Tara VanDerveer Q & A, Part IX

This may be the off-season but fans can stay tuned in to Stanford basketball through TheBootleg.com's ongoing Q & A series with Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. In Part IX we learn a little about the philosophy behind the Stanford offense and defense.

In this, the ninth edition of our multi-part summer Q & A with Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer, we get philosophical, as in the philosophy of the Stanford offense and defense. Why the triangle, and is it equilateral, isosceles or scalene? OK, that's geometry, not philosophy. We'll give extra credit.

How would you describe your offensive philosophy?

A lot of it of course is taking advantage of the strengths of your players. Sometimes that changes from year to year. Do we have a strong perimeter game, a stronger post game? We really found a home with the triangle offense. We like that a lot. We just try to tweak it depending on our personnel.

In addition to our triangle, which is our main offense, we've always had pretty much a basic philosophy of wanting to play up-tempo, transition basketball – we want to run! We want unselfish basketball, team-oriented basketball. But it always looks better when people are more highly skilled.

Can you explain a little about how the triangle offense works?

We've run it since 2004. We were impressed with how well Colorado ran the triangle against us. It was hard to scout and hard to defend especially with the combination of a low block scorer/passer and perimeter passers/shooters. A good byproduct is that the offense is fun to play. It also allows for creativity on the part of players and coaches. The downside is that unlike set plays it is challenging to teach and learn. We are also always tweaking it to fit our personnel.

The triangle is based on spacing, ball movement, and player movement and screening. It involves ALL of the players on the court as opposed to some set plays that isolate two or three players. I personally study the Lakers' game tapes to see how they run it and I have met with Jim Cleamons, a Lakers Assistant, to learn more about options, etc. We are looking at some interesting tweaks for next season.

The triangle offense seems particularly well suited for a dominant post player like Jayne Appel who also passes so well. Do you foresee sticking with it after she graduates?

Jayne makes it look really good but other people like Sarah Boothe, Nneka Ogwumike, and Joslyn Tinkle will all make it look really good too. And then we'll tweak it a little bit depending on who we have playing, where they're playing.

How about your defensive philosophy? What are the basics of the Stanford defense?

Our defense is based on our personnel but we're mostly player-to-player defense. This year we could play more zone. We might with our really big line-up. But for the most part we're player-to-player and we don't get really extended. We're not the most individually athletic team but we need to be really aggressive and really physical.

I would define our defense a lot as "scouting report defense." We really try to take away the individual strengths of players on other teams. We work really hard at scouting opponents, trying to create the match-ups we want and when to help optimally.

Would it be accurate to say that your defense is less flashy than some of the more aggressively extended defenses out there but perhaps more quietly effective?

I think our defense is probably underrated if you look at the number of times we've been very highly ranked in points scored against us and field goal percentage against us. We're very effective defensively. (Despite a very tough schedule and including NCAA games, Stanford was ranked 13th in field goal percentage defense last season.) A lot of our defense is team defense and it's also the fact that our kids are very intelligent and can play good positional defense. I think our defense is more similar to Connecticut than to Tennessee whereas a team like Arizona State is more like Tennessee in their approach. We play more position defense and less getting really extended. A lot of defense is also being in great physical condition, being smart, and working really well together.

How do you develop a plan for special situations such as at the last moments of a tie game? Do you utilize variations of plays that you have tried successfully in the game already or do you have a special set of plays just for those situations?

I think you can always do better, but special situations, if you have a really young team, sometimes maybe you don't execute as well in those situations as you hoped. We do run certain set plays. We have plays we look to run with like fifteen seconds and the ball is in your possession for the last shot, kind of last shot of the half or last shot of the game. We have certain out-of-bounds plays that we run.

In those situations you want to have a couple of things you can do, but then those things get scouted so you have to be able to do something else. There are so many things to work on that you have to choose how you use your practice time. Quite honestly, the more skilled our players are, the better shape they come back in, the more that allows us to do more plays or more special situations because we kind of have to put out the big fires first, you know? We will work on these things every day but there are other things, like we feel we have to be working on our free throws or whatever. But those situations are something we work on and we do have a variety of set plays. Sometimes it might be who is in the game or if other teams say, hey we don't want the ball in let's say Jayne's hands so you have to make adjustments.

The team has a number of injuries right now. (Jayne Appel is rehabbing from minor knee surgery. JJ Hones and Hannah Donaghe are recovering from ACL tears. Melanie Murphy had surgery on a toe. Michelle Harrison had surgery to remove a cyst from her knee. Sarah Boothe is rehabbing after surgery to repair a stress fracture in her foot. Ashley Cimino was bothered by a sore Achilles tendon and missed spring workouts.) Are you concerned that some players won't be ready when practice starts in the fall?

We had a great season in terms of injuries besides obviously we lost JJ and Hannah. But beyond that people were very healthy. Then in the spring we had a rash of different injuries that who knows where they came from. Mel had surgery on her toe. Hannah obviously and JJ are coming back from the ACLs. JJ by the way is doing really well. Michelle was out with her knee bothering her. Jayne's knee was bothering her. A lot of it is they play a lot of basketball. I think it is common like this on every team. People get overuse-type injuries because they play so much even leading up to college.

We're hoping that people will be ready. Ashley had an Achilles problem. We hope that she's doing well. She's running. We know that. We hope Mel will be back. Some people that will not play in Italy (September 4-14th) would include Sarah Boothe, Hannah, and JJ – those three for sure will not play in Italy.

Do you expect that everyone besides those three players should be able to play in Italy?

Yeah, I think Italy is an opportunity for some people, like we'll see what kind of shape Grace (Mashore) is in. I've heard that she's working really hard and is looking good. People like Ashley and Michelle that really need game time, we hope will get that type of game time in Italy.

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