That the Texas A&M Aggies beat the Stanford Cardinal on Sunday night is not nearly as surprising as how they did so.
Multiple people on Twitter had essentially considered the game over once TAMU got down by 10 and seemed to be wearing down against Stanford's post play, press break, and what might have been the game of Mel Murphy's life. Forget playing the Rodney Dangerfield card - there was actually a point late in the game when it began to seem perfectly reasonable to give up on TAMU.
In fact, even if someone laid out Four Factors stats and didn't show you the score, you would have been justified in assuming that Stanford had won this game: in something of an anomaly, the Texas A&M Aggies lost three of the Four Factors on Sunday night (shooting efficiency, offensive rebounding percentage, and free throw rate) which led them to a significantly lower MEV, synergy, and team factors rating than Stanford. In other words, they played a much less efficient game than Stanford and still won.
Perhaps that's a roundabout way of saying that a) defense is hard to measure and b) a wave of intense TAMU defense can trigger a game-winning run that ends National Championship hopes even for a team like Stanford.
That's all just a statistical way of illustrating how heavily TAMU depended on turnovers to pull advance to their first-ever National Championship game.
Key statistic: TAMU's pressure defense forces Stanford into turnovers
In a game in which the pace alternated between sluggish and frenetic and finished in a whirlwind, the Cardinal's 22 turnovers translated into a 33.54% turnover percentage, which is a turnover on every third possession. It's probably fair to say that's somewhat less than ideal for the Cardinal and TAMU finished the game with a 21-10 points off turnovers margin to accentuate the point.
Perhaps ironically though, most that self-inflicted turnover damage by Stanford occurred in the first half - their turnover percentage dropped from about 35% to 30% and accordingly they gave up a few less points off turnovers (12 vs. 9). So given that turnovers were far more important in the first half - and arguably, the only thing that kept Stanford from blowing TAMU out statistically - it's interesting to look at what changed in the second half to set the stage for a comeback when defeat started to feel certain.
For the second game in a row, it was their second half rebounding that helped win the game.
TAMU Statistical MVP: Danielle Adams' second half rebounding & defense
Before the game, I said that Stanford is built such that they can tolerate turnovers if they establish their post game inside and thrive on post scoring and second chance points. Unfortunately, that didn't happen in the second half - TAMU kept Stanford off the offensive boards in the second half, limiting them to only four second chance points. A large part of that was the defensive rebounding effort of Danielle Adams.
Adams had five of her six rebounds in the second half to lead the Aggies' gritty effort and played a physical defensive game about Stanford's bigs. But she also came to life in the scoring column with 11 of her 16 points in the second half and displaying that beautifully soft turnaround jumper that has looked unstoppable this season whether it's Brittney Griner or anyone of Stanford's bigs guarding her. Of course, there were times when she did continue to rush shots or maybe settled for using finesse instead of her power, but on Tuesday night they were falling and that's all that matters.
Stanford Statistical MVP: Nneka Ogwumike effective in the post
Ogwumike was clearly the most dominant player in the game although Stanford ultimately lost simply due to her quickness and strength, drawing a team-high 14 free throw attempts.
Key player: Tyra White
But White's ability to hit mid-range jumpers and get to the basket and find ways to keep the Aggies from settling for jumpers was essential to their ability to beat Stanford. After having no attempts
What they need against Notre Dame
Beating Notre Dame will come down to two keys that seem to have emerged as themes for TAMU:
- Keeping Notre Dame off of the offensive boards.
- Not settling for jumpers and continuing to move the ball to find the best available shot.