California Golden Bears point guard Brittany Boyd stepped onto the court at Maples Pavilion at Stanford University for the first time on Saturday with a confidence and poise that would make a number of more seasoned point guards jealous.
The freshman used a combination of speed, strength to smoothly maneuver around Cardinal defenders in transition as thought they were props set up to set the stage for her career-night. With a scouting report that surely indicated that she hadn't hit a three since December, she stepped up and made jumpers as if it never occurred to her that someone would bother to give her three to five feet of space out on the perimeter. When defenders closed the gaps on her, she hurt the Cardinal with a deadly first step, hesitation moves, and a little one-handed flip shot that left her hand before the defender even realized she could stop worrying about her beating them all the way to the rim.
Although Boyd was a bit more quiet as a scorer in the second half, anyone who witnessed Cal's disappointing 2010-11 campaign that was plagued by inefficient ball handling could probably feel Boyd's impact on the game - even when she wasn't scoring, she was brushing off whatever pressure the Cardinal applied to get the Golden Bears into their offense, getting the ball where it needed to be, and still penetrating to create opportunities that weren't previously there. Defensively, she used surprisingly fine-tuned sense of when the ball would come off the rim to emerge from crowds with rebounds and quick hands to knock the ball away from bigger defenders where she could sprint up the court and put Stanford in a precarious position in transition.
Sometimes people say that young players perform on big stages because they simply don't know any better. Yet while fearless, Boyd's performance didn't have quite the "reckless abandon" character that many of those situations have. Boyd's poise and seemingly total control of the game was what stood out as a freshman playing in the arena of her school's biggest rival for the first time.
And her career-high 19 points notwithstanding, the statistics do nothing to do her masterful performance justice.
But after the game, Boyd focused on one glaring blemish in the boxscore, as reported by Viet Nguyen of BearInsider.com.
Boyd also had four assists, but afterwards, she wanted to focus on her seven turnovers. "It really hurts," said Boyd. "The seven turnovers, some of them, I could have done something better. I just need to get back in the gym and practice and decrease my turnovers."
Indeed, seven turnovers from your point guard on the road against a top five opponent simply isn't going to cut it. However, caught up in the flow of the game from the stands, they were hardly noticeable in comparison to her positive impact on the team - on almost every turnover, I almost immediately chalked it up to a freshman mistake, often mistakes of aggression or temporary lapses in patience that will simply wash away with experience. To take the point a step further, if pressed to quantify how many mistakes she made from memory right after the game, I probably couldn't have come up with more than five.
Part of that might be that her performance was so stunned by watching a freshman nearly take down the mighty Cardinal that I was too dazed to even remember the mistakes - watching Pac-10 basketball over the years, there are times when I've seen a point guard turn in 3-5 turnover games and look like getting the ball over halfcourt to initiate the offense is a struggle. But part of it was also that Boyd wasn't always making terrible turnovers either - 3 of her 7 turnovers were dead ball turnovers, leaving Stanford with no opportunity to race back down the court and get an easy layup in transition. Of course, that means she had five "live" turnovers that did lead directly to Stanford scoring opportunities, but again, that didn't seem to off-set all the good she did to carry Cal to a near-upset that would've gained them some more national attention.
Almost a year ago, Rob Mahoney of The New York Times NBA blog wrote about The Perfect Futility of Basketball Analytics, noting that, "Basketball has too many convoluted variables for any quantitative analyst to devise an end-all value measure" but concluded with, "The one-number metric is a red herring. Intellectual curiosity and the insatiable appetite for better statistics are the real products of the basketball analytic culture." As someone who has chased the impossible goal of quantifying point guard quality (for