Opposites Collide in NCAA Round Two

The Stanford and San Diego State teams that met in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Monday were a contrast in size and style. The Aztecs tried to beat the much larger Cardinal with speed and energy but excellent Stanford defense and great work in the paint, especially by F Nneka Ogwumike, carried the Cardinal to a 77-49 win.

It must be mentioned that your Bootleg "reporter" was once again reduced to a mere long distance spectator on the living room couch, trying to scoot the dog over and desperately looking for the TV mute button. But we were glad we got to watch, so here's to you ESPN2! And here are some thoughts on Stanford's 77-49 triumph over the San Diego State Aztecs that moves the Cardinal into the Sweet 16 against Ohio State on Saturday in Berkeley (Be there!).

The San Diego State Aztecs make their living with quickness that allows them to pressure opponents into turnovers and dart between defenders to the hoop. The Aztecs play like a swarm of bees; they want to sting, buzz, and distract an opponent into mistakes on which the Aztecs can capitalize. Unfortunately for San Diego State they ran into a Stanford Cardinal team with the hide (and relative size) of an elephant.

San Diego State started out energetically in front of their home crowd and kept the game close for the first 10 minutes with some steals and a few threes (including one banked shot and another very long make), but Stanford shook off some early foul trouble (most notably to sophomore G Jeanette Pohlen, which led to some instability in the backcourt and double-digit turnovers in the first half) and just kept methodically ramming the ball into the paint, often to freshman F Nneka Ogwumike, who had a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds. Before long the Aztecs' early energy dissipated, their fouls mounted, and the Cardinal took control of the game. San Diego State's pressure kept things interesting even though the Card led by at least 15 and generally closer to 20 throughout the second half. That the game felt much closer than it was reflects highly on the effort San Diego State continued to put forth and also highlights the nerve wracking nature of NCAA second round games, when bubbling in the subconscious of the favored team is the thought, "Just don't lose to this big underdog." It is a relief to get out of San Diego even though the games were not close.

Game ball #1 goes to Nneka Ogwumike, who was fantastic inside in the best game of her young career. Ogwumike scored a career-high 27 points (8-10 shooting from the field and 11-13 from the free throw line) and pulled in 13 rebounds (5 offensive). She was absolutely unstoppable inside and her teammates aided her with smart passes when she cut to the basket. Granted, the Aztecs had little size inside, but Ogwumike has been coming on like a freight train lately and we have the sneaking suspicion that this performance is still just the tip of the iceberg for her. We hope that iceberg makes it to St. Louis and helps turn #1 seeded Connecticut into the Titanic.

Game ball #2 goes to senior F Jillian Harmon. Stanford as a group played excellent defense, holding the Aztecs to just 15 field goals and 26.8% shooting. Harmon stood out with her strong defensive effort against the Aztecs' most dynamic scorer, Jene Morris, who dropped 35 on DePaul in the first round. Morris could not get by Harmon and was forced to take difficult shots all night. The San Diego State junior guard went 6-17 from the floor and 1-3 from the charity stripe for 14 points and had to contort herself into a pretzel to get shots off. The Aztecs needed a huge game from Morris to have any chance - Harmon did not let her have one. Morris probably was not too thrilled with "Jill the Thrill" but the way Harmon's perimeter defense has evolved this season gives Stanford partisans a few chills down the spine. The Stanford senior also had 4 steals, 3 of which she took in for scores, which gave the Aztecs a taste of their own medicine in a big way.

Other Stanford stats of note: Harmon with 12 points and 2 blocks, junior C Jayne Appel with 12 points and 11 boards despite fouling out in just 16 minutes (How did that happen?), Pohlen with 11 points and 6 rebounds, and sophomore F Kayla Pedersen with 9 rebounds, 7 assists 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Ogwumike and Pedersen each took two big charges. Stanford shot almost 50% for the game, but considering that they shot almost entirely lay-ups, that percentage could and probably should have been higher. This was not Stanford's most fluid offensive effort.

The Stanford defense did not allow San Diego State many easy transition baskets. In fact, Stanford scored 14 points off of turnovers compared to 13 points for San Diego State. The Cardinal had 14 fast break points; the Aztecs had 4. The difference in points scored in the paint was an astounding 50-12 in Stanford's favor. San Diego State is not a team that wants to beat you by shooting from the outside. They need to drive, so Stanford's ability to stuff them when they approached the basket was crippling to their offense. The Aztecs had no post game, could not get their guards through the Stanford perimeter defense, and could not get enough easy baskets from their pressure defense.

San Diego State head coach Beth Burns knew she had to get an almost perfect confluence of positives to win, so when several of the starters on her not very deep roster got saddled with two fouls in the first half, Burns rolled the dice and left them in the game. Unfortunately for Burns, her starting center and only inside threat, 6'4" Paris Johnson, and her starting forward, Jennifer Layton-Bailes, each picked up a third foul in the first half. Neither played more than 20 minutes and Johnson eventually fouled out.

On this first weekend of the NCAA tournament the Cardinal played fairly well and successfully navigated the upset minefield that claimed #1 seeded Duke and several #2 and #3 seeds, but they did not play their best offensively. They did not very shoot well against UC Santa Barbara or even against San Diego State if one accounts for the close-in nature of the shots. The Card have been capable outsider shooters so that ought not be an impediment going forward. They had a few too many turnovers against the Aztecs but facing that style of pressure defense is good practice for later in the tournament (knock wood!). The Stanford defense was exceptional in both games. Ogwumike busting out was a major, major positive. Appel did not have a dominant weekend and has to watch those fouls, which stymied what should have been a monster performance against the Aztecs. The Card did not need big games from her in the first two rounds but they surely will against #3 seed Ohio State and their 6'4" center, Jantel Lavender, who was named Big Ten Player of the Year for the second straight season.

Ohio State is a difficult team to gauge unless one is very familiar with the Big Ten, which I confess I am not. The Buckeyes are 29-5 and won their conference (15-3) and conference tournament. They did play and lose to Auburn (a #2 seed) and North Carolina (a #3 seed) in non-conference action, but the rest of their non-conference schedule was not very challenging. Their best wins were all in the Big Ten: Purdue (3x), Michigan State, and Iowa. They lost to Minnesota, Michigan State, and Iowa in conference play. To reach the Sweet 16, they squeaked by Mississippi State 64-58 in a home game in Columbus, Ohio. The Big Ten has been fairly successful in the NCAA tournament thus far with Purdue and Michigan State pulling major upsets.

The Buckeyes score an average of 69.1 points per game and give up an average of 56.8. They shoot 44.8% and allow opponents to shoot 36.6%. They make about 4.6 three-point shots per game on 33.8% shooting. Stanford shoots a very similar percentage but the Cardinal have made 215 threes and the Buckeyes only 157. The biggest three-point threat for Ohio State is Sr F Ashlee Trebilcock, who shoots 44% from beyond the arc and who some may remember from her freshman season at UCLA.

Ohio State has a top post in 6'4" Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender, who averages 21.0 points on 54.2% shooting and 10.8 rebounds per game. Senior F Star Allen complements Lavender inside to the tune of 10.9 points on 53.6% shooting and 7.7 rebounds per game. Though they score efficiently inside, Ohio State does not dominate on the glass as Stanford does; the Buckeyes' rebounding margin is 5.4 compared to 13.2 for Stanford.

The Ohio State point guard is flashy freshman Samantha Prahalis, who can be inconsistent and has not been shooting well this season. Prahalis averages 5.8 assists but also 3.9 turnovers per game.

Aside from Lavender, Ohio State does not have great height. Reserve C Andrea Walker is 6'5" but only scores 3.3 points per game in 11.9 minutes. Only one other Buckeye is taller than 6'. Once again Stanford will enjoy a serious height advantage except at the center position but unlike the previous two Stanford opponents, who also featured 6'4" centers, that one exception is probably the key to the game.

Probable Ohio State Starters:

So C Jantel Lavender (6'4") – 21.0 ppg, 54.2%, 10.8 rpg, 61 A, 118 TO, 41 B
Sr F Star Allen (5' 11") – 10.9 ppg, 53.6%, 7.7 rpg
Fr G Samantha Prahalis (5'7") – 10.0 ppg, 33.9%, 26.3% threes, 197 A, 132 TO
So G Brittany Johnson (5'11") – 6.8 ppg, 42%, 36.4% threes
Jr G Shavelle Little (5'8") – 3.0 ppg and often does not play many minutes

Reserves (all played in all 34 games and averaged over 10 mpg):

Sr G Ashlee Trebilcock (5'9") – 7.3 ppg, 46.5%, 44% threes
Jr C Andrea Walker (6'5") – 3.3 ppg, 38 blocks
So F Sarah Schulze (6'1") – 2.8 ppg
Jr G Maria Moeller (5'7") – 2.2 ppg

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