After yet two more victories this past weekend in Los Angeles, women's basketball stands with a 15-game win streak spanning all of 2005. Another 11 straight wins would leave the women cutting down nets in Indianapolis, and Stanford (24-2, 15-1) has an excellent opportunity to pick up the first two of those W's this weekend at Maples, so read on for a comprehensive preview.

Friday night brought a USC team seeking to avenge their 94-58 loss to Stanford a month earlier. Fortunately for the Cardinal, this contest would proceed much like the blowout a month ago in Maples, as the Cardinal shot 55% on the game and 66% in the second-half of the 88-62 rout. For shooting percentage in a half this season, Stanford's second-half 66% ranks second only to their 71% in the first half of the first USC game.

Although no player played upwards of 30 minutes, five Cardinal still managed to reach double figures. Freshman guard Candice Wiggins shone the brightest with a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double (not to mention five assists, four steals and two blocks). Senior forward Azella Perryman (14 points, eight boards), fifth-year guard Susan King Borchardt (14 points, 4-of-8 three-pointers), senior guard Kelley Suminski (12 points) and sophomore center Kristen Newlin (11 points) also contributed significantly to the Cardinal's Pac-10 title-clinching performance.

With Pac-10 title in hand, the Cardinal then traveled to Westwood to face the UCLA Bruins. The Sunday morning contest played out much more competitively than Stanford's 100-75 home conquest of the Bruins a month ago, as head coach Tara VanDerveer was forced to keep her starters on the court for an average of over 32 minutes in Stanford's 81-68 win. Candice Wiggins and junior center Brooke Smith played 77 of a possible 80 minutes and both turned in superlative performances. Wiggins scored 24 points and grabbed 16 boards while Smith netted 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and swatted three blocks. The Cardinal played great team defense, allowing the Bruins only 31.4% shooting from the field and only 12.5% (2-of-16) beyond the arc. Lisa Willis highlighted the Bruins' offensive inaccuracy, as the forward shot only 3-of-17 overall and 1-of-8 beyond the arc. In stark contrast, Stanford is now shooting an otherworldly 51.7% (385-of-744) over their last 13 games.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Cardinal have won at least a share of the regular season Pac-10 crown. Having clinched the conference outright, Stanford's Pac-10 tournament path is now set. The Cardinal will open against the winner of the #8/#9 matchup (currently Cal vs. Washington State) Saturday March 5th at 5PM. If Stanford wins, the Card will face the winner of the #4/#5 game (currently Arizona vs. Arizona State) Sunday, March 6th at 3PM for a berth in the Monday finals (7:30PM).

Stanford's NCAA path also looks much clearer today than even just a few weeks ago. With Ohio State's recent loss to Michigan State, the Card look to be a safe bet for a #1 seed in the West Region if they win out. The Cardinal would most likely play their first two matchups in Fresno (Seattle is also a possibility) for the right to advance to a Sweet-16 weekend in Tempe and the Final Four in Indianapolis. As of Tuesday, Stanford, Duke and LSU look to be safe #1 seeds, with Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan State and Ohio State all battling for the final slot. Just one loss would send the Cardinal back into the fray of teams battling for seeding, so every remaining game for the Cardinal becomes that much more important.

Stanford probably won't need any of that extra motivation for their next game, as the Oregon Ducks (18-7, 11-5) come calling this Thursday at 7PM at Maples. Although Stanford leads the series 30-8, Oregon won the last meeting 62-58, handing the Cardinal their most recent loss, and, thus far this season, their only loss in the Pac-10. The Ducks currently sit in second place in the Pac-10, largely due to the efforts of their top two scorers, 6'4" senior forward Catherine Kraayeveld (14.8 points and nine rebounds per game) and 6'3" senior center Andrea Bills (11.5 points and 7.2 boards per game).

This Duck duo forms one of the most complete inside tandems in the conference, along with Arizona's Polk & Adefeso and Stanford's Smith & senior forward T'Nae Thiel. The two Oregon seniors exploded for 34 points and 30 rebounds in the first matchup this season, so this game will provide a definite measuring stick for the Cardinal coaching staff to assess whether Stanford's post defense has improved in the past two months. Interior defense remains one of the few areas where Stanford has yet to excel, so a dominant performance against the Ducks could signify that the Card is ready to face the best interior players and, thus, the best teams in the country.

After the Oregon game, Stanford will host Oregon State (6-20, 1-15) at 2PM on Saturday in a game that looks to be an absolute mismatch. Stanford dominates the Beavers 31-7 all-time and decimated the Beavers 83-45 in Corvallis earlier this season. Oregon State occupies the Pac-10 cellar, hardly a surprise for a team that shoots under 40% overall and only 26.6% beyond the arc. 5'9" senior guard Shannon Howell leads the Beavers with 17 points per game and 6'1" junior forward Kim Butler averages 10 points and 4.6 boards per game. The Beavers allow an average of nearly 70 points per game, so if the Cardinal can shut down these two threats, they should dominate the Beavers offensively, allow subs to see significant playing time and cruise into the postseason.

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 dannovi@stanford.edu.


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