The 7:00pm PT Tuesday tip will mark Michigan State's first-ever Elite Eight, whereas Stanford has reached the Elite Eight in 10 of their last 19 seasons. In addition to the experience advantage, Stanford holds a 2-0 series edge over Michigan State, with the two victories coming on neutral courts in 1979 and 1989. While Stanford holds an historical advantage, comparing the two teams' performances this year gives the Cardinal only the slightest of edges.
Both teams have performed well in recent games. Michigan State has won 15 in a row en route to its gaudy 31-3 record, topped only by Stanford's 23 consecutive victories and 32-2 record. Similar to how Stanford rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to handily defeat Connecticut 76-59 in the regional semifinal, the Spartans used an 18-3 second-half run to overcome a seven-point Vanderbilt lead and knock the Commodores out of the Tournament, 76-64.
Comparing performances against common opponents also gives a slight edge to the Cardinal. Stanford handled Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 94-57, and Michigan State knocked off the Broncos, 81-59, with both games played on neutral courts. The Spartans won in Storrs, 67-51, on December 29, while the Cardinal knocked the Huskies out of the tournament 76-59 in Kansas City on Sunday. Michigan State defeated visiting Boston College, 82-78, in overtime on November 21. Stanford handled the visiting Eagles with a bit more ease, winning 76-66 on January 15. Stanford also looked a little stronger against Utah, winning 63-57 in the November 19 season-opener in Salt Lake City and 88-62 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Fresno, while Michigan State escaped with a 56-54 neutral-court victory over the Utes on November 26. Similarly, Michigan State survived a 61-59 scare against USC in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, while the Cardinal only struggled once in their three meetings with the Trojans, easily winning 94-58 and 88-62 in the regular season and squeaking by the Trojans 71-67 in the Pac-10 Tournament.
While both squads have achieved success this season, the two teams have won games with contrasting styles. Stanford's prolific shooting outpaces the Spartans, as the Cardinal shoot better from the field (48.2% vs. 44.5%), better from the arc (38.2% vs. 35.3%) and better from the charity stripe (75% vs. 72.7%) en route to seven more points per game (78.1 vs. 71.2) than the Spartans. Both teams sport nearly identical numbers in terms of assists (16), turnovers (14), blocks (4) and steals (10) per game, so, like the Huskies, the Spartans' best chance against Stanford appears to come on the boards, where Michigan State's marks of 41.4 rebounds per game and an average 8.5 rebound margin slightly top Stanford's 39.7 and 6.7, respectively.
Stanford will have a decided depth advantage against the Spartans, as only six Spartans look to see significant playing time (see below). Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer has been rotating eight Cardinal (senior guard Kelley Suminski, fifth-year senior guard Susan Borchardt, freshman guard Candice Wiggins, redshirt sophomore center Brooke Smith, senior forward Azella Perryman, sophomore center Kristen Newlin, senior forward Sebnem Kimyacioglu and senior forward T'Nae Thiel) into most postseason games, which not only helps the team stay fresh, but also keeps individual Cardinal out of foul trouble.
#52 junior forward Liz Shimek 6'1"
(14.7 points per game, 49.6% overall shooting)
Shimek is the one player Stanford needs to watch at all times. In addition to her scoring threat, she averages 9.1 rebounds per game and will force Stanford to box out each and every possession. Defensively, Shimek has forced 90 turnovers while committing only 43 personal fouls on the entire season, two equally impressive numbers for a post player. Shimek and Brooke Smith, two of the premier scoring posts in the country, look to battle frequently in the contest, and whoever wins the individual matchup will go a long way towards dictating the overall flow of the game.
#20 junior guard Lindsay Bowen 5'7"
(13.8 points per game, 41.3% overall shooting)
Bowen is a pure shooter for the Spartans. Her 44.3% beyond the arc is even more accurate than her 41% overall shooting, and Bowen also hits 81.2% from charity stripe. Bowen isn't much of a threat to drive though, so look for whoever is guarding her, most likely Suminski or Borchardt, to guard her tight and deny her the three.
#42 senior center Kelli Roehrig 6'4"
(13.6 points per game, 52.3% overall shooting)
Roehrig also rips 7.4 boards per game and has forced 88 turnovers on the season. Roehrig presents plenty of matchup problems by herself, but in tandem with Shimek, the duo will force Stanford to play two post defenders out of Smith, Newlin, Perryman, and Thiel for the majority of the game, limiting the Cardinal's options offensively. Thiel's health becomes all the more important against an opponent with two quality bigs.
#4 senior guard Kristin Haynie 5'8"
(10.5 points per game, 46% overall shooting)
While Bowen is a pure shooter, Haynie is a multi-faceted perimeter player. She shoots 36.4% deep and 83% from the stripe. She pulls down 6.7 boards per game, quite a high number for a guard, and 107 steals, a ridiculously high mark for anyone. Haynie also sports 170 assists and only 72 turnovers on the season. Whichever Stanford guard is shadowing Haynie will have to be cognizant of all the threats Haynie brings to the table and will have to remember to box out after every shot.
#31 sophomore guard Victoria Lucas-Perry 5'9"
(7.4 points per game, 42.3% shooting)
Lucas-Perry converts nearly 80% of free throws and snatches nearly five rebounds per game. Her scoring average will increase as she becomes more of a focal point in the offense in future years, but she displays great accuracy for the team's fourth or fifth offensive option.
As mentioned above, Michigan State head coach Joanne P. McCallie operates a short bench, with only one reserve figuring to see significant minutes. Interestingly, while the Spartans have four guards that regularly play, only one center and one forward see key playing time, so physically wearing out Roehrig and Shimek will be key for the Cardinal.
#24 sophomore guard Rene Haynes 5'10"
(7.9 points per game, 37.5% overall shooting)
Like Lucas-Perry, Haynes provides the Spartans with some depth at the perimeter, averaging nearly 25 minutes per game. She is also the tallest of the guards at 5'10".
The game keys on whether Stanford can play the gritty Spartans to a draw on the boards, like the Cardinal managed against Connecticut. If Thiel is healthy enough to help the entire Cardinal squad crash the boards with success, Michigan State may be in for a tough match. Stanford appears to shoot the ball better than the Spartans, especially since fifth-year senior Susan King Borchardt has returned to the lineup. While State shows great balance with four players averaging double figures, Roehrig, Shimek, Bowen, and Haynie do not possess the offensive accuracy of Borchardt (53.1% overall), Wiggins (50.7% overall), or Smith (60.7% overall). I look for the Cardinal to start slow in a post-Connecticut slumber, but grow stronger as the game progresses, wear down the thinner Spartans and advance to the Final Four with a hard-fought 66-60 victory.
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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