* Kudos to The Bootleg women's basketball writer Tom Knecht, Jr. for hitting the key to this game right on the head. Utah is a young and turnover-prone team which on paper looked susceptible to Stanford's defensive pressure. Indeed, the Utes had an Atkins-unfriendly start to the game with turnovers a-plenty. They where whistled for three traveling calls in the early going that contributed to Stanford jumping ahead to a 19-10 lead out of the gate. Five of Utah's first eight turnovers were travels, with the other three steals by Stanford's aggressive and opportunistic wing players. All told, Utah had 12 turnovers in the opening stanza that saw them trail by 14 at the half. By game's end, Utah had 20 turnovers. Stanford owns a versatile array of offensive weapons, but their unique strength in the landscape of the college game this year is the depth of their roster, which coupled with their athleticism should allow for relentless and effective defensive pressure against many opponents. We are starting to see that emerge the last few games for the Cardinal.
* To hammer that point home, Stanford recorded 11 steals in this game. Utah managed just seven assists. That is a ratio unheard of, and pretty well sums up the tenor of the afternoon.
* What else was a key for the Cardinal to jump out to their early lead? Three-point shooting has been a focal issue for this team in their 4-3 start to the season, and Stanford sizzled with four triples in the first eight minutes of the game on 4-of-6 shooting from deep. Even more encouraging was the breadth of that success, with four different Cardinal knocking down those shots. That included freshman point guard JJ Hones, who has a solid stroke but struggled with just 18% long-range shooting prior to this afternoon. Stanford's very first possession of the second half saw Hones drain another three-pointer. In just her first 11 minutes of play off the bench in this game, the freshman matched her total from downtown in the previous seven games. Junior Cissy Pierce also erupted, hitting one bomb in the opening minute of the first half and then another two minutes into the second half. She, too, had just two made three-pointers on the season before this game. Candice Wiggins had dominated Stanford's long-range shooting prior to this Utah game with 15 of Stanford's 36 made three-pointers, making these other contributions a notable facet of this victory.
* Stanford had open three-point looks often in the game, due in large part to the defensive decision by Utah to pack their defense in and clog the paint against Stanford's three-headed towers of power. Given the lethal play of fifth-year senior center Brooke Smith when given space this season, plus the combined threat of Smith with senior Kristen Newlin and freshman Jayne Appel, it was a reasoned strategy which will be employed often this year against Stanford. Smith did go scoreless for the game, and that would have spelled imminent doom a few weeks ago for this team. Utah picked their poison and lost.
* Smith has been a huge part of Stanford wins throughout her time on The Farm. She tallied double figures in 32 of 34 games last year. Smith had been in double digits scoring each game this season, save the Cardinal's worst outing thus far at Tennessee (four points). The last time Brooke Smith was scoreless in a college basketball game was four years ago as a freshman at Duke. Don't simply chalk this up as an "off" afternoon for Smith, however. Utah committed its defense to taking her away. She was able to attempt just four shots all game, and two of those came from three-point range. Four fouls also played a role in limiting the fifth-year senior to just 21 minutes.
* Freshman center Jayne Appel greatly picked up the slack with Smith having difficulties. In 18 minutes of the bench, Appel was an efficient (and perfect) 6-of-6 from the field, plus 3-of-4 from the free throw line, for a game-high 15 points. She blocked a shot in the first half during that late run, snared two steals and grabbed five rebounds. Appel has now scored in double figures in four of her last five games (all coming off the bench), demonstrating some measure of consistency from the big, skilled freshman. Stanford will need that if and when opponents continue to gameplan their defense around stopping Smith.
* There were not many tense moments in this blowout victory, but one came in a stretch near the five-minute mark of the first half. Newlin picked up her second foul, forcing her out of the game, and then Smith also picked up her second whistle, shortly thereafter putting her on the bench. Utah was hanging around at that point in the game, hovering at a deficit of four to six points. Stanford did not hit any three-pointer down the stretch of the first half, so how did they pull away with a 14-point halftime lead? Defense. A steal by Hones sent Stanford the other way in transition, finishing with Wiggins laying it in. Then Wiggins drew a charge on the other end of the floor. Soon Stanford was up 10 points. Steals and blocked shots continued the momentum of Stanford's suffocating defense that ended Utah's last chance at competing in this contest.
* This is the part that blew my mind. With Smith still scoreless deep into the second half, Stanford also sat Wiggins on the bench coming out of halftime. That one-two punch has carried the Cardinal this year (and last year), yet somehow Stanford stomped Utah with the remainder of their roster. The Cardinal started on a 14-1 to start the second half, which later extended to a 30-11 run. Woof.
* It was surprising to see Wiggins rest the entire second half. It is true that she has had to play too many minutes in too many games at Stanford, but the Cardinal were coming off a 13-day break before today's game. Stanford will in a few days travel to Los Angeles for a big road trip to USC and UCLA. Tara VanDerveer was apparently confident where her team was headed coming out of halftime to sit Wiggins, who scored 13 of Stanford's 39 first-half points. Wiggins did have a brace on her knee while sitting on the bench in the second half. The move may have been as much precaution as strategy.
* The final score would not suggest as much, but this young Utah team has talent and a bright future. Their best players are freshmen and sophomores, and that showed matching up on the road at a talented and deep opponent like Stanford - Utah came unraveled after the first 15 minutes of the game. I would love to learn that Stanford will play a return game in Salt Lake City next season, when the Utes could provide a great road test. However, the Cardinal played two seasons ago at Utah, which likely meant today's game was the back half of the contract. This is an opponent I hope to see return to the schedule, and that may be a good bet with the Stanford tradition of scheduling schools near the homes of out-of-state Stanford players. Freshman Michelle Harrison hails from the Beehive State.
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