If there is anything positive to be taken from the University of Washington’s 58-36 loss to #2 Stanford University, it’s that they managed to overcome their biggest weakness against the nation’s elite.
Washington outrebounded Stanford for the game 35-33, but perhaps more importantly they beat Stanford on the offensive boards with a percentage of 33% to 16%.
"The thing that they did really well was they rebounded: they got on the o-boards really well," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. "We’ve been rebounding really well. I can’t say I understand it. Jayne was doing a good job in there…Nneka is a great rebounder, she ended up with no o-boards. She had 8 against USC."
As Vanderveer suggests, it is a bit perplexing that Washington – a team second to last in rebounding during conference play – managed to outrebound Stanford who has the largest rebounding margin in Pac-10 play. However, it’s not exactly luck – it was a strategic collective effort.
Although post players Laura McLellan and Regina Rogers combined for only three rebounds, their perimeter players picked up the slack. Of course, it’s no surprise that senior guard Sami Whitcomb – the team’s leading rebounder (5.5 rpg) this season – finished with a team-high 5 rebounds. But they also got rebounding contributions from guards Kristi Kingma (4) and Sarah Morton (3) as well as recently returned Sara Mosiman (3). Having guards crash is what led to them out rebounding a "huge" Stanford team.
"I think we did a fairly decent job recognizing when to double, box out assignments," said Washington coach Tia Jackson. "Jeanette Pohlen generally does not crash the boards for them, so we really looked to double inside. I thought [senior guard Sami Whitcomb] did a fairly decent good job keeping people off the glass as it was a collective effort for our team. So we really just focused on it – we knew they were going to come at us, we knew they were big, we’re not going to out jump ‘em. So we focused on that, it was nice coming out this game and outrebounding them and kinda bouncing back from that Arizona weekend."
That focus on rebounding will be essential against a Golden Bears team that outrebounded the Huskies in Berkeley about a month ago. While Stanford is huge and strong, Cal is younger and arguably more athletic. Cal has the highest offensive rebounding average in conference play (17.2) and has the second highest rebounding margin (+6.4). They are led on the glass by three of the top 15 offensive rebounders in Pac-10 conference play, including senior guard Alexis Gray-Lawson. So Washington will have to maintain it’s collective rebounding effort to beat Cal.
"Same focus – their posts are huge, huge rebounders in addition to Alexis Gray-Lawson," said Jackson. "So we know that and we need to keep that same focus."
But of course, heading into their game against Cal rebounding isn’t necessarily the biggest concern – it’s that full court press that led to a second half turnover percentage of 50% in Berkeley.
Cal Gets First Pac-10 Win: Bears Maul Huskies With Aggressive Defensive Pressure - Swish Appeal
During one two minute period in the second half, Washington made four consecutive turnovers. After a Pierre steal with 13:24 left and Cal up 42-32, Washington traveled before getting the ball over halfcourt on the next three possessions. And it wasn’t just Pierre haunting Morton – forward Mackenzie Argens made the first one, guard Kristi Kingma made the next, and point guard Christina Rozier made the third.
While Pierre’s initial pressure on Morton and/or Rozier as soon as the ball was inbounded had a major impact on Washington’s ability to advance the ball upcourt – she smothered whoever first touched the ball -- it was a team effort. Cal was trapping anytime Washington got the ball near a corner or the sideline and forced Washington into frenzied decision making. And after Washington forced Cal into a nearly 8 minute first half scoring drought, it was Cal that forced Washington into an 8 minute period without a made field goal in the second half. The big difference is how they capitalized on their opponents dry spells: Cal went on a 20-3 run during their dominant defensive period.
As they claimed after the Cal game, Washington insists that the issue is more maintaining their composure than making specific adjustments for Cal’s press.
"They actually pressed us the entire game, we just handled it in the second half differently than we did the first," said Jackson during media day this past Tuesday. "We started trying to dribble through a very athletic press. So when you think you’ve beat one, they’re in a tremendous pursuit behind you. So you might get stopped by someone else, but in comes Eliza Pierre trying to tip it from behind…So we stepped outside ourselves a bit and started to go against what we naturally do very well against a press which is assess it, pick it apart – don’t try to dribble through it then it kinda closes our vision. So we learned that lesson very quickly -- very, very quickly."
So this time, rather than significantly changing anything, Washington is looking to just do the things that made them successful in the first meeting for a full 40 minutes.
"We were really proud of what we did defensively in the first half, as much as we probably struggled offensively," said Whitcomb on media day of Washington’s first half against Cal, in which they held Cal scoreless for nearly 8 minutes and forced them into a turnover percentage of 31%. "And then we just sort of let it get away from us and got out of doing the things that were successful for us in that first half. So I think we’re excited about getting a chance to play a full 40 minutes against them and seeing where that takes us. I don’t know, I think we were really disappointed about that."
Staying true to themselves
Offensively, success for Washington means utilizing their post players inside, players that even the likes of Stanford All-American center Jayne Appel says are difficult to guard.
"When you play against a player like Regina Rogers and Laura McLellan, I couldn’t play behind her – she’s a lot bigger and stronger than me," said Appel last night. "If I had to play behind her, she could have drop stepped and taken me away. So this was a game where I had to put in the extra effort and work harder to get around and show my numbers instead of a game where I am playing against someone smaller."
Even against Appel, an imposing presence in her own right, Rogers was able to establish a position and create a wide target for perimeter players to pass to. Even against a very good Stanford defense, Rogers was able to find shots.
"They have a nice inside-outside game with Rogers inside and Kingma and Whitcomb on the perimeter," said VanDerveer.
The post presence of Rogers is something that Jackson has been excited about all season and they have been successful when they go to it.
"Getting the ball inside is what makes us look good as a team," said Jackson last night. "When we’re sharing the ball first to get it inside. When we’re boxing out and owning the boards it’s a really good plus for us."
The problem is that they don’t always do it consistently. Earlier in the season, Jackson attributed it to players just getting used to having a player like Rogers in the post and playing like a more traditional team. Now it seems like guards still just hesitate a moment too long on some occasions to get the ball inside.
Nevertheless, for all the talk about Jackson’s job being on the "hot seat", one thing that’s noteworthy is that this team has made strides this season despite integrating a new player in Rogers and losing a number of other players to injury through the season. That they’ve stayed together and made improvement – especially in the area of rebounding – does say something about the character of this team.
"I think we’ve been saying this quite a bit all year: we’re a pretty resilient team," said Jackson. "And I think again that we’re a team that’s been hit with so much adversity."
- VanDerveer on Washington: "They’re not a real big team and they’re not a real athletic team. They do have to shoot the ball and when they didn’t then they were in trouble. But they did rebound well, I’ll give them that, and I was upset about how we really didn’t get on the glass at all. That was good for them."
- Jackson on Cal’s recent play: "Cal is just playing remarkable I think they’ve won 5 of their last 7 games since we played em. Looking really, really good. And as Alexis Gray-Lawson goes, they go. And we know that so we’ve got a tough assignment, but it is good to be home."
- Jackson on Cal’s loss to UCLA: "That’s against a different team that’s not against us…I don’t really look at what another team does unless they’re the same makeup as us."