Bizarro Cardinal Out-Shoot Santa Clara
The Stanford Cardinal inhabited a strange, alternate universe on Tuesday evening against Santa Clara at the Leavey Center. In an oddly scheduled non-conference game plunked incongruously into the middle of a busy week of conference play, the Cardinal out-shot a team noted for their sizzling long-range shooting and prevailed 96-74 despite a middling defensive effort. The Broncos have hit 170 three-point shots this season at a rate of 37.5%. By contrast, Stanford has only made 112 three-point shots at barely over 30%. In Tuesday's game, the Card canned 13-26 three-pointers while the Broncos went 6-18. Who'd have thunk it? That the Cardinal also sleepwalked through the defensive portion of the program to some extent was the counterbalancing quench to all the offensive fire, though credit must go to Santa Clara, for they made many difficult shots and stayed aggressive on offense. If the Cardinal looked relaxed shooting, that mellowness also might have crept into their defense. This was an odd game, with an undertone of sadness, because Santa Clara just lost their leading scorer, senior Chandice Cronk, to an ACL injury suffered in their last game, a loss to Gonzaga. Santa Clara head coach Michelle Bento-Jackson praised her team for their resilience and heart. Tracey Walker led Santa Clara with 23 points, most on spinning drives into the lane. The Broncos played with plenty of passion, and concentrated on shutting down the Cardinal's inside game. "We felt with their size on the inside and their talent on the inside, and obviously [inside shots] are high percentage shots, we should take that away to see if we could force them to shoot from out," said Bento-Jackson. "They were hot. They were on fire. They didn't hardly miss from out." Hot might be putting it mildly. In the first half, the Cardinal would have scorched even fireproof nets; they hit 8-14 three-point shots for an unreal 57% conversion rate. They finished with a season-best 13 three-point makes (13-26), and 62% overall shooting, also a season-high. Sophomore guard JJ Hones had the best shooting day of her career, hitting 5-6 from beyond the arc and scoring a career-high 20 points. Hones also contributed 3 assists and 2 steals. In a stunning development, she had no turnovers. Her assist to turnover ratio is approaching infinity. Soon we will all have to dust off our old calculus texts to understand it (What, you didn't save those?). Senior guard Candice Wiggins, not one to waste time, scored 20 points in 21 minutes (including 3-7 from three-point range). Wonder what went wrong in that twenty-first minute? Freshman forward Kayla Pedersen had 15 points and 8 rebounds, and also got into the act from distance (2-3 three-point shots). Jillian Harmon added 11 points but was one of the few party-poopers who did not attempt a three. Hones explained the Card's otherworldly shooting, "We've been shooting a lot during practice, and we've been listening to music while we've been shooting, and it's got us feeling really relaxed. I feel it's my job to hit open shots." Perhaps Santa Clara pumped the wrong music through their PA system before the game. If the Cardinal offense was finely "Honed," the usually solid Cardinal defense was blunt. The Cardinal allowed Santa Clara to shoot 46% for the game and get to the free throw line 21 times. Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said, "I was happy with our offense. We shot the ball really well. It was great to see JJ knocking down her threes. I was hoping we could play some people more. Hannah (Donaghe) did a good job, coming in and knocking down her shot. I was disappointed in the second half with our defensive effort. It's tough for our big players to guard their three-point shooters. I didn't think this was a team we could zone. We have three games in a week, so I wanted to rest Candice. I was very happy with how Ros (Gold-Onwude, who had 5 assists) played. I was very happy with how JJ played. Kayla played really well. But overall, our team defense was disappointing." Another area of concern was that for the second game in a row, Stanford starters needed to be reinserted into the game late in the second half as a large lead was shrinking too rapidly for comfort. VanDerveer said she might occasionally sub too early. "I'm so paranoid with the injury situation. We come in here and there's an ACL (Cronk). I'm not trying to win by a margin, but obviously you don't want to let the game get out of hand, because they're such good three-point shooters," commented VanDerveer. "In the first half, I don't think we were playing that well defensively, but we were scoring. In the second half, when we took Jayne out and Kayla out, we had very limited scoring. I'm not concerned about a margin, but when we've won the game, I don't ever want to lose the game because I subbed too early." The defensive trouble was an eye-opener, but given that the Cardinal have been excellent in most games, probably not a big cause for concern. "We're going to need to be much more aggressive and work harder," noted VanDerveer. "What's been more concerning is our shooting, and then we come out and shoot the ball well. I guess I'll take that trade-off a little bit. To me, defense is effort." Assuming that the Cardinal resume their customary high intensity defensive efforts, the single-game trade-off is an excellent one, since it continues the recent and much desired trend of better three-point shooting. This shooting barrage came on the road, even if the venue was only a short drive away, which is even more encouraging than lighting up the familiar home baskets. Hones is now shooting over 40% from beyond the arc for the year, which is designated gunner territory. Wiggins has not had any real breakout three-point shooting games, but her average has been nudging upward also. Whatever music the team is using to relax in practice, we give it high marks–it has a good beat and you can shoot to it. Santa Clara can attest to that. Let's hope that song travels well on this next road trip, where Oregon and Oregon State await. The Ducks appear to be peaking. They came within a whisker of defeating Arizona State in Tempe last weekend. The Cardinal will need their strong defense, and making some beautiful music shooting couldn't hurt either.
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