The View from Press Row: Pac-10 Finals

How should the Cardinal counter-punch the strength of the aggressive and pressuring Sun Devils? In Monday night's Pac-10 Tournament finals, the answer was a jumbo lineup and zone defense by #1 seed Stanford in the 62-55 win over #2 seed Arizona State. We were courtside and have the blow-by-blow account of how Stanford built a 20-point lead, ASU cut it to three, and Stanford survived at the end.

19:40 - No surprise to see Stanford go to its strength in the post on its opening possession.  Freshman point guard Melanie Murphy turns it over, however, trying to find fifth-year senior center Brooke Smith under the basket.

19:15 - Another Murphy turnover on Stanford's second possession.  Not how the freshman and Stanford want to start.  Arizona State badly harassed Cal freshman point guard Natasha Vital in the semifinal yesterday, and we expected them to try the same today.  They have to be happy with this immediate success against Stanford's floor general.

18:37 - Murphy just fell to the floor across the halfcourt line, keeping the dribble alive but allowing an easy held-ball situation.  ASU has the possession arrow, which makes for Murphy's third turnover in three possessions.  Into the game is junior shooting guard Cissy Pierce for Murphy, who survives just 83 seconds.

18:10 - Stanford is not yet hurting because of stout defense and rebounding.  ASU has missed all three of their shots thus far, and Stanford has rebounded each to avoid any Sun Devil second chances.

17:28 - Aubree Johnson breaks the Pac-10 Tournament championship game drought with a drive across the lane and short shot for the 2-0 lead.

17:06 - Junior guard Candice Wiggins is not going to start quite like the semifinals.  She misses her first three-pointer of the game and her second field goal attempt.  Stanford is still scoreless.

16:34 - Maybe I spoke too soon.  Wiggins comes right back and drains a three-pointer from the top of the arc.  This illustrates how defense keeps you in the game.  Stanford scores its first basket three and a half minutes in, but already has the lead at 3-2.

16:10 - Reagan Pariseau just drove the point and found a rude reception from senior forward Kristen Newlin, who swatted easily an attempted lay-in.  Newlin racked up five blocks last night in the semifinals against USC and helped hold the Women of Troy to just 30% shooting from the field.  Newlin now has seven blocks in this Pac-10 Tournament, which is just one away from the record of eight she set last year here in San Jose.

15:17 - Sophomore forward Jillian Harmon just hit a 16-footer that was wide open after Pierce drove the paint.  Good vision and decision by Pierce, and a confidence-booster for Harmon to hit from that range early in the game.

14:41 - Smith just had an open lane to drive all the way to the basket, fouled as she finished what becomes a three-point play.  Interesting to see Arizona State's defense again leave that much space in which to operate.  Their aggressive ball pressure can at times leave them exposed elsewhere on the court, and Stanford is finding success in finding those holes.

14:01 - Wiggins just delivered the best ankle-breaker of the 2007 Pac-10 Tournament, with a wicked crossover dribble that let her get into the paint and score on a short pull-up jumper.  Stanford is up 12-4, and the heavy Cardinal composition of this crowd is roaring.  Wiggins already has seven points.

12:23 - Smith feeds Harmon in the post, and Harmon's defender tries to overplay the pass for a steal.  Harmon hauls it in and has an open lay-in.  Nice pass by Smith, who gives it as well as she receives feeds on the floor... but again we see ASU yield an extraordinarily high-percentage score for Stanford because of their defense.

12:03 - Wiggins just picked up her second foul, whistled for holding Kayli Murphy in the post.  The Stanford junior looks like she is telling the coaches that she is okay to stay in the game, but they send Melanie Murphy to the scorers table to substitute.  Make note of the score: 16-7, Stanford.  Let's see how the Cardinal fare for the breadth of time that Wiggins sits on the bench.

11:45 - The woes continue for Murphy tonight.  On her first offensive substitution since coming back into the game, she drives the baseline and pulls up for a jumper that hits the side of the backboard.  Three games in three days is tough for a freshman point guard at this level, in this tournament atmosphere, for the first time.

