March 31, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Stanford Cardinal forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike (30) (right) answers a question regarding her sister forward Chiney Ogwumike (13) (left) before the semifinals of the 2012 NCAA women's basketball Final Four at the Pepsi Center. Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
The Baylor Lady Bears are the favorites to win the 2012 NCAA women's basketball championship for good reason, but if anyone could design a game plan to disrupt their quest for 40 wins it's Stanford Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer.
Nevertheless, this is a game that might be decided by force of will as much as X's and O's.
Key statistical battleground: offensive rebounding
Something that definitely has not gotten enough attention is that Stanford beat the California Golden Bears on the offensive boards two out of three times this season. Most teams in the Final Four haven't even faced a rebounding team of Cal's caliber even once. Say what you want about the Pac-12, but it's an impressive feat for a team that everyone wants to dismiss as vulnerably two-dimensional.
There are at least two things that make Stanford such a dominant rebounding team beyond the obvious Ogwumike duo: first, they're so efficient offensively that opponents are often attacking them once their defense is set. Second, you'll rarely see Stanford miss a rotation or finding themselves scrambling in a help defense scenario that would take them out of solid rebounding position. It just can't be said enough - the Cardinal might be so methodical in their attention to details that it bores some people, but the attention to detail from all five positions is what makes them such a strong rebounding team year after year.
Despite people's attempt to prove that both Baylor and Stanford are more than their top two stars, the fact remains that those top two stars account for a large chunk of their respective team's production. With both of these teams being pretty strong rebounding teams and someone likely to establish an advantage in that category, what might become important is someone else stepping up and having an above average game.
The X-Factor: Chiney Ogwumike's defense
As mentioned the other day, turnovers are actually a potential weakness for both Baylor and Stanford, although it's something that both teams have found ways to resolve over the course of the season.
For Stanford, it's freshman point guard Amber Orrange's improvement along with the improved play of Toni Kokenis that has made a difference; for Baylor, a large part of avoiding turnovers is simply getting the ball to Griner who turns the ball over surprisingly little considering how often she touches it.
So what might be interesting is how VanDerveer & Co. choose to use Chiney Ogwumike against Baylor defensively, which is to say that she can defend just about any area of the court in a number of schemes. That's not to say that Ogwumike will find a way to stop Sims - something few in the nation have done this season - but instead that Stanford's defense isn't particularly easy to crack when they have a defender as versatile as Ogwumike at their disposal.
If Stanford can force Baylor into turnovers in the middle third of the court, thus finding a way to both prevent the ball from getting the ball to Griner in the post and getting easy baskets in transition, they could make this game a bit more competitive than the mainstream consensus might suggest. Well, that and rebounding well, not turning the ball over themselves, and resisting the temptation to drift away from the basket and shoot threes where 6-foot-8 AP women's basketball Player of the Year Brittney Griner's defensive presence feels less omnipresent (though still looming).
There's no question that Stanford has a difficult path ahead in their quest to make the national championship game, but they have a legitimate chance to stop Baylor just short in their quest for 40 wins.
For more on this matchup, also see our team previews on both Baylor and Stanford. Also be sure to check out SBN Dallas' Q&A with Swish Appeal's Jessica Lantz about this game and whether anyone can beat Baylor.
For more on the 2012 NCAA women's basketball tournament, check out our "NCAA Tournament 2012" section.
Which team will advance to the national championship game?
Baylor (60 votes)
Stanford (26 votes)
Too close to call (6 votes)
92 total votes