Cal Women's Basketball At Stanford: Chance For An Upset On The Farm?

Stop her, stop Stanford? Easier said than done.

When I preview Cal vs. Stanford in women's basketball it inevitably turns into a narrative in which I try to convince myself that Cal has a good chance at winning despite the fact that Stanford as a constant top 5 team that has a six game winning streak over the Bears.

The problem is that there's no magic formula. Stanford doesn't have a hidden weakness, some Achilles heel to exploit (unless, you know, they all hurt their Achilles heel before the game). They shoot well, they defend well, they dominate the glass, they don't foul. You get the idea. Except, maybe there's a tiny chink in the armor . . .

Stanford relies heavily on Nnemkadi Ogwumike. If you were forced to pick one player to rely on heavily you'd pick her immediately because she's the best player in the country. She's top 10 in rebounding, top 10 in scoring, and top 15 in field goal percentage. But when you rely so heavily on any one player there's always the risk: what happens if that one player has an off-game?

There have been exactly three games this year in which Stanford hasn't dominated. A 10 point loss to UConn, an 8 point win over USC and a 7 point win over Oregon State. The common denominator in those three games is a sub-par effort from Nneka. Against UConn she was actually pretty good (especially considering the opponent) but she was in foul trouble and played only 23 minutes. Against USC she only shot 6-16 from the floor and turned the ball over 5 times. And against Oregon St. she went just 11-29 from the field.

That Oregon St. game has a bizarre box score. It's weird to say that a player that finished with 33 points had a sub-par game, but Nneka had to take 29 shots to get to 33 and only shot 38% from the field, well below her usual average of 60%. She got no offensive help from her Stanford teammates with the exception of her sister Chiney - they combined for 80% of Stanford's points.

The message is clear: Stanford's supporting caste is still plenty good, but it's not nearly as strong as it has been in years past. If the Cardinal didn't have the player of the year in their team then the Pac-12 race might be wide open. The question is: Does Cal have the personnel and game plan to slow down Nneka without leaving her teammates the time and space to take advantage? I've seen enough of Nneka over 4 years to confidently say that I have not the slightest clue on how to stop her other than praying for the mother of all bad shooting nights. I'm guessing that Lindsay Gottlieb has a better idea than me.

Tempo Free Chart

Our computer overlords predict: Sagarin Predictor: Stanford by 16

Chart concept borrowed from MGoBlog, all stats courtesy of wbbstate.com and are accurate as of 1/22 . One letter indicates 10 place advantage in national rankings, two letters indicate 100 place advantage, three indicates 200 place advantage, etc.

Category

Cal Ranking

Stan Ranking

Advantage

Cal eFG% vs. Stan Def eFG%

115

19

S

Cal Def eFG% vs. Stan eFG%

92

13

S

Cal TO% vs. Stan Def TO%

100

310

CCC

Cal Def TO% vs. Stan TO%

233

1

SSS

Cal Reb% vs. Stan Reb%

2

8

-

Cal FTR vs. Stan Def FTR

120

44

S

Cal Def FTR vs. Stan FTR

102

236

CC

Cal O-PPP vs. Stan D-PPP

42

50

-

Cal D-PPP vs. Stan O-PPP

58

3

S


The Sagarin Predictor number is rather shocking, but it's not a function of the computers disliking Cal - on the contrary, Sagarin has Cal pegged as the 23rd best team in the country. So really, the number represents how dominant Stanford has been against a tough schedule.

This game will be hyped because of the matchup of rebounding, both individually between Nneka Ogwumike and Gennifer Brandon, and as a team, but it will probably end up being a wash. The numbers that jump out are Stanford's absurdly low turnover rate on offense, combined with their excellent shooting, which gives them one of the best offenses in the country even though they play in a conference that I would tend to call defensive minded.

Keys to the game:

1. Contain Nneka - She's not going to finish with 5 points. But if she finishes with 17 points and has to take 15 shots to get there? That would be mighty fine.

2. Get the ball inside and finish - I don't care if that means penetration from Boyd and Clarendon or great entry passes to Brandon and company, but we all know that Cal isn't winning this game by passing the ball around the perimeter and shooting 3s. Stanford will do everything they can to stop the ball from getting inside, and when it does they'll collapse on the key. But if Cal can get their points inside and maybe get an Ogwumike or two into foul trouble they'll stand a fighting chance. If the game turns into an ugly, foul-filled scrum that probably benefits Cal, because Stanford doesn't want to go as deep into the bench as Cal does.*

3. Play loose but controlled - Well, how about that for contradictory advice? It's a fine line. Against a team like Stanford, Cal can't afford to give away possessions with bad passes and violations. But if Cal plays tight and avoids chances to push the tempo and make potentially dangerous passes then they probably lose in a game that gets bogged down in the half court set. The Bears can't play safe but they can't play recklessly, either. If they find that balance (like they did for the vast majority of the game against Ohio St.) they can play with anybody.

*Stanford does have a bunch of players that average more than 10 minutes a game, but that's mostly because they blow so many teams out that they can afford to play everybody. If the game is close they want to play their starters 30 minutes or more.

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