11:15 - Smith just passed up an open three-pointer with a defender five feet off of her.  The Stanford center instead drives and pulls up for a mid-range jumper, which does not fall.  Smith has the range and that shot in her arsenal, but she has recently availed herself of it rarely.

10:40 - Freshman center Jayne Appel is into the game for Newlin.  Stanford leads 17-9.

10:19 - Murphy feeds Appel with a lob, which she puts in off the glass.  That is a positive play for Murphy and a sure confidence-booster.  No surprise that those two hook up - they've done it well for weeks.

10:03 - Jill Noe connects for the Sun Devils with a quick pull-up jumper.  ASU now has 13 points and is starting to feel a little rhythm on offense.  Not coincidentally, the pace of the game is quickening.  That favors them.

9:10 - Now it is Smith feeding Appel, who is fouled afterward on her shot attempt.  The Cardinal are going to the big freshman as their first option on offense.  Appel hits the first but misses the second free throw.  20-13, Stanford.  Wiggins substituted back into the game for Murphy - less than three minutes on the bench following her second foul.

8:18 - Briann January scores a layup in transition after a turnover on a terrible pass by Pierce.  ASU now trails by just five points.  Stanford turnovers feed the fastbreak and the Sun Devils' strength.

7:07 - ASU scores again off a Stanford turnover, this time in the halfcourt.  Smith lost the ball when pressured away from the basket.

6:55 - Stanford gives up another possession, this time whistled for three seconds in the lane (Appel).  The #1 seed now has seven turnovers against eight field goals and four assists.

6:55 - Coming out of the media timeout, we see freshman forward Michelle Harrison into the game for the first time.  Stanford is also in a 2-3 zone defensively.  They lead 20-17.

6:29 - Stanford defends the possession well and forces a contested shot that is well off, though ASU gets the ball again after being fouled on the rebound.  In its first try, the zone looks good.

5:50 - Smith grabs an offensive rebound of an Appel miss, and she has a double-team blanketing her under the basket on the left side.  The fifth-year senior answers with a nifty bounce pass to Appel on the right side, which she can easily score.  The passing tonight is pretty good from Smith, who is known to most in women's college basketball for her scoring.

5:06 - After Stanford records another stop with the zone defense, Wiggins goes the other way and hits a short jumper.  Stanford leads 24-17.

4:42 - Newlin and Harmon come into the game for Harrison and Murphy.  The freshmen did a nice job in keying those defensive stops.  Also noteworthy is the "triple towers" look from the Cardinal, with Newlin, Appel and Smith all on the floor together.  This big lineup also has Harmon playing the 'two' position, which isn't normal for her.  She can play there defensively, though, because she is defending a spot rather than a guard in the 2-3 zone.

3:48 - At the final media timeout of the half, we note that ASU has scored nary a point against the Stanford zone.  The Cardinal lead by seven points, which is nowhere near safe, but they have so far stopped the bleeding with that move by the Cardinal coaches.

3:31 - After two Wiggins free throws, the Sun Devils come the other way and are frustrated again by the zone.  They cannot feed the post and finish the possession with an airball, which Appel rebounds.

3:12 - Stanford commits its ninth turnover when Wiggins hesitates on her dribble and carries the ball.  Turnovers forced by the ASU defense are one thing, but the unforced turnovers are the ones that turn a coach's hair gray.

2:33 - A Wiggins drive-and-dish finds Smith on the low block, but she misses.  Appel is on the other side of the basket, grabs the offensive board and puts it right back in.  Stanford sure can rebound with this lineup.  28-17, Stanford.

1:58 - There is Smith's sensational passing again, this time from 20 feet finding Appel under the basket.  The 6'4" freshman finishes with a lay-in, and ASU has to call a timeout.  Stanford leads 30-17.  Still no scores against the Stanford zone.  This jumbo lineup is also operating offensively with Swiss precision over the top of the Sun Devils' defense.

