Stanford Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer previews today's battle with the California Golden Bears (via The Cardinal Channel)
After an exciting game the first time around at Maples Pavilion, the Stanford Cardinal travel to Haas Pavilion in Berkeley to challenge the California Golden Bears on the final game of the Pac-12 regular season (6 p.m. PST on FSN/CSN Bay Area).
With the two long-time rivals having already locked up the top two seeds in the 2012 Pac-12 Tournament and both tournament bound, Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer might be right that the greatest significance of this game might be its positioning as a tune-up for the post-season.
Nevertheless, it's still a rivalry and Cal stands to gain far more emotionally from a win than Stanford would. So, what does Cal have to do to win?
As VanDerveer notes in the video above, C&R of the Stanford Women's Basketball Blog point out that freshman point guard Amber Orrange and junior forward Joslyn Tinkle have been playing well recently. Tinkle has averaged 13.25 points per game over her last four and Orrange has led the team in shooting efficiency during the month of February with a true shooting percentage of 67%.
In addition to appropriately calling out the harms of East Coast Bias a couple of times, norcalnick of SB Nation's California Golden Blogs describes the reason for Cal's 13-2 record over the past 15 games comes down to their freshmen being integrated into the lineup. Chief among those freshmen is star point guard Brittany Boyd, whose steal rate of 3.32 is third in conference play and could disrupt the increasingly efficient Amber Orrange who leads all rotation players in assist to turnover ratio (2.7:1) in conference play.
Over at CGB, norcalnick wonders if Cal can repeat the impressive defensive performance that they had at Maples. He notes Stanford's 3-for-20 3-point shooting in the first go-round, but that might have been as much about an off-shooting day as anything else - a number of those shots were good looks that have gone down in similar situations. However, what is interesting is that it was among Stanford's fastest-paced games of the season, particularly sped up at the end of the game due to Cal's full court pressure. Although there might be reason to doubt the utility of the full court press against Stanford, it will be interesting to see if Cal breaks it out again late in the game if they're within striking distance.
The big question for the game might be whether a Cal team that relies heavily on its rebounding dominance to win games is capable of winning if they can't contain Stanford on the boards again. Although C&R and norcalnick gave opposing answers to the question of whether Cal could win without winning the war of the boards, they did find some agreement on a related point: the bigger issue might be keeping Stanford from scoring in the paint, particularly off of those offensive rebounds.
Key Statistic: Offensive rebounding percentage
Offensive rebounding was clearly the key statistic prior to the first game and Stanford's 17 second chance points were clearly significant in determining the outcome of a competitive overtime game the first time around, so it's really difficult to focus on anything other than rebounding now.
As illustrated by norcalnick's chart in his preview, both Cal and Stanford are exceptional rebounding teams but the difference is that offensive rebounding is a far more dominant strength for Cal whereas Stanford has other strengths to fall back on.
Key player: Layshia Clarendon's scoring efficiency
To stay with the interior focus, Cal center Talia Caldwell is certainly a player to watch in terms of scoring efficiency: Caldwell has had a true shooting percentage of 42.3% in losses and 57.9% in wins, a significant difference that played to Cal's advantage in the first game.
Yet given Cal's shot distribution this season and what transpired in the final 10 minutes of regulation in the first game, it's pretty clear that Clarendon's scoring efficiency from the perimeter might be far more significant. Clarendon has had a true shooting percentage of 51.3% in wins compared to 43.5% in losses despite a 2-point scoring differential. What made a huge difference for Cal down the stretch was Clarendon's ability to create her own shot off drives and from beyond the arc. Although Boyd showed that she is certainly capable of getting to the lane and causing problems for opposing defenses, there's little question that Clarendon is the more dynamic scorer.
X-Factor: Brittany Boyd-as-scoring-threat
Stanford did an outstanding job of keying in on Clarendon throughout the first 30 minutes of the game and it was actually Boyd's ability to generate offense as a shooter and driver that loosened up the Cardinal defense enough to help free Clarendon for shots later on. Boyd's 19 points are still tied for a season-high and her 19 shots still stand alone as a season-high. In other words, Boyd had a special day to help Cal stay with Stanford at Maples and it will be interesting to see whether she can match it the second time around.
Although it will be important for Boyd to make herself a scoring threat again - and it will be interesting to see if Stanford comes out playing five feet off of her on the perimeter again, daring her to shoot - winning the game will be as much about Cal's ability to find scoring opportunities for Clarendon as it will be about rebounding, if not more.
Ultimately, a lot had to go right for Cal the first time just to lose in overtime. Making that happen a second time will be no easy task.
6 p.m. PST on FSN & CSN Bay Area