Final thoughts on the NCAA Tournament

The Women’s NCAA Tournament will not be wrapping up as expected. On Sunday, both Stanford and UConn were upset in the Final Four. It will be the first time since 1994 that a No. 1 seed has failed to reach the NCAA Championship Game. The result is surprising because most experts picked either UConn or Stanford. UConn is a natural choice because they had won back to back National Championships. Since 2008, UConn had been undefeated in over 100 games against the field but 3-2 against Stanford. Recent history showed that if anyone could beat UConn, the team would be Stanford. Both teams had been to four straight Final Four games. Sadly for the Cardinal, their dominant stretch will end without a National Championship. At least for now.

Sophomore Mikaela Ruef watches her shot under the basket. AP Photo
Stanford, on paper, should beat Texas A&M. Stanford is bigger and has a better offensive skill set. The Cardinal shot at 50% for the game while the Aggies only shot at 35.4%. The Cardinal also had 30 rebounds compared to Texas A&M’s 22. Overall, Stanford had a higher field goal percentage, more rebounds, more assists, more steals, and more blocks. However, they also had more turnovers.

Both teams made 23 shots over the course of the game. The Aggies, though, had 19 more shot attempts than Stanford. Texas A&M won this game because they had more opportunities to score and because they made the clutch shots they had to at the end of the game.

Stanford was down early in the game because they had trouble attacking the A&M defense. Senior guard Jeanette Pohlen struggled driving the ball and accounted for seven turnovers for the game. Coach Tara Vanderveer turned to guard Melanie Murphy to get her offense going again. Murphy played well. Vanderveer described the game as a “pickup” style basketball game, making Murphy’s skill set invaluable to attacking the Aggies. Because Murphy handled the ball up the court, Pohlen was able to take advantage of her status as a shooter, going 3 of 4 from three point range. Murphy turned the offense around. It is no surprise that the offense slowed to a halt after Murphy fouled out on a questionable call with two minutes left in the game.

Junior Nnemkadi Ogwumike makes a tough shot over the A&M defense. AP Photo
Junior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike was brilliant in the game. She scored 31 points and had 7 boards. She dominated the paint and scored at will. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the team struggled. Ogwumike took on whatever A&M threw at her. She also made the go ahead shot with just less than 12 seconds. She scored all the big baskets for Stanford and kept her team in the game.

Texas A&M did not possess the lead for long stretches of the game but they did finish with the point advantage. The Aggies executed their game plan to perfection, they harassed Stanford all day. They even managed to create turnovers on inbound passes. Their defense was relentless enough to cover up their spotty shooting. When A&M was still down and the game was coming to a close, it was a series of forced turnovers that gave them a surge. They had missed many wide open jump shots. As the game winded down, their shooters finally stepped up.

This game brings a bittersweet end to the season. To have the game slip away in the waning moments is heartbreaking. The team next year will also look radically different with the loss of Murphy, Pohlen, and senior forward Kayla Pederson, all of whom accounted for over 100 combined minutes in the Final Four game. Despite this end, this group of seniors has performed about as well as any group of athletes in Stanford’s history. They went to four straight Final Four games, including two National Championship Title matches. It is also fitting that even though Stanford lost, coach Tara Vanderveer was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The basketball program has been through one of its most successful stretches and hopefully with a pipeline of Ogwumike’s the dominance will continue. Congratulations for the team and for its coach are in order, not condolences.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review