Photo by Baranduin Briggs (via Smug Mug)
Even after their Pac-12 winning streak ended against the California Golden Bears, the Stanford Cardinal still have to be considered one of the nation's elite teams. But what, if anything, did we learn about the Cardinal from their performance in the Battle of the Bay?
Most Pac-12 fans were aware that depth was a problem for the Stanford Cardinal heading into the Battle of the Bay and the lack thereof was a major theme across both games, contributing to a loss in the second game at home.
But as the Cardinal try to put some distance between themselves and that ugly loss to the Connecticut Huskies at home, what exactly might we have learned about Stanford from their performances in the Battle of the Bay?
The Good: Stanford's defense is still outstanding
Sometimes it might feel counter-intuitive to accept an observation like this after a loss, but one thing Cardinal fans can take from both the Connecticut and Cal games is that Tara VanDerveer's unit is still fairly outstanding defensively. Stanford held Cal to just 29.92% shooting (38-for-127) over two games and, despite Brandon's first half at Maples, completely shut down the Golden Bears' otherwise dominant posts at Maples Pavilion.
Against Cal, part of that was scheme: they sagged off perimeter players to crowd the paint and played characteristically good position defense. But considering that so few teams even bother to try man-to-man defense on Cal, that they were able to do that is a testament to how strong a defensive team they are.
Key question: What specific type of help does Chiney Ogwumike need?
As noted above, the Cardinal are really not a very deep team this year and the Battle of the Bay ended up being an example of how extreme that can get: Chiney Ogwumike was responsible for 52% of Stanford's overall statistical production in the first game and 57% in the second. So clearly, she needs some help if the Cardinal are to win consistently.
But what type of help do they need most urgently?
Their ball handling was fine, despite the health concerns about Toni Kokenis. Cal hurts everyone on the boards so it's hard to say from these two games that they need rebounding help based on that pair of games. But one thing that really stands out as missing - both against Cal and Connecticut - was a scoring presence from the wing. Or really any presence from the wing. And though they start both Kokenis and Amber Orrange, which is a solid ball handling duo, the perimeter players they could probably use more from are Taylor Greenfield and Bonnie Samuelson who gave Stanford a combined total of 3 points - all from Greenfield - in two games. Put simply, the two of them gave the Cardinal very little off the bench: neither was physical enough to match the physicality of Cal defensively and neither was assertive enough offensively to make an impact offensively.
If Stanford can get something from either of them they'll be a more well-rounded team - with Samuelson in particular, her 3-point shooting would be a major asset in light of Stanford's 2-for-20 shooting from beyond the arc against Cal. It's not so much that they need to reinforce one specific area - they've been great across the board against a very difficult schedule. But having one of those wings add something in the form of consistent perimeter shooting - including a mid-range game when they're forced off the 3-point line - would add a dimension that they sorely lacked against Cal.
The bad: Their execution when Ogwumike couldn't get the ball
The problem for Stanford was that Cal, similar to Uconn, took them almost completely out of their offensive rhythm with a combination of a trapping defense in the half court, solid post defense to make Chiney Ogwumike work in the post, and their standard pressure on the perimeter. We knew that Uconn, easily among the best perimeter defensive teams in the nation and arguably the best, could accomplish the task of disrupting the normally efficient Cardinal offense. Yet to see Cal, a team knocking on the door of the elite though not yet being granted admission, accomplish something similar was not necessarily surprising but definitely encouraging for future Pac-12 opponents looking to add a big win of their own to their resume.
Ultimately, it's not necessarily that we learned much that was very "new" about Stanford from their games against Cal: the formula to beat them was clear and it was equally clear that Cal had the personnel to execute a game plan to beat them. A loss to Cal should not have come as an unexpected shocker. Nevertheless, the fact of someone other than the best of the best beating Stanford at full strength - something that hasn't happened in a number of years - was major news in the Pac-12 women's basketball landscape.
What Cal demonstrated is that Stanford has company in the top tier of the conference this season.
For more on the Battle of the Bay, check out our storystream.