Utah-Stanford WBB Preview

After a two-week break for autumn quarter final exams, #14-ranked Stanford Women's Basketball is back in action on Saturday against a hot Utah squad from the Mountain West. The youthful Utes may not sit in the Top 25, but they just knocked off a pair of Pac-10 schools and are shooting the ball at a high clip. We take a look at the Cardinal's and Utes' most recent outings and preview the match-up.

Situation Status, on the season…

Utah has won four in a row, the last two against Pac-10 opponents (USC and Arizona).  The Utes' star offensive threat is sophomore guard Morgan Warburton, who leads the team in points (138), three-point shots made (14) and free-throw shooting (.919).  Defensively, freshman forward Kalee Whipple and sophomore guard/forward Joh-Teena Filipe are the Ute leaders in the post, with Whipple leading in rebounds per game (6.2) and Filipe leading the team in blocks (eight blocks, also averaging 6.0 rpg).  Freshman point guard Brette Ulsaker runs the offense, averaging a 1.5 assist/turnover ratio on the season.

Stanford has won their last two games, including a win over #25-ranked Texas Tech.  Junior guard Candice Wiggins leads the team in points (118), and three point shots made (15).  Senior center/forward Brooke Smith leads the team in free-throw shooting (.765) among players with 10-plus attempts.  The defensive trifecta of Smith, freshman center/forward Jayne Appel and senior forward/center Kristen Newlin have the paint covered from post to elbow, with Newlin leading in rebounds per game (nine), Appel leading in blocks (15), and Smith leading in defensive rebounds per game (5.7).  Bringing the ball up for the Cardinal is freshman guard JJ Hones, who leads the team in assists (33) and assist/turnover ratio (3.3).  Hones is tied at #6 in the nation in assist/turnover ratio, excluding those with less than 15 assists.

Team Statistics, previous two games…

Utah barely edged their opponents in their last two wins (versus USC and Arizona at home).  The Utes staved off a second half rally from an injury-depleted Trojan squad, who nearly overcame a 23-point deficit, winning 70-66.  Utah traded leads many times with Arizona before prevailing 66-60.  In these two games, the Utes shot .423 from the field (41-of-97), .371 from beyond the three-point arc (13-of-25) and hit 80% of their free throws (41-of-51).  Utah did not take care of the ball well, recording a dismal .62 assist-to-turnover ratio (26 assists, 42 turnovers).  The Utes defended the three-point shot well, with only 25% of their opponents' three point shots falling through the net (12-48).

Stanford blew out their previous two opponents (Santa Clara and #25 Texas Tech), winning by an average of 28 points.  The Cardinal scored five players in double figures against the Santa Clara Broncos.  Stanford smothered Texas Tech defensively, with a brilliant effort which allowed only four field goals during the entire second half of play.  Over these two games, Stanford shot .409 from the field (54-of-132), with only one-third of their three-point tries finding the net (14-of-42).  Free-throw shooting continued to improve, with .736 of the free-throw attempts finding the middle of the rim (39-of-53).  Stanford owned the opponents' glass in the last two games, racking up an impressive 3.05 defensive board ratio (55 defensive rebounds to just 18 opponent offensive rebounds).  The Cardinal handled the ball evenly, averaging slightly better in assists than turnovers (35 assists to 33 turnovers, 1.1 A/TO ratio).

How Team Leaders fared in previous two games…

Over the last two games, Utah's Warburton averaged 16.5 points per game, including a 19-point effort against Arizona, and was near-perfect from the line with 13 of 14 free throws made.  Whipple averaged 15.5 points, including a monster 22-point effort against USC.  Defensively, Whipple pulled down seven rebounds per game over this stretch.  Ulsaker had five assists but six turnovers, (0.83 A/TO ratio), including tough day against Arizona with no assists.

Over the last two games, Stanford's Wiggins averaged 16 points per game, including a 19-point effort over Texas Tech.  Smith averaged 13.5 points, shooting only 9-of-22 from the field (.409), including 1-of-3 from three-point range.  Smith and Appel combined for 17-of-20 from the free throw line (.850).  Defensively, Newlin crashed the boards with a monster 11.5 rebounds per game, while averaging just 18 minutes of playing time per game.  Appel blocked 2.5 shots per game, and pulled down six rebounds per game.  Smith pulled down 14 rebounds total, over both games.  Hones was laser-accurate, with a 7.0 assist to turnover ratio (14 assists, two turnovers in two games).

Keys to success…

Stanford should continue its oppressive defense (.309 opponent field goal percentage, last two games) against a young, turnover-prone team, but they will need to limit Utah's chances at the free throw line - Warburton is tied for 14th in the nation with free throw percentage and leads Utah with a .919 free throw percentage, followed by Whipple (.857) and Ulsaker (.727).  Stanford needs to continue to own the defensive boards, keeping the ball out of Whipple and Filipe's hands, while limiting good shots for Warburton.  Stanford needs to help Brooke Smith improve her assist to turnover ratio (.83 over the last two games, 1.0 over the season), a result of double- and triple-team defenses when she touches the ball in the post.  Stanford still is in need of a three-point threat besides Wiggins (38 attempts); Newlin and Smith are tied for second with just 12 attempts each.  Stanford's has turned around free-throw line success (.688 against Santa Clara, .810 against Texas Tech, from a low of .250 against Georgia), and this trend needs to continue.

Revealing events to examine…

  • Stanford pressing early, and for Cissy Pierce to press every minute she's in.  Stanford may try/get more steals with a turnover-prone Utah team…
  • Stanford drawing defenders away from Newlin and Smith if outside field goal attempts are successful.  Three-point attempts and points from players other than Wiggins…
  • Utah's ability to get to the free throw line will dictate Stanford's defensive intensity.  Foul management is critical to both teams…
  • Stanford defensive board dominance… one shot, and it's either good or Stanford's transition ball...
  • Help for Brooke Smith, especially outlets against collapsing defense to Appel, Newlin and outside shooters.  In recent games, Smith and Appel have had good success in "finding" each other around the paint.

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