Looking back at Georgia's upset of Stanford

USA TODAY Sports

The original plan was to post this breakdown of the Georgia Bulldogs' upset of the Stanford Cardinal earlier this morning. Then the Louisville Cardinals upset the Baylor Lady Bears and trumped the writing of that. But before Georgia plays for a chance to go to the Final Four, let's briefly take stock of how they took down the Cardinal.

As much as I thought that California Golden Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb was the clear choice for Pac-12 Coach of the Year, legendary Stanford Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer was arguably just as deserving.

This was not the Stanford squad of the last few years that featured multiple future WNBA players and All-Americans - this year's Cardinal team had some major questions going in that ended up looming larger as the season went on.

Depth was a concern for the Cardinal for most of the season as junior Chiney Ogwumike carried much of the responsibility for success this season. Losing Toni Kokenis for 15 games - and her clearly not being 100% when she did play - was huge and left them with really only one ball handler with any experience in Amber Orrange. Sophomores Taylor Greenfield and Bonnie Samuelson were both inconsistent on the wings, which made them a less balanced team.

And yet they won 17 straight games against Pac-12 opponents to take the conference title, beat the then-seemingly unstoppable Baylor Lady Bears, and entered the Sweet 16 as a #1 seed with a 33-2 record against one of the toughest schedules of the year.

Most reasonable people would be perfectly willing to look at a team with that story and give them a pat on the back for even getting to the Sweet 16 - it's not at all a stretch to say Stanford overachieved to even get as far as they did this season.

Although it was unexpected for them to lose prior to the Elite Eight, Georgia was a team well-equipped to exploit weaknesses that had to be evident to anyone who had watched Stanford for more than a couple of games. And pulling off a 61-59 upset wasn't so much about Georgia doing something magical as much as it was about them exacerbating Stanford's major weaknesses.

Key statistic: Georgia's free throw rate

It's not often that we'll point to a team's free throw rate as the key factor to winning games, but the disparity between the two teams' free throw rates is telling.

eFG%

Tov%

Oreb%

Fta/Fga

Adj Synergy

Ast/FGM

Georgia

39.68%

8.88%

32.61%

31.75%

0.32

36%

Stanford

41.67%

12.72%

35.71%

9.09%

0.23

32%

Weighted

eFG%

Tov%

Oreb%

Fta/Fga

Georgia

-0.20

0.32

-0.13

0.48

Four Factors statistics for Georgia's upset of Stanford in the Sweet 16.

The adjusted synergy rating - a junk stat that I use to describe how well a team moved the ball - is a good place to start here: that is an extremely low number for Stanford.

Deconstructing that number a bit, move to the assists per field goals made column is helpful: for the season, Stanford had an assist to field goal ratio of 51.75%, which is solid. The numbers above indicate a game that was largely predicated on scoring from one-on-one plays. And with neither team shooting over 30% from the 3-point line nor 40% overall, you get a game that absolutely didn't favor Stanford - the Cardinal normally thrive on scoring efficiency and were less equipped to win without it.

So how do you score when nothing's going in and moving the ball isn't exactly working? Attack the basket and draw fouls. That's why Georgia's ability to get to the line was so significant: they made up for poor shooting overall by getting to the free throw line at more than three times the rate of Stanford. The fact that they barely shot over 50% (11-for-20) is almost irrelevant - free throw rates also indicate an ability to get shots around the rim where you're more likely to get fouled. Georgia was a bit above their season rate (28.90%) while Stanford was well below their season rate (27.81%).

That's the profile of a game that Stanford probably doesn't want to find themselves in very often.

Key player: Shacobia Barbee has a game-high 12 rebounds

One key player in that free throw effort was 5-foot-10 freshman Shacobia Barbee, who had a team-high 8 free throws attempts.

Even though she only made three of those free throws and was just 3-for-12 from the field, she figured prominently into that attacking mindset and came up with a number of big plays down the stretch.

One of those big plays was an offensive rebound with 28 seconds left with UGA up two points that led to a Jasmine James layup that put them up by four to essentially seal the game. And really the rebounding was her biggest contribution.

Barbee led the team with five offensive boards and 12 overall, twice her season average, largely by simply responding to the ball faster than whoever Stanford had on her.

Stanford statistical MVP: Chiney Ogwumike accounts for 83% of Stanford's production

With Ogwumike also stepping up for a game-high 12 rebounds, Georgia had to find someone to compete no that front and part of that answer was Barbee. The other part of this upset was that Ogwumike got so little help.

Setting aside that she had 26 of the team's 59 points, it's the scoring efficiency that contribute to that 83 percentage of valuable contributions: while she was 12-for-15, the rest of the team was 13-for-51. In short, she got very little scoring help, which has been a theme throughout the season.

Georgia statistical MVP: Jasmine James ability to create scoring opportunities

James' ability to create shots for herself was also a huge element of this game. When you look at a game between two teams not scoring efficiently, the team with a guard who can create her own shots has an advantage. Although neither James nor Orrange were efficient scorers, James' ability to create her own shots (24.92% usage rate) while also setting up scoring opportunities for others efficiently (game-high five assists, 3.33 pure point rating) was extremely significant.

Athleticism keyed the upset

Prior to the game I wrote that Georgia could end up beating Stanford for reasons similar to Cal: superior athleticism and a bit more depth ended up getting a win in a game that neither team was terribly efficient.

Although almost everyone wanted a rubber match between Cal and Stanford, this should be a very good matchup between Georgia and Cal for the right to head to the Final Four. Against Cal, rebounding will be an even bigger factor for Georgia but they have the athletes to go play for play with Cal's guards and perhaps disrupt Cal's offense in a manner similar to UCLA or, perhaps even more accurately, South Florida.

But the bottom line is that Georgia is a good team that earned their way here. Their inefficient scoring has hurt them at times, but they got the upset because they were able to find ways to overcome it, a fitting matchup for the California Golden Bears.

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