Stanford Women’s Basketball: NCAA Tournament Preview

The Stanford Women’s basketball team is having another great year. Currently 17-1 and ranked No. 2 in the NCAA, Stanford is poised to close out the decade without a single losing season. Stanford is undefeated in PAC-10 play and has dominated the conference so far. Its only loss this season has been to the No. 1 Connecticut Huskies in Connecticut. As the Cardinal is the only ranked team in the PAC-10, another conference title is all but assured by the team’s current dominance. Stanford, though, is likely more worried about how it will fare in this year’s NCAA tournament.

The team has plenty of great playmakers this year, all of whom will be instrumental for success in March. Sophomore forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike has been extremely productive for the Cardinal this season. She is currently averaging 19.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Junior forward Kayla Pedersen has also been having much success with 16.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Senior center Jayne Appel rounds out the scoring leaders for the Cardinal with 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. The entire team has been solid, ranking in the top ten in the NCAA in both scoring offense and team field goal percentage.

The Cardinal is currently 2-1 against teams ranked in the top 25. Stanford defeated No. 8 Duke 71-55 and then convincingly beat No. 3 Tennessee 67-52 in back to back home games. Despite beating both of these top teams by double digits, Stanford still did not fare well in its matchup against No. 1 Connecticut, ultimately losing 80-68.

The score itself, however, does not show that this was definitely a winnable game for the Cardinal. At half time, Stanford actually led Connecticut 40-38 and was in a position to steal the No. 1 ranking away from the Huskies. Stanford’s ending field goal percentage was at a good figure of 46.4%, only slightly behind the Huskie’s 47.9% mark. Stanford also had a better three point percentage and free throw percentage. The problem in this game was not Stanford’s ability to shoot but rather its ability to hold onto the ball. Stanford had 17 turnovers to Connecticut’s 11. Connecticut came up with 9 steals and 4 blocks in their win over the Cardinal.

Stanford, by no means, played badly in this game. They were just outplayed off the dribble. Stanford has beaten top teams at home but unfortunately will not get another opportunity to prove they can win a tough game on the road. In all likelihood, Stanford will not play any more top 25 teams until the NCAA tournament, as the rest of their schedule is made up of playing in-conference opponents.

Stanford has reached the Final Four in the NCAA tournament for the past two years in a row. The Cardinal has done well in the tournament but has not been able to get to the finals, losing both years to the eventual tournament winner. In 2008, Stanford was beaten by then ranked No. 1 Tennessee. In 2009, Stanford was knocked out by the undefeated No. 1 Connecticut. The Cardinal has already managed to defeat Tennessee this year but the Huskies remain the most daunting challenge on the road to a possible NCAA championship title.

Barring an upset, the Cardinal will likely end up in a rematch with either Tennessee or Connecticut. Stanford may even have to play both these teams. Stanford has a matchup advantage over Tennessee but still definitely has the capability to beat Connecticut. On a neutral court, the Cardinal may be able to outplay Connecticut for the whole game rather than just the first half.

Stanford has been close to a tournament victory for a couple years now. The opportunity is definitely there but can this dream finally come true?

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