0:36.4 - Appel grabs two offensive boards (one of her own miss), putting the second back into the basket.  Stanford's size is truly towering over the #8-ranked Sun Devils.  Wow.  That's 11 points and seven boards for Appel off the bench.  Stanford leads 34-17.  The Cardinal are on a 14-0 run.

0:21.6 - The crowd goes wild as Appel swats Emily Westerberg into the cheap seats, but there is a whistle.  That sends ASU to the stripe, and Westerberg hits both free throws.  It took six and a half minutes to finally score against Stanford's 2-3 zone, and it came on a somewhat questionable call.  Still no field goals in nine attempts.  34-19, Stanford.

20:00 - Stanford starts the second half with the jumbo lineup that finished so strongly: Newlin, Appel, Smith, Harmon and Wiggins.

19:46 - Appel scores right away on an offensive rebound of a Newlin missed jumper, again exploiting Stanford's size in the paint.

19:37 - Arizona State, though, does something they had been missing for more than seven minutes - hit a field goal.  ASU pushed the ball quickly, and January found Westerberg for a score at the basket inside the zone.

19:16 - Wiggins rips a triple right back, putting Stanford up 39-21.

17:01 - Appel just snared an offensive rebound of a Newlin three-pointer that missed.  The frosh misses the putback, but the rebound did push her to a double-double already of 13 points and 10 boards.

16:23 - I commented earlier on Smith not shooting the three-pointer.  She did just here, and it missed.

16:23 - First Stanford sub of the half: Pierce for Newlin.  No more jumbo for the Cardinal.

15:34 - Appel gets a large number of what I call "Mark Madsen rebounds" - offensive boards of your point-blank misses.  This time, she misses high off the glass on her first attempt under the basket, then grabs her own rebound on the other side, which she scores.  That's the first score for either team in quite a while.  Stanford is up 20.

15:24 - Westerberg scores the second ASU basket against Stanford's zone tonight, though she found herself open after a teammate slashed and drew the defense before dishing it to the Sun Devil senior for a lay-in.  Stanford still leads big, 41-23, but the lesson is that ASU needs to drive and create against the Stanford zone.

14:04 - Stanford is out of the zone defense, and Noe uses a fake to lift Harmon and then drive to the basket.  She is fouled by Newlin and gets to the free throw line.

13:40 - Harrison and Murphy come into the game, along with Appel.  Stanford is playing all three of its healthy freshmen here, with an 18-point lead (46-28).

13:21 - ASU scores in their first possession against the younger Cardinal lineup, with Noe draining her team's first successful three-pointer of the night.  It's hard to come back from this deficit without the triple in women's basketball.

11:24 - Stanford is back in their zone defense, and Appel pulls down a defensive board on a miss.  She outlets to Murphy, who has the fastbreak against a single ASU defender.  January blocks the attempted lay-in at the basket, though, and Murphy crashes to the ground.  The crowd expects a whistle and gets one, but for a jump ball rather than a foul.  That sets the Stanford fans into a frenzy.  January is clapping her hands and pumped up.  Her team trails by 19 and needs a spark.  ASU is shooting just under 30% from the field.

10:20 - Pariseau hits a three-pointer, and the ASU fans are on their feet.  It's now a 14-point game at 50-36.

10:10 - Wiggins turns the ball over when pressured on the sideline.  Murphy comes into the game for Pierce to give Stanford more ballhandlers on the floor.

9:43 - Stanford gets a good defensive stop on an Appel steal.  Will that stem the ASU tide?

9:25 - Smith again passes up an open three...  She passes to Appel, who once again misses at the basket but gets her own offensive rebound and lays it in.  She now has 17 points and 14 rebounds.

8:29 - Arizona State deserves some credit for what they force with their defense.  Pariseau pressured Murphy 30 feet from the basket and grabbed the ball from the freshman.  The two players stumble across the floor with shared possession, which is whistled as a jump ball...  Pierce substitutes back into the game now for Murphy.

7:37 - Stanford reverts to its man-to-man defense, and Danielle Orsillo drives inside for a short jumper.  Back to a 14-point game.

7:22 - Pierce answers right back with a quick score, driving and hitting the short jumper.  54-38, Stanford.

7:07 - There is a rapid response from ASU by Kirsten Thompson.  As I said near this point in the first half, this up-and-down pace favors Arizona State and is dangerous for the Cardinal.

6:32 - Coming out of the timeout, Stanford does not return to its zone defense as one might expect to slow the pace.  But they get a stop nonetheless, as Smith hauls in a rebound off a January miss.

6:14 - Harmon hits a 16-foot jumper from the top of the key.  It's a bonus for Stanford when she can hit that.

5:20 - Harmon gets it done on defense, too.  She blocks a jumper by Orsillo and then grabs the rebound.  She is immediately fouled by a frustrated Sun Devil.

4:46 - With time starting to run low and ASU trailing by 16, I'm about to say that they have to start scoring in bunches.  January does just that with an open three-pointer (Wiggins was content to stand five or six feet away to defend the drive).  56-43.

3:37 - January drives and dishes the ball to Westerberg, who lays it in, trimming the lead to just 11 points.

3:08 - Wiggins is blocked on a drive of her own, starting ASU on a fastbreak.  They're getting what they want on both ends right now.  There is more than enough time for them to close this game.

3:01 - Coming out of the final media timeout, January is at the free throw line.  She makes both, and the lead is single digits at 56-47.

2:33 - Stanford runs the shot clock down into single digits before Pierce drives the lane.  She misses the lay-in high off the glass, and Appel gets the offensive rebound to restart the possession and shot clock.  Even if ASU grabbed that board, it was a good possession in the time it spent and the halfcourt pace it reinforced.

1:50 - Westerberg posts up Appel and scores spinning to her left.  56-49.  Arizona State calls a timeout.

1:49 - ASU looks to pressure the ball fullcourt, but not with any trapping pressure.  I'm not sure why they have yet to try that today.  They are content with single-defender ball pressure.

1:32 - Wiggins is tied up in what is nearly another turnover, but Stanford has the possession arrow.

1:27 - Appel drives across the lane and puts up a shot that misses off the front iron.  She reaches out of position afterward and commits a foul, as has happened out of frustration many times this year after her misses.  This one does not cost free throws.

1:18 - ASU to the free throw line again, and now they have trimmed it to five points.  56-51.  Could this be a second straight collapse for Stanford in the Pac-10 Tourney finals?  They led UCLA handily until a late flurry last year.

1:12 - Harmon wants to hand the ball off to Wiggins after the inbound pass at the Stanford basket - a harmless enough play.  But January races in and pokes the ball away for a steal.  She puts the ball up right away and is fouled hard.  More free throws, and the Sun Devils are celebrating.  January hits both.  56-53.  Oh my.

0:48.0 - Wiggins drives late in the shot clock across the lane and is fouled by January.  The two free throws end a 13-0 Arizona State run.  Stanford leads, 58-53, and regains a modicum of breathing room.

0:35.9 - Thompson works the two-man game with January, finishing with the ball on the low block and a turnaround score.  58-55.

0:35.0 - Arizona State fouls deliberately and immediately after the inbound pass to Smith.  She hits the all-important first free throw in the one-and-one bonus situation.  Then the second.  Back to a five-point game.

0:25.2 - Pariseau has a three-point look in the corner, but Wiggins flies at her and swats it out of bounds.  That might be the game-saver, or at least the game-clincher.

0:15.0 - Wiggins again (!) with the big defensive play, this time with a steal 20 feet from the basket.  She passes quickly to Smith, who is fouled.  Stanford will ice this game.  Candice Wiggins does it all.

0:14.0 - Smith hits both free throws, and Stanford leads by seven, 62-55.

0:00 - Arizona State heaves their final field goal attempt for a long airball.  Stanford runs out the clock and then at the buzzer rushes together in celebration at halfcourt, index fingers raised into the air to signal their tournament championship.  That makes a clean three-game sweep of the Sun Devils this year.  Charli Turner Thorne's self-proclaimed closing of the gap is hard to take seriously after a three-game bagel against the queens of the conference.

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