The time was right. The challenge was there. The talent was evident. Now it was time to put it all together. Freshman point guard Melanie Murphy had a breakout game against the Washington Huskies on Saturday. The fans, the coaches and her fellow players all loved it. And when it was all over, it was evident from the smiles that Melanie Murphy loved it, too.
The Stanford Cardinal entered last week's games in search of a point guard. Freshman JJ Hones, with a remarkable and Pac-10 leading 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, was lost for the season with the dreaded ACL tear. Murphy, an athletic and highly touted Brooklyn-bred freshman who had played the point in high school, seemed an obvious choice to step in. In her limited minutes as a substitute this season, Murphy had played good defense, a prerequisite for playing time on a Tara VanDerveer coached team. She had demonstrated her athleticism and desire on several occasions. Many Cardinalmaniacs™ were anxious to see more of Murphy. But there were issues. Taking care of the ball and running within the system are also musts for a top-ranked team's point guard. Going into this past week, Murphy had 24 turnovers, one more than her 23 assists. And her scoring effectiveness had been limited (averaging less than two points a game).
Murphy played 24 minutes in Thursday's game against Washington State, and she did so with quiet efficiency. She missed her only two shots, but got four assists with no turnovers. This was promising and may have given Murphy the confidence for her breakout game on Saturday.
Against Washington, Murphy's playing time increased to 27 minutes, and she played with confidence, poise and great results. When it was over, she had 11 points (on 5-of-6 shooting), eight assists (with only one turnover) and two steals. On Saturday, Murphy was an exciting player to watch. The type who brings fans to game and makes them glad they came.
So what made Murphy's game exciting? On offense, she was a delight to watch with her creative assists and dribble-drives. Stanford fans are used to All-American Candice Wiggins making these moves, but no one else on the current team has demonstrated the kind of explosive potential that Murphy showed on Saturday. There were a number of remarkable features to Murphy's drives.
For one, she seemed under control. On several occasions, she took the ball toward the hoop, only to retreat when the defense closed the hole. For another, when Murphy committed to the hoop, she closed the deal with Wiggins-like quickness to make the shot. For yet another, Murphy was remarkably efficient on these drives. She made every lay-in shot that she attempted, and some were quite creative (Murphy's sole missed shot was a put-back attempt in a crowd). Indeed, but for a questionable charge call, Murphy's point total and string of lay-ups would have been higher. Finally, Murphy showed the ability on these drives to make sound, last nanosecond decisions on when to shoot and when to dish - on one occasion reaching back and behind a Washington defender to connect with a teammate. Murphy's drives on Saturday were consistently productive, leading to a Murphy hoop or a potentially productive dish to a post player. No wonder the crowd liked this performance. This was exciting basketball.
Not that there is not room for improvement. On a fast break attempt, Murphy unselfishly passed the ball back to Wiggins when she probably should have taken the shot herself. Another unrealized goal would be for Murphy to show proficiency with the pull-up jumper. Proficiency with the "stop, pop, and drop" would greatly enhance Murphy's offensive numbers. Then there is the three-point shot. With those two additions, Murphy could be All Pac-10 and a candidate for All-American honors down the road.
With Wiggins' unfortunate injury (sprained right ankle), Murphy's A-game will be much needed in Oregon this weekend. The Oregon schools will prepare for Murphy and make her life tougher. But at its best, Murphy's controlled drive-to-shoot-or-dish game will be difficult to defend, and will bring out the best in Stanford's post players.
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