Women Squeak Past Trojans

As expected, Stanford did defeat USC Sunday afternoon, advancing to face Arizona State in the Pac-10 tournament final Monday at 7:30 PT. Entirely unexpected, however, was the 73-69 final margin, a score wholly indicative of the hard-fought Pac-10 tournament semifinal at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

As in their quarterfinal game, Stanford allowed USC to keep the game close initially, with the Trojans leading 15-13 at the second media timeout. As we have seen in so many other games this season, Stanford then started to pull away from their opponent, creating a nine-point gap between themselves and the Trojans, 30-21, with 3:37 left in the opening stanza. The nine-point lead, however, would turn out to be Stanford's largest margin of the game as USC countered with a 19-2 scoring explosion to pull ahead 37-32 at the half. Camille LeNoir's desperation 40-foot bomb just before the halftime buzzer punctuated the Trojan's run, which resulted in Stanford's first halftime deficit of the season.

For the first half, Stanford shot a paltry 30% (12-of-39) as neither freshman guard Candice Wiggins (3-of-13) nor fifth-year senior guard Susan King Borchardt (2-of-7) could find their mark. USC by contrast shot 44% from the field and 5-of-10 beyond the arc, with Chloe Kerr's 4-of-5 shooting accounting for eight first half Trojan points.

As Borchardt stated in her post-game KZSU interview, two key coaching decisions allowed the Trojans to have such a successful half. USC's defense overloaded the strong side of Stanford's triangle offense, which created double teams on sophomore center Kristen Newlin and constant pressure on Stanford's guards. The scheme left Stanford's Brooke Smith more open than usual, but the Card could rarely find Smith, as the junior forward launched only three shots in the entire half. Second, head coach Tara VanDerveer instructed her posts, Newlin especially, to play less aggressively on defense because the Cardinal could not afford foul trouble in their interior, as starting forward T'Nae Thiel was out due to injury. The strategy was successful in that the Cardinal committed only five fouls on the half, but the ebb in defensive intensity allowed Trojan Eshaya Murphy to record 10 points and seven boards on the half.

Despite Stanford's offensive ineptitude and USC's offensive explosion, two factors allowed the Card to trail by only five at the half. First of all, Stanford converted six of eight free throws while USC did not attempt any in the opening 20 minutes. Also, the Trojans turned the ball over nine times in the first half, often totally unforced by Stanford pressure.

The Cardinal came out of the halftime locker room to a second half chockfull of highly emotional runs. Stanford's 10-0 run pulled the Cardinal ahead 42-40 three minutes into the half, but USC immediately countered with a 7-0 run of their own that took just 68 seconds. The Trojans stretched the 47-42 lead into a 54-46 margin with 12 minutes remaining, but the Cardinal then pulled off an 8-0 run to knot the game at 54. After the teams traded baskets, Stanford would score the next five to pull ahead 61-56 with 7:35 left.

The Cardinal would never trail again as clutch shooting, capped by two Wiggins free throws with 33 seconds remaining, clinched the Cardinal's 71-67 victory. Stanford scored 15 of their last 25 points beyond the arc on 5-of-8 three-point shooting down the stretch, a dramatic reversal from only 22% (2-of-9) long-range accuracy in the first half. The Cardinal benefited greatly from 18 offensive rebounds on the game, with Wiggins, Newlin, and senior forward Sebnem Kimyacioglu combining for 15 offensive boards.

Both Wiggins (6-of-9) and senior Kelley Suminski (4-of-6) shot 66% in the second half, allowing the Cardinal to overcome an eight-point deficit in the last 12 minutes. The clutch play of the two guards bears a striking resemblance to Stanford's January 9 visit to Arizona, where the Cardinal pulled out a 78-66 victory after trailing by six midway through the second half. In the Arizona game, Suminski scored 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while Wiggins netted 28 on 9-of-16 shooting and a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Against USC, both players finished with similarly glowing statistics: Wiggins scored 24 on 9-of-22 shooting and a perfect 5-of-5 from the free throw line; Suminski netted 17 on 6-of-13 shooting from the field and 5-of-11 beyond the arc.

The Cardinal will have to work on their defense, however. Stanford came into the game averaging 55 points allowed on less than 35% shooting, yet USC managed 69 points on 45% shooting. Whatever changes the Cardinal made in the halftime locker room could not do much to slow down the USC attack, either. USC's 37 first half points on 44% shooting closely resemble the Trojans' 32 points on 46% shooting in the second half. Interior defense remains an area of utmost concern, especially without Thiel in the lineup. USC posts Eshaya Murphy and Chloe Kerr paced the Trojans with a combined 30 points. Murphy also grabbed 10 rebounds, including five offensive boards, and Kerr shot with 78% (7-of-9) accuracy.

Complete game box score

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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