On Sunday afternoon at Maples Pavilion, the Stanford Cardinal took a dare from UC-Davis and turned it into a 62-41 victory. The margin was borderline blowout, but the scanty point total accumulated by the victors suggests that subduing UC-Davis was not accomplished in a breeze. The Cardinal were up early and maintained a comfortable lead throughout, but even if Stanford did bury the Aggies, they still had to keep a wary eye out lest a dirt-encrusted Aggie hand claw its way free from the coffin. UC-Davis kept the score low by making the Cardinal use up lots of clock trying to solve the Aggie zone defense, while on the other half of the court, Davis struggled to find open looks, often just skirting shot clock violations. The result was a sluggishly paced game that the Card controlled, but without hitting the accelerator on offense as well as they might have wished. Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer praised the Aggie effort, "They have a really well-coached team. We might have overwhelmed them a bit today, but we're going to improve because we played them. Their zone was very effective. We turned the ball over too many times." The anticipated Donaghe sibling slugfest did materialize but not until the late stages of the game, when Stanford's Hannah frequently guarded Aggie Haylee, who claimed with a laugh, "I had to take it at her hard a couple of times." Haylee Donaghe scored 9 points, thus winning the battle of siblings. Big sisters can be like that.
This was a bit of a "dare you" game from Davis. The Aggies took a gander at Stanford's shooting percentages from long range, including All-American senior guard Candice Wiggins' uncharacteristically low numbers, and decided to dare and even double dare Wiggins and the Cardinal to shoot. Though one could not fault the strategy, for the Cardinal, it may have been just what the doctor ordered. Relaxed at home after gallivanting across the continent, and letting fly at the familiar Maples rims, Wiggins uncorked her first Wigginsian power three-ball barrage of the season. She was 3-of-6 in the first half from beyond the arc and 5-of-10 for the game. Cissy Pierce turned on the faucet by draining a three less than three minutes into the game, and junior guard Ros Gold-Onwude chipped in 2-of-6 three-point shots. Explained UC-Davis head coach Sandy Simpson, "It's a pick your poison thing with Stanford. If you look at them statistically, maybe one area where they have struggled up until tonight was their three-point shooting, so we made a choice to try to pack it in a little bit and make Jayne [Appel] work a little harder for her points, and make them prove it outside. And they did. They went 5-of-11 from three-point range in the first half. We gave it to them, they took advantage and made us pay."
Aside from their 21 turnovers, Stanford played a better game than it might appear when one evaluates their low-scoring effort. They had not faced a zone all season, and the Aggies were aggressive and swarming in their version. Solving it was a challenge that ought to help the Cardinal later, when they will surely see similar strategies. "It was actually our first look at a zone, so we practiced against it for a couple of days, but they did a good job of trapping and putting pressure on our guards," said junior forward Jillian Harmon, who had 6 points and 7 rebounds off the bench as part of the post rotation once again. Passing the ball inside proved to be particularly challenging. Offered VanDerveer, "They were really trying to limit the ball going inside, but when Jayne [Appel] got it she was extremely effective. Overall we had a good team effort. We did some things that we will be working on for the next two weeks – taking care of the ball probably number one." Sophomore center Appel was 7-of-8, finishing with 17 points and 8 rebounds. Her eight attempts were approximately half her normal output. Appel thought it was the Davis pressure on the Cardinal guards that created the difficulty in finding her inside. Explained Appel, "What was hard was when the guards were really feeling a lot of pressure up top. At one point, Candice [Wiggins] said, 'As long as I find the right spot, it's an easy pass.'" Wiggins found the right spots often enough to feed Appel some lovely over-the-top passes past the shorter Aggie defenders, and when Appel found a crowd inside she was able to pop the ball to Wiggins or Gold-Onwude for wide open shots. UC-Davis coach Simpson thought the Card fought his zone effectively, and praised Appel's passing, "They worked the ball really well. It goes inside out from Jayne. She's a really good passer from the low post. She's seen enough double and triple teams in her short career so far that she knows how to get the ball out to shooters."
Having vanquished their first zone, the Cardinal get a two-week break for exams. They go into the break feeling like their early schedule has them ahead of the curve. Commented Appel, "I definitely think the early games got us through a lot of tight situations that maybe other teams won't experience as early in the season. We're fortunate it was against very good teams. It gives us confidence." How will the team approach their "vacation"? "Two weeks of work ahead of us," said Harmon with a smile and a nod.
Harmon and her teammates have reason to smile. After navigating big travel miles and a difficult schedule, they sit at 7-1, safely ensconced in the top 10 of the polls. The Cardinal have also played more games so far (8) than many teams. They deserve a break. They might need their rest, too, for it gets no easier when they return to action in two weeks. First up on Dec 16 is undefeated Baylor, now ranked in the top 10 in the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. Next the Card fly to visit New Mexico, 5-2 and as usual, undefeated at home, where they are having a promotion to pack the 10,000-plus house for Stanford. After that, Tennessee pays a visit to Maples Pavilion on Dec 22. The Cardinal have their work cut out for them, and will almost certainly need to hit their outside shots to triumph. If the Wiggins and the Cardinal are able use the UC-Davis game as the springboard to consistently better outside shooting, they should remember to give thanks to the Aggies and their tenacious zone for forcing the Card prove they could shoot it down.
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