From the Cheap Seats

After a one-week break the Cardinal had not anticipated, #10-ranked Stanford Women's Basketball on Tuesday will try to rediscover their winning ways with a home game against Missouri. The Tigers start four seniors and were an NCAA Tournament team a year ago. Our favorite scribe in Columbia (Mo.) scouted, with some help, the Big 12 opponent in their most recent win.

Mizzou Scouting Report

Went to see Missouri play Arkansas State with MiniMizzouCard and Mrs. MizzouCard Friday night, so that we could file a scouting report here.  Unfortunately, this was the first women's game we have seen this year, so our information is rather incomplete.  But I have never let a lack of information stop me from forming opinions before, and I am not going to start now.

Last year's Mizzou team, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament, vastly outperformed its talent.  It was one of those really fun teams to root for, because it kept winning games you did not expect them to win.  That seems to happen to Cindy Stein's teams every few years.  Perhaps this will be one of them.

Perhaps, but the graduation losses were substantial.  Point guard LaToya Bond had a great senior year.  On the inside, Christelle N'Garsanet was a force.  She had annoying problems finishing on occasion, but great footwork.  She was a beast on the boards and on defense.  [Not as good as Evan Unrau, who some of you may remember from the first round game against the Cardinal two and a half years ago, particularly on offense, but almost her equal on defense and on the boards.]

As I pretty much expected, it does not appear that anyone has stepped up to fill N'Garnsanet's shoes inside.  The point guard play is adequate, but without the flashes of brilliance that Bond showed last year.  Mizzou is basically "three guards and two forwards," with no "center," as such.  On offense, though, one of those forwards, Carlynn Savant (#43), is essentially another guard most of the time.

At the outset, let me note, just in case any of the locals see this, that I enjoy rooting for Mizzou.  Cindy Stein's teams almost always play hard, and often well above their talent level.  Much of the remainder of this report will sound like a shot at Mizzou, but it sounds that way because I simply do not think Mizzou has the talent it needs to give Stanford a run (absent someone getting hot from the three-point line - more on that later).  Unlike Stanford, Mizzou is not in the "reloading, not rebuilding" echelon in women's basketball (or, sadly, in anything else for that matter).  Mizzou does have to rebuild every once in a while.  Despite a senior-laden lineup, this is one of those years because the seniors, while talented role players, are not talented enough to run with the big dogs in my opinion.

That having been said, Mizzou lost to Arkansas State last year, which was a "play above the talent" year, and beat them Friday night, so what do I know?  It should be noted that the game was in Jonesboro last year and in Columbia this go-around.  And one of my fellow Mizzou fans that I just ran into in the grocery store told me Arkansas State beat Alabama, so maybe Mizzou's 74-53 win over them Friday night should be more encouraging to me.  [That is the benefit of just being a contributing writer, instead of a real journalist like Mike Eubanks.  I can quote guys I run into in the grocery store.  He has to actually check facts.  That seems like it would be a lot of work!]

Friday's starters for Mizzou (uniform numbers in parentheses):

Guard:  (12) Alyssa Hollins, Sophomore, 6'0"
[Point] Guard:  (23) Blair Hardiek, Senior, 5'7"
Guard:  (34) Tiffany Brooks, Senior, 5'11"
Forward:  (43) Carlynn Savant, Senior, 6'1"
Forward:  (54) EeTisha Riddle, Senior, 6'3"

Primary Subs:

Guard:  (22) Kassie Drew, Junior, 5'11" (first off the bench)
Center (if there is such a thing?!?):  (35) Tamika Jackson, Senior, 6'3"
Guard:  (11) Toy Richbow, Freshman, 5'7" (probably the point guard of the future)
Forward:  (4) Jessra Johnson, Freshman, 6'1"

Cutting to the chase, Mizzou is a three-point shooting team.  The only player I saw turn down an open three was Riddle.  Even Johnson shot a three from the corner, fresh off the bench, and she canned it, too.  The offense is built primarily to get people, especially Savant, open threes.  Even when Mizzou gets an offensive rebound, it often sends the ball back to the three-point line.  That is clearly the place where Mizzou feels the most comfortable on offense.  Shut down the three, and you are in business.

There is no significant inside game this year for Mizzou, at least on offense.  Savant, Mizzou's second biggest starter, is clearly more comfortable looking for an open three than she is trying to find a lay-up.  She occasionally does the latter, but most of the time, she shoots a three or watches someone else do the same.  To her credit, when that shot goes up, she crashes to the boards, but she is usually giving the other bigs in the game a 15-foot head start.  Kristen Newlin and Brooke Smith (and even Candice Wiggins, who is a solid rebounder) should grab lots of defensive rebounds.  Stanford's guards will have to be ready to grab the long rebounds that three-point shooting teams generate.

MiniMizzouCard noted that, when Mizzou takes the occasional trip inside, it often settles for a running six- to eight-foot jumper.  Somewhere along the line, I had a coach who absolutely hated that shot.  His mantra was something like "go to the hoop and stop and pop, but do not try to do a little of both."  Mizzou's woeful shooting stats from six- to eight-feet last night proved that coach's point.

In the second half, when it became obvious that the only real threat from Arkansas State was its center, Adrianne Davie (the best player on the court that night, in my opinion, and someone who could do some real damage even in a league like the Pac-10 or the Big 12), Mizzou started to take the game to her a bit on offense to try to draw fouls.  From my seat, it looked like a solid coaching move, but one carried out somewhat half-heartedly by players who are obviously more comfortable shooting jumpshots.  Also, though it improved a bit in the second half, when Mizzou does go to the hole, it seems to have trouble finishing.  [MegaMizzouCard's AAU team had a Finnish player last summer named Annto.  Mizzou's women's team has no Annto.  It is the "No Finnish" team.  Come to think of it, Annto was a heck of player, but he had trouble finishing too, so I guess he was the "No finish Finnish" player.]

On defense, Riddle and Savant play like traditional "bigs."  Both play hard defense, but both can be had.  Despite being taller, Riddle is quicker than Savant.  I would expect to see Savant on Newlin and Riddle on Smith in Mizzou's man-to-man defense.  If Mizzou puts Savant on Smith, the Stanford fifth-year senior will have a field day.  Savant is just not fast enough of foot to handle Smith.  For the same reason, she is not much help on help defense against guards who penetrate.

Quickness is an overall problem for Mizzou, despite being a guard oriented team.  Per Mrs. MizzouCard (the only member of your three-person scouting team who has the benefit of having played women's basketball), "I'm sorry, but it looks like they are moving in slow motion."  I don't get to say it very often as a Stanford fan, so I say it every time I can: Stanford should have the "athleticism" edge in this game.  I would encourage Stanford to run every time it gets the chance.

Mizzou does steal a fair number of balls for a rather slow-footed team.  But Mizzou also gives up a fair number of steals when it (temporarily) has the ball, often by throwing lateral, telegraphed passes around the perimeter.  MiniMizzouCard opines, "Our (meaning, in this case, Mizzou's) passes are sloppy and stupid."  Hate to say it, but he has a point.  Stanford's guards should not be afraid to jump the passing lanes.  Stealing those lateral perimeter passes should almost always lead to a lay-up at the other end of the court.

Mizzou also seems to be prone to falling for that old playground standby, the crossover dribble 25 feet away from the basket.  More than once, I saw a Mizzou player grabbing for air as the Arkansas State guard blew by her following a crossover.  Wiggins and others should have fun with that.  In Mizzou's man-to-man defense, once a Stanford guard is by her defender, she will have lots of options when she drives to the hole.

Mizzou's point guard play is solid, but not spectacular.  The handle is fine, so you should not expect too many straight steals while Mizzou point guards are dribbling.  As noted above, though, the passing can get a bit sloppy.

Any chance Mizzou beats Stanford?  Of course.  Playing a three-point shooting team is always a risk because those teams have, in boxing terms, a puncher's chance of beating you.  For Mizzou to beat Stanford (or another top-tier team) this year, somebody has to get hot at the three-point line.  The most likely candidate is Savant.  Despite being a "forward," she is a very solid shooter.  If she has an open look, she has a really good chance of canning it.  Also, she is strong enough to launch effectively from a l-o-n-g way out.  She will never turn down an open shot.  Nor should she, as she is Mizzou's best hope, especially in a game like this (against Stanford).

If I were coaching Stanford (a rather ridiculous thought), I would make sure Savant has to work for those open looks.  The good news, from Stanford's perspective, is that Savant is not quick enough, and not a good enough dribbler (as a forward) to create shots for herself.  She only gets shots off screens or from finding seams in the defense.  As you might expect from a slow-of-foot senior who loves to shoot threes, she is pretty crafty at finding those seams.  But I think Stanford can keep her from getting too many open looks if it decides to do so.  I am not qualified to know exactly how Stanford does that - i.e., by sending Smith out to chase Savant around or by defending Savant in some other fashion.  But I am quite confident that Tara VanDerveer and the Cardinal coaching staff can scheme Savant out of the game if they decide to do so.

If you keep Savant below 10 points, then someone else from Mizzou has to get hot outside.  The next most likely candidate is Drew, because Drew has lit it up a couple of times in past years.  But almost anyone, other than Riddle, might get hot outside.

How does Stanford win this game?  Lots of ways.  But Newlin, Smith, and Stanford's other "bigs" should have plenty of chances to score on offense and plenty of rebounds to grab on both ends.  The Stanford frontcourt is, in my opinion (then again, this is all just in my opinion, so I will dispense with that formality), several notches above the Mizzou frontcourt, especially if one considers Savant more of a fourth guard on offense.  The usual contribution from Stanford's guards should be supplemented by several steals (and easy follow-up buckets) and crossover drive-bys.

Stanford should win this game, but there is an outside chance Mizzou could win by getting hot.  Indeed, while I expect this to be a somewhat down year for Mizzou, I also expect that, at least once or twice those of you who are serious women's hoops fans will look over the scores and say "how did Mizzou beat ____?"  And the blank could be filled by a big name like Oklahoma or Kansas State.  If that happens, it will probably be via the three ball.  Let's just hope it does not happen in Maples on Tuesday.

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