The Stanford women’s basketball team defeated the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four. The seniors on the team, notably guard Jeannette Pohlen and forward Kayla Pederson, are the only class in Stanford’s history to go to four straight Final Fours. They will face Texas A&M in the next round for a shot at the National Title Game.
Recap of the Elite EightThe Cardinal used their definitive size advantage to control the paint on both sides of the court. The game was never really in doubt, though Stanford did carelessly turnover the ball too many times in the game. Gonzaga did, however, give the team a bit of a scare as they managed to creep back in to the match at the end of the first half, thanks in large part to their best player, senior guard Courtney Vandersloot.
Vandersloot and the rest of the upstart Gonzaga team entered the game confident after some big wins. They had already defeated the number three seed UCLA and they also had the home field advantage playing in their home stadium in Spokane, Washington. Vandersloot averaged 30 points and 10 assists in every game in the tournament. She continued to be effective against Stanford, scoring 25 points and getting 9 assists. She scored 18 straight points against the Cardinal and was the sole reason Gonzaga was even within 9 points at the half. The rest of Gonzaga struggled greatly. They shot only 33.8% from the field after finishing the season as the highest scoring team in the NCAA.
Though the defense had been effective, coach Tara VanDerveer was no doubt concerned about Vandersloot taking over the game. The Cardinal switched in to tough zone to prevent Vandersloot from penetrating and scoring. VanDerveer forced someone besides Vandersloot to beat her. The defensive scheme change held Gonzaga to just 2 points in the first seven minutes of the half. By the time the Bulldog shooters managed to get going, Stanford had a twenty point lead and the game was out of hand.As good as the defense was, Stanford really shined with their offensive efficiency. In the first half, the team shot 65% from the field and ended the game shooting 57.4%. The game was a true showing of the team’s resilience because they followed up one of their worst shooting performances in the game against UNC with one of their best. Pohlen, who had been struggling in the tournament, was five of eight from three point range and scored 17 points total. Junior Nnemkadi Ogumike was incredibly efficient and the best player on the court. She missed only two shots and scored 23 points. She made some incredibly difficult shots, powering through the Gonzaga defenders and getting to the line often. The Bulldogs double teamed her and harassed her all night but she still managed to get her points.
Both her and her sister, freshman Chiney Ogwumike, dominated the glass. For the game, Stanford outrebounded Gonzaga 45-22, allowing them to completely control the tempo. Despite Vandersloot’s brilliance in the first half, the Cardinal locked down the front court and forced Gonzaga to make jump shots. But after the Bulldogs kept missing, Stanford’s lead just got greater and greater as the game went on.
The team needs to be careful, however, in the turnover category. The Cardinal had trouble taking care of the ball the entire game, giving up 6 steals and turning the ball over 18 times total. In their previous game against UNC, the Cardinal only committed 7. They had more than that just in the first half against Gonzaga. Because they shot the ball so well, some of the more careless turnovers on easy passes in the back court did not come back to hurt them. They will have to avoid uncharacteristic mistakes against the defensive minded Texas A&M squad.
Final Four Preview
Stanford showed that they are not going to let one player beat them. Across the board, the Cardinal is one of the biggest and best scoring teams in the country. Texas A&M is going to be a challenge but Stanford caught a break in not having to play the 6’8″ Brittney Griner and Baylor. The Aggies pride themselves on their defense. They lead the nation in turnover margin, forcing nearly 22 turnovers per game. The Cardinal will have to be more careful handling the ball, though the last game was likely an aberration in the turnover department.
Stanford will deploy a similar game plan in this game as they did against Gonzaga. They will force the Aggies to beat them with perimeter shots. Texas A&M has struggled all season shooting against big, athletic teams. Similarly, Texas A&M is going to try to lock down the paint and make Stanford shoot outside. If that’s the case, Pohlen and the Stanford guards are going to be key to breaking this game open. After the team shot so well in the last game, this should not be a problem at all.
Simply put, Texas A&M does not have the firepower to go toe to toe with Stanford. The Cardinal will control the glass and the pace of the game. Pohlen found her rhythm in the last game and is due for another strong performance. Expect Pohlen and Pederson to appear in their third National Championship Game.