The most consistent statistical key to success for the Texas A&M Aggies has been their turnover differential: they force opponents into a high rate of turnovers while keeping their own below average.
And as they showed against the Baylor Lady Bears in the Elite Eight, sometimes it's not even the actual turnovers but simply the presence of their on-ball pressure and well-coordinated defensive schemes that disrupts what opponents want to do.
Just ask Baylor's Odyssey Sims or pretty much anyone on the Georgia Bulldogs roster: the Aggies defense can intimidate opponents into forgetting what it's like to even have a clean look at the basket.
So what might be the key to beating TAMU for a Stanford Cardinal team that is typically perceived as methodical and precise in their offensive execution?
First, the Cardinal's ability to handle TAMU's pressure might not actually be the deciding factor in the Final Four - as Stanford showed against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in their Elite Eight matchup, they can more than make up for lost possessions from turning the ball over even on nearly 30% of their possessions (in the second half) by using their athleticism and strength in the post to extend possessions with offensive boards. If people weren't aware of it prior to the tournament, Stanford's front line of Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike and Kayla Pedersen is extremely difficult for any team to contend with. And as freshman Chiney gets more and more comfortable by the game, she has not only become more efficient but far more active on the offensive boards.
Not that a Tara VanDerveer coached team endeavors to commit turnovers, but Stanford's significant rebounding advantage as well as having multiple players on the roster who can handle the ball might be able to help them negate the impact of TAMU's pressure.
So what might become more important is Stanford's own defense.
What Baylor has shown in beating TAMU three times this season is that turning the Aggies into a jump shooting team can really hurt them offensively. Conversely, what TAMU did exceptionally well in advancing past Baylor to their first-ever Final Four was maintaining an aggressive, attacking mindset on offense. It was that same aggression they showed in nearly beating Baylor in February - that same athleticism and strength of TAMU guards Sydney Carter and Sydney Colson that can frustrate opponents on defense can be equally dangerous on offense.
For a Stanford team that has the luxury of depth that allows them to rotate multiple athletic and long defenders at TAMU forward Danielle Adams, limiting guard penetration will be essential. But that same length that will help in defending Adams - and helped to contain both Connecticut Huskies wing Maya Moore and Gonzaga Bulldogs point guard Courtney Vandersloot for long stretches - is what will make the task easier, yet no less essential, for the Cardinal.
To some extent, VanDerveer's willingness to play a zone defense against Gonzaga and force the Bulldogs to shoot their way out of it could be a concern for TAMU. If Stanford shuts down driving and passing lanes and TAMU starts to drift out to the three point line, the Aggies could be in trouble: Stanford's zone defense forced Gonzaga into 3-for-13 3-point shooting in the second half of the Elite Eight in Spokane and has held opponents to a rather cold 28.41% from three point land for the year.
Although TAMU has shot 34% from beyond the arc this season, in four games against a Baylor team that can certainly pack it in with 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner in the middle the Aggies have shot 10-for-62 (16.12%). It's not necessarily that they've been shooting more threes than average either, but that they have been moving the ball less against a Baylor team that has no problem clogging the lane.
The difference between Baylor and Stanford is that while Griner's imposing stature alone can scare off would be drivers, Stanford relies on the length of their entire front line which can stop penetration with their efficient rotations and disciplined responses to the offense.
Among the most underrated stories of the season is Stanford's defensive improvement
Some people may have already taken note of this, but Stanford might be the best unit in the nation even if the Baylor Lady Bears and Connecticut Huskies have been considered better by coaches and media alike for most of the season. For the second game in a row, the strength of their unit could be accentuated by their dramatically improved defensive prowess.
Furthermore, what some people seem to underestimate about Stanford is that their strength this season is not necessarily their methodically efficient execution in half court sets - they can run with anyone who has tried, dominate the offensive boards, and they have four players that not only demand attention all over the court, but also grant them a type of versatility that most coaches only fantasize about. That comes together defensively in ways that have proven devastating for opponents.
The immediate tendency for analysts during this whole Final Four media frenzy will undoubtedly be to isolate individual stars that can heroically carry their teams to the Promised Land. However, while there are plenty of talented basketball players in the Stanford Cardinal vs. Texas A&M Aggies game, this game will be decided by the strength of these teams as units.