Stanford was a mystery before the season began, because nobody really knew how good the Stanford women’s basketball team would be with the departure of All-American Chiney Ogwumike and the shift in emphasis from the frontcourt to the backcourt.
Now, five games into the season, the Cardinal is even a bigger mystery.
When Stanford upset No. 1 Connecticut in the Cardinal’s second game, ending the Huskies’ 47-game winning streak with a thrilling 88-86 victory, the Cardinal seemed destined for a No. 1 ranking early in the season. Guards Lili Thompson and Amber Orrange were outstanding and the backcourt-led attack seemed destined for great things.
But three days later, before the Cardinal had a change to ascend to the No. 1 spot, it lost to No. 10 Texas at home in overtime. The Cardinal simply doesn’t lose nonconference games at home to anyone other that elite powerhouse teams, and the Longhorns didn’t quite fit that description.
The Cardinal then barely won a road game against New Mexico, which has a 1-4 record at the moment but led Stanford with less than a minute to go. Then the day after Thanksgiving, Stanford lost to No. 11 North Carolina 70-54 in Honolulu. The surprise wasn’t so much that Stanford lost the game, but that it was dominated. Stanford trailed by double digits for all of the final 11:45 of the game and by as many as 22 points with five minutes left.
Now, understand, Stanford is still an outstanding team. Texas and North Carolina are both unbeaten through games as of Nov. 28, and both probably will be ranked in the top 10 next week.
However, we’re used to seeing the Cardinal play at virtually the same level every game. That’s what teams with powerful frontcourts can do. Stanford has made its reputation by dominating play inside. Rebounding and low-post scoring are the top two ingredients involved in consistency. When you depend on speed and guard play, things are little less predictable. You’re not going to get the same results game to game. Thompson, Orange and Karlie Samuelson, the team’s top three scorers, have accounted for more than 60 percent of the Cardinal’s scoring this season, and all three are guards who rely on perimeter skills. The 20 percent shooting Stanford had in the first half against North Carolina is an example of the downside. The play against UConn was example of the ceiling.
On the other hand, guard play is considered the key to postseason success. While this Stanford team is more likely to have ups and downs during the regular season, perhaps the backcourt play of Thompson, Orrange and Samuelson can get the Cardinal deep into the NCAA Tournament. Consistency is lost, but the chance for high-end results is increased.
The Cardinal is 3-2, and that victory over UConn demonstrated the team’s potential. But, in a negative sense, so did the three games against Texas, New Mexico and North Carolina.