Making it to the Final Four is one big party, a parade of awards, a chance to play dress up, and get sized for rings. Pretty heady stuff. Too bad they still have to play the games. Stanford came up short in the semi-final game, losing to Baylor 59-47. Let’s face it, Stanford had the game plan, they just couldn’t execute on offense.
After much secrecy, ESPN reporters reported just before the tip off that Stanford would play a 54 defense against 6’8 Brittney Griner, who had won the Player of the Year Award the day before. To Stanford fans, this defense was not new, having seen it done to Cal and a couple other teams this year. It has five Stanford players surrounding the paint and the four better scorers and leave one Baylor player open. It worked for a half. Jordan Madden was the first victim to find herself surprisingly open. She missed a lot, going 2-8 for the half. Brittney Griner only had 7 points and went many minutes without touching the ball.
But Stanford could not hit on offense. They could not hit a three. Stanford’s standout player Nneka Ogwumike played away from the basket to pull Brittney Griner away from helping. When Stanford got some back door passes, it worked. When Nneka tried to shoot from out there, she missed. She also would have 7 points at the half. Freshmen three-point specialist Bonnie Samuelson was brought in off the bench and instantly hit a three. That would be her only one, although she popped a second one and the ref said she stepped out of bounds.
The half time score was 25-23 Baylor, and that was because Lindy LaRocque did not take care of the ball and it got stolen for a lay up. Stanford only had 4 turnovers against Baylor’s quick defense, but they lead to 8 points. That won’t win you games. When Stanford came out of the locker room at the half, they put Nneka back inside where she is most comfortable, which means she had to go right at Brittney Griner, and she did.
Nneka drove in and as she jumped, and Brittney jumped to block, Nneka flew in the air to the other side of the basket for a reverse lay up. Nneka went inside again and was fouled by Griner. Then the third time she attacked the basket and made a high bank shot. And like that she has 13 points. The fourth time she was blocked.
And then the wheels came off. No one else from Stanford was scoring. They stopped going back door. Stanford got it to 34-21 Baylor. Then Chiney got called for an illegal screen and her third foul. Nneka did a screen and SHE got called for an offensive foul.
Then Chiney got her fourth and then a short time later, her fifth at the 7:48 mark. Although, it wasn’t that big of a loss as she was ineffectual against Griner inside. She could hardly rebound, and she certainly didn’t get any put-back points. She would leave the game with just 4 points. But at that point, the game was not lost, if someone else could step up and make threes. Jos Tinkle, who has a steady hand the latter part of the season, only scored 2 points and missed all three of her three-point attempts.
Stanford was limiting Brittney Griner, but now Jordan Madden and a bench player by the name of Terran Condrey were making their shots. If you would have said to Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer that Brittney Griner would get one field goal in the second, half, and Nneka would lead all scores with 22, AND Stanford would win the block-battle with 5 team blocks to Brittney Griner’s 2, she would have thought the game was in the bag.
But no one, not even Baylor counted on Madden scoring 9 and Condrey scoring 13. Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims had a better second half, scoring 11 for the game. And Tara would not have liked Stanford going 2-17 from three-point land. And the fact everyone else not named Ogwumike combined for 21 points.
Like we said, the game plan was there, but the other players did not step up and score. The second half ended 59-47, and like that, Stanford’s stellar season was done.
Yes, it was stellar season. That was only their second loss, going 39-2 for the year. They made it to the Final Four. Nneka was in the running for Player of the Year. She got to share this amazing journey with her sister Chiney. She sometimes single-handly put Stanford on her back and won games by herself. It was as much fun to watch as it must have been for Nneka and Chiney to share, and the other Stanford team members to experience.
Although they did not win a championship, we will always remember this season with joy. Congratulations to the coaching staff, players and support system of Stanford on a great year!