JJ Hones, Stanford athletics
The Cardinal go home for the holidays to celebrate with family and re-assess after a 80-68 loss to top-ranked Connecticut in Hartford that was not as close as that score would indicate. Stanford (9-1) was up at the half, leading 40-38, but couldn’t hold on after Connecticut turned up the defensive pressure. The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 proved substantial and most of that gap is in the backcourt.
Forwards Kayla Pedersen and Nneka Ogwumike combined for half of Stanford’s offense – 38 points.
It was without a doubt, one the most difficult big games of senior Jayne Appel’s career. Appel was 5 of 12 from the field with four rebounds and six assists. She was pushed out of the paint, and she didn’t not look like the dominating post the Cardinal depends on so heavily.
But it was an even tougher collective night for Stanford’s trio of guards – Jeanette Pohlen, JJ Hones and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who found their usual scoring opportunities on the perimeter to be few and far between.
The team which averaged more than seven three-pointers a game, finished with five. Three of the combined five field goals by Stanford guards were from beyond the arc. The Cardinal guards could not and did not penetrate off the dribble. They could not lead Stanford in transition. They finished with four assists and five turnovers.
Pohlen, the junior who struggled against UConn last spring, had another rough day against the Huskies. She was 2 of 10 from the field, her last field-goal coming late in the game when it was out of hand. Her shots were forced and rushed.
Hones, who was out with a knee injury last year when the Cardinal lost to Connecticut in the national semis, was 2 of 5 from the field. She is still playing her way back to the shape she was in two years ago when she played such a key role in Stanford’s return to the Final Four.
Fifth-year senior Gold-Onwude, Stanford’s designated defensive stopper on the perimeter, was 1 of 3 in 17 minutes.
All three guards looked tentative at times, reluctant to shoot at others.
Two years ago, when Stanford knocked off UConn in the Final Four, Candice Wiggins was the heart and soul of the team.
That isn’t where this team’s heart and soul resides. But guard play gets you where you want to go and the Cardinal need more in big games. Specifically, they need more against the Huskies.
Connecticut, facing its first halftime deficit in 48 games, clamped down after the half. Ogwumike had 16 points in the first half and just four in the second. Kayla Pedersen had 12 of her 14 points in the first half.
The Cardinal were out-rebounded 41-27.
But when Stanford watches this game tape, looks at the ways it must improve in order to match up with the Huskies in a potential national championship game in San Antonio in April, it knows this much: Appel will be back and the bigs will compete.
But the guards, they have to get better because right now, in December, this backcourt is not good enough to get Stanford to a championship. Not with UConn standing in the way.