What does is it mean when, in its conference opener, Stanford had to come from behind in the second half to beat a team that now has the worst overall record in the conference?
— Is the Cardinal not as good as people thought, and will UCLA give the Cardinal problems in Los Angeles on Saturday?
–Was it just one of those fluky games that sometimes happens in basketball — though rarely in women’s basketball?
–Is the Pac-12 much better than anyone thought, and will Stanford have to struggle to win the conference again?
:Let’s start with the facts
1. Stanford beat USC on Thursday by eight points on the Trojans’ home court for the Cardinal’s 58th consecutive conference victory. That ain’t bad. The Cardinal did not play particularly well, but it dominated the final 10 minutes, going up by 10 points with less than five minutes left and coasting in. That’s what good teams do.
2. USC is a lot better than its 5-6 record suggests. Five of the Trojans’ six losses have come against ranked teams, including three to teams currently ranked in the top 10. The game against Stanford was the first time this season USC played a ranked team on its home court. Two weeks ago, USC had No. 10 Texas A&M all but beaten on the Aggies’ home court, leading by 10 with five minutes left and losing by one on an A&M three-pointer with 13 seconds left.
Sure, Stanford figured to dominate the Trojans more decisively than it did, but if you look at the total picture, it’s not as surprising as it may seem. Tara VanDerveer said it was an “ugly” win, but until the Cardinal loses a Pac-12 game, it’s inaccurate to question the team’s ability.
But what about the Pac-12? No conference team other than Stanford is ranked in the top 25, so there is an assumption the conference has no other decent teams. Certainly the Pac-12 can’t compete with the SEC, Big East, Big Ten or Big 12 regarding the depth of talent in those conferences, but there are some teams with pretty good records.
Colorado, at 11-0, has a better overall record than Stanford. Colorado is one of just six unbeaten teams in the country, and it is the only unbeaten team that is unranked. That may be because the Buffaloes have not beaten anyone of note, so they are still suspect.
But Arizona State is 9-2 with losses only to ranked teams, and Cal’s only three losses before its loss to UCLA on Thursday were to ranked teams. Arizona is 11-1, albeit against less indimidating opposition.
None of that means a whole lot until the teams start playing each other and things start shaking out. But Cal, ASU, USC, Arizona and UCLA have decent teams — not great, mind you, but decent.
And here sits Stanford, which is unlikely to lose to any of those teams at home, but could be caught on a bad day on the road by one of those five. The loss of freshman guard Jasmine Camp for the season with a foot injury probably didn’t help the Cardinal, but, in all honestly, that should have a minimal effect on the team’s success this season.
The one concern would be if Nneka Ogwumike ever gets in serious foul trouble. Chiney Ogwumike has been solid all season, and Toni Kokenis is developing into a star, having learned to control her game without losing her aggressiveness. She had 15 points against USC after collecting 26 against Tennessee. Plus she had just two turnovers in those two games combined.
Her high level of play at the point has led to her playing a lot of minutes, limiting the playing time of promising freshman point guard Amber Orrange.
But the Cardinal is not a top-10 team without Nnkea Ogwumike. One of her great assets has been her ability to stay out of foul trouble (she had just one foul against USC), and VanDerveer typically takes players out in the first half if there is any hint of early foul problems. But if she gets weighed down with fouls, the Cardinal could have an issue — on the road, anyway.
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