Stanford's Stealth Player Extra Ordinaire

She does not often stuff the stat sheet. She is caught somewhere between the Cardinal's upperclass All-Americans and the fab freshmen. Sophomore forward Jillian Harmon, however, is a big reason why Stanford is one of the hottest teams in the nation and still undefeated after Saturday's overtime battle at #10 Arizona State. Harmon played all 45 minutes, shuffled between positions and made plays.

This year's Stanford Women's Basketball team has two legitimate All-Americans in junior Candice Wiggins and fifth-year senior Brooke Smith, plus a newcomer in Jayne Appel who could be the conference's Freshman of the Year.  All of those players are gems that make the team what it is: undefeated in Pac-10 play and one of the hottest teams in the nation on a 16-game winning streak.  But playing just beneath the radar of media hype is a special favorite of mine.  That would be sophomore forward Jillian Harmon.

Harmon is quiet but intense.  She's a team leader by example, not by decibels.  And make no mistake about it: she's a competitor.  Harmon's superb concentration makes her effective throughout the game and most effective in pivotal moments.  So far this season, Harmon ranks fourth in points, rebounds and assists on the Stanford roster.  Those statistics don't do her justice.  One indication of her intensity: Harmon has stolen the ball 30 times this season, only one less theft than more publicized pickpocket Wiggins.

Yes, there are areas for improvement.  Harmon has developed a three-point shot, but her percentages are still low.  Her free throw percentage needs a boost.  However, Harmon played all 45 minutes in Saturday's overtime win at #10-ranked Arizona State.  And for good reason.

Harmon's steadying presence was especially critical when Stanford's two highest scoring posts, Smith and Appel, encountered foul trouble.  For the game, Harmon recorded nine boards, six points, four assists, three steals and one block.  No double digits here.  But these numbers suggest versatility and balance.  Moreover, the stats just don't show the concentration, intensity and leadership that Harmon brings to every game.  Examine some of the particular plays that Harmon made in this overtime tilt.

The best pass of the day belongs to Harmon.  That was a bomb (nearly three-quarters the length of the court) to a streaking Smith, who made an over-the-shoulder catch for a transition lay-up.  The Harmon/Smith duo made it look easy, but there was no margin for error in that pass, with a Sun Devil defender right on Smith's back.  Then there was the key block in the final 90 seconds of regulation, when Harmon authoritatively stuffed the driving shot of Briann January.  Finally, as the game wound down on the clock but wound up in intensity, there were Harmon's critical offensive boards that enabled Stanford to stay in this game and force the overtime.  During these critical moments, Harmon was playing as a power forward, with Smith (and later Appel) out with five fouls.

Yes, versatility is one of Harmon's strengths.  She plays well as a power forward and as a perimeter player.  She can dribble, pass, drive, and hit the pull up jumper, and she loves the transition game.  In both games against Arizona State this year, she has posted up her defender.  Then there is her exceptional defense.  It is a rare occasion when an offensive player catches Harmon out of position.  But it is her intensity and overall game sense that sets Harmon apart.  When the game hangs in the balance, bet on Harmon.


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