When Cal played Stanford at Maples Pavilion the contest went to overtime and the game could have gone either way. But even though the Bears get the Cardinal at Haas this time, make no mistake about it: Cal is still the underdog. That’s by no means an indictment of the Bears, who have generally played excellent basketball over the last few months – it’s an acknowledgement of what Stanford has accomplished this season.
Consider that when these teams met previously, Cal held Stanford to ‘just’ .85 points per possession. Only once this season did Stanford have a lower offensive output, and that was against #4 UConn on the road. This is a team that is really good at scoring points, and as a result the question becomes: What can Cal do to ensure a defensive performance just as good if not better than what they did at Maples?
That’s a tough question for me to answer in part because I watched the first game using Stanford’s incredibly low quality stream that prevented much in terms of player identification. But as best I can tell the strategy was to let anybody but Nneka Ogwumike beat them. Cal double teamed whenever possible and let Stanford shoot threes (many that seemed quite wide-open) and hope they didn’t get hot from outside.
And it nearly worked. If Stanford has a weakness it’s that they are a merely average outside shooting team. They went 3-20 from deep that day and those misses kept Cal in the game. Unfortunately, if you’re focusing on Nneka, that leaves Chiney Ogwumike, and she’s the other player the Cardinals have that warrants a double team. She stepped up and her production saved Stanford.
It’s up to Lindsay Gottlieb to decide if Cal can get away with double teaming Nneka and giving Chiney room. It’s up to Lindsay to decide whether or not to gamble on Stanford having another uncharacteristically awful 3 point shooting night. And perhaps most of all, it’s up to the entire staff and roster to figure out how to score enough points to win either way.
Tempo Free Preview
Our computer overlords (Sagarin) predict: Stanford by 9.5.
Chart concept borrowed from mgoblog. Numbers represent national rankings in each category. Team has 1 letter for a 10 spot advantage in the rankings, 2 letters for a 100 spot advantage, 3 letters for a 200 spot advantage, etc.
Cal eFG% v. Stan Def eFG%
Cal Def eFG% v. Stan eFG%
Cal TO% v. Stan Def TO%
Cal Def TO% v. Stan TO%
Cal Reb% v. Stan Reb%
Cal FTR v. Stan Opp FTR
Cal Opp FTR v. Stan FTR
Cal O-PPP v. Stan D-PPP
Cal D-PPP v. Stan O-PPP
Stanford does not excel at one thing, and that’s forcing turnovers. And it’s probably by design, because when you can force teams to shoot poorly without fouling and you’re going to get the rebound, there’s really not much point in gambling to force steals.
Stanford’s advantage over Cal is almost exclusively found in the eFG% offense and defense categories. Cal is a decent shooting team, and they don’t allow their opponents to make a ton of shots . . . but Stanford is elite at both. But then again, most of the time the Ogwumike sisters can overwhelm players on both ends who just can’t compete with their talent level. Cal can throw out some post players who will at least make them earn it.
Beyond that? Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. Cal certainly won’t be +10 or more on the boards, but they’ll have to do better than allowing Stanford to get 17 2nd chance points. Talia Caldwell acknowledged the challenge and the need for improvement at this week’s press conference. Like I said when I previewed Stanford last time – the battle for boards will be worth the (low) price of admission by itself.
Stanford is too much - Cal loses by 10+ (24 votes)
Another close but no cigar game - Cal loses by less than 10 (36 votes)
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