On what stands out about the matchup:
In terms of story lines, it's Candice Wiggins versus Candace Parker, Ace vs. Ice. There's a couple of Hall of Fame coaches with Tara VanDerveer versus Pat Summit, and Tennessee is the defending national champion, going for their eighth national title. As storied of a program as you can get. Stanford, meanwhile, is a historical power, but has been riding the underdog mentality all way through the Tournament. They felt slighted as the two seed, had pundits going against them a few times, and now just beat a historical program in Connecticut and now have a chance to take down Tennessee for the title. It's David versus Goliath and there's history with the coaches, and the Candices.
On storylines on the court:
For Tennessee, their offense starts with Candace Parker and she's battling a left shoulder injury. She separated it twice against Texas A&M in the Elite Eight. She's the focal point of their offense and in the December game that Stanford won, they put Kayla Pedersen on her. She's a freshman, both are 6'4". I think they'll try to force Candace Parker to go left and use that injured shoulder and hand. Tennessee's not a great outside shooting team, their point guard Bobbitt is their best outside shooter, but she's 5'2" so it takes her room to get her shot off. So I wouldn't be surprised to see Stanford really sag to try to help on Parker and try to turn Tennessee into a jump-shooting team. On other side of the court, Stanford's thrived with balance in Tournament. It started with Jayne Appel dominant inside, and obviously Candice Wiggins has been amazing in this Tournament. Three-point shooting has come from JJ Hones, Ros Gold-Onwude and an unlikely source in Kayla Pedersen, not known for her three-point shot. But she's been hitting in the Tournament. Tennessee is a great defensive team but you can't key on one or two players if Stanford can spread it around.
On how Tennessee will defend Wiggins:
Last game against Tennessee, Candice scored 22, and she'll be matched up against Alexis Hornbuckle, who is a premier defender, a First Team All-SEC defender, a guard with three steals per game and the game-winning put back over LSU in the Final Four. In the Final Four, she was good offensively, but made the game with her D. I know in the press conference, Candice referred to her as the best one-on-one defender she's gone against. I think they're hoping they'll not have to double in the way Pitt did. They took her out with a double, but then other people stepped up.
On Stanford in the post:
Stanford's post game has been tremendous. Pat Summit was gushing today for what seemed like forever on their high-low, spacing and the way Kayla Pedersen can operate in the mid-range game. She can hit the three and is a good low-post scorer. Jayne Appel had a great season, close to 60 percent from the floor, and she's 6'4" with such long arms and so strong. Tennessee has a couple of good interior defenders, Anosike and Baugh. I think Stanford's stronger with an interior game and, for me, Stanford's offensive game is inside-out, starting with Jayne. She'll wait for the double to collapse and is such a great passer out of post, finding shooters.
On where Tennessee might have an edge to exploit if they hope to win:
I keep looking at this matchup, and I watched the games on Sunday night, and the truth is, if Stanford plays like it did the last few games and Tennessee comes out like it did against LSU, it shouldn't be close, the game should be a double-digit victory.
Tennessee is not necessarily the team they were against LSU – they've won 17 out their 19 against ranked opponents, have many, many quality wins, and so a lot comes down to Candace Parker's health. She was terrible against LSU, 6-of-27, she outright hurt her team offensively a lot of the time. But she averages 25 points per game and the whole team relies on her so much to be a force. She commands two, three defenders and still puts up 30. Even though her teammates are not great shooters, they will make open shots. They're still a great defensive team, and if they can keep it in the 50s, it favors Tennessee definitely.
On whether Stanford will try to run:
I do think Stanford will try to push the pace. They only had one turnover in the first half against Connecticut. Then Connecticut pressed and Stanford had a lot more turnovers. So I think they want to be careful with it, but Stanford beat Maryland essentially in a track meet, with 98 points, and scored 82 against Connecticut. LSU and Tennessee was a physical, grind it out game. I think Stanford wants to get fast-break points but more than that, push and get good looks in the half court offensively. They don't want to run clock, but keep things free flowing.
On what will win the game:
If Stanford can keep up their shooting. It's such a simple key, just offensive execution and shooting as well as they have the past couple games. Tennessee's a really good defensive team and Pitt was able to take Candice out. Jayne Appel's had a great Tournament but part of that was against Cleveland State, which has no player taller than six feet, unbelievably small. Tennessee obviously has the bodies to matchup better. It will come down to the supporting cast for Stanford. JJ, Ros, Jillian Harmon, if they can all knock down a few shots or one has a big game, then Stanford gets a few points directly and opens things up for Wiggins.
There's so much focus on the Candace and
Candice, but I think if you key on the supporting players, I think it's which
group's third and fourth scorers win that matchup. If you look at the first
Stanford-Tennessee matchup, Candace Parker had 25 and Wiggins 22, basically a
wash. But Ros Gold-Onwude had two big threes in overtime. That was the
difference and is definitely something to keep an eye on.
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