Stanford Beats UConn 71-59 To End Streak At 90: Crushing Xavier Was A Blueprint For Beating UConn

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Somehow Xavier point guard Special Jennings gave us the tweet of the night.

When we look back on Stanford's 71-59 win tonight at Maples Pavilion that ended UConn's streak at 90 wins, Xavier should probably be considered as an important part of the narrative.

And not necessarily for the reason presented by Xavier point guard Special Jennings on Twitter.

Both Seattle University coach Joan Bonvicini and Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves - who were playing tonight at KeyArena in the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic - cited the Xavier game as evidence for why they thought that Stanford would end UConn's history-making run at 90.

"Did we call that? We honestly thought that was the game that they had a chance to (lose)," said Graves when asked about UConn's loss after beating Seattle U 91-64. "And after Xavier, you could tell they were focused - they obviously weren't looking a game ahead. They were focused and they were ready for 'em. So I'm happy for 'em - coach (Tara) VanDerveer, I love. I'm happy for her - one of my favorite people."

Ultimately, Stanford's 37 point blowout of Xavier was in many ways a blueprint for how they could beat UConn tonight. So what they did to win might not be much of a surprise to some. How well they executed it against UConn definitely was.

And containing Maya Moore was something that most of us have learned to rule out as nearly impossible.

1. Stanford Statistical MVP: Pohlen remains aggressive and drops 31 against UConn

One of the biggest positive differences between this season's Stanford team and last season's is Jeanette Pohlen's aggression as a scorer

In scoring 31 on 8-for-15 shooting tonight, she further demonstrated that she is playing a different style than she has in the past and is capable of doing it when her team needs it most. Whereas last season defenses could ignore her entirely on offense - as Xavier did in the Elite Eight - she makes that difficult when she's making things happen. The Stanford coaching staff has been imploring her all season to get to the free throw line more as a way to get easier points - tonight she was 10-for-10 from there with a free throw rate of 66.66%.

Yet perhaps more important was that she find a way to become an efficient distributor to help the team's offensive efficiency in addition to being a scorer. She did that against Xavier. And she did it again against UConn, finishing with 6 assists and 3 turnovers in 40 minutes (an assist ratio of 21.12% and turnover ratio of 10.56% for a positive pure point rating of 2.5). That's something that hasn't happened consistently this season, did happen against Xavier to the benefit of Stanford's offense, and happened once again tonight.

2. Key player: Lindy La Rocque also assumed responsibility as a facilitator

However while this was unquestionably Pohlen's night - she was responsible for 47.61% of the team's overall statistical production - she also mentioned after the Xavier game that for Stanford to be successful multiple players had to take responsibility for making plays instead of relying solely on one player.

That did not happen to the extent it did against Xavier, but the point is especially well taken given that the normally efficient Kayla Pedersen had 0 assists and 3 turnovers. La Rocque tied Pohlen with a game-high 6 assists while only committing one turnover (an assist ratio of 46.15% and a turnover ratio of 7.69% for a pure point rating of 8.57). Someone else working for a team at tonight's tournament mentioned how amazing it would be to have to have a 6'4" forward that could bring the ball up the court; well, it's even better to know that when she's off someone else can step up to keep Stanford's methodical offense running.

3. Key statistic: Stanford's offense is looking far more fluid than in previous losses

Even in Stanford's rout of USF, their offense looked predictable. Coach Tara VanDerveer has maintained that part of the problem was that they kept changing lineups due to injuries. Whether it was having a unit intact or just needing time to gel, something happened this week that has allowed Stanford to come together and that includes not only more efficient ball handling, but also much better movement off the ball.

Tonight Stanford outshot UConn from the field, but with the added value of their 7-for-18 three point shooting - something that people watching UConn closely might have identified as a defensive weakness prior to the game - Stanford had a strong effective field goal percentage of 50.89% although UConn's 40.83% was also crucial. 

4. UConn Statistical MVP: Stanford contained Moore far better than expected

While everything that went Stanford's way was probably predictable to some extent, Maya Moore's off night wasn't. We can attribute it to Stanford defense or just the nature of the game, but things did not go as UConn needed.

In particular, the fact that she didn't get a free throw until the end of the game - a 1 and 1 that she missed - is extremely uncharacteristic. Kelly Faris did step up with a team-high 19 points and went 6-for-7 from the free throw line for a free throw rate of 53.84% and was arguably the team's statistical MVP.

But holding Moore to 5-for-15 shooting is unusual and one missed free throw attempt even moreso.

Whether it was Moore or Stanford's defense is a subject that will probably be debated throughout the season up until they perhaps meet during tournament time once again. But perhaps the uncharacteristic struggle only says just how profoundly amazing UConn's streak of 90 games is.

"What they've done - now you can really appreciate - to win that many games and do so consistently I think is a tremendous achievement," said Bonvicini. "And I don't care if it's measured against whatever sport - to do that and to do that against a lot of different players is great."

And as the Minnesota Lynx tweeted, this is a moment in which both teams deserve congratulations: Stanford for coming with the type of focus and intensity needed to disrupt one of the most intensely focused teams of all time and UConn for establishing a place in history that will seem as untouchable as we all assumed UCLA's record once was.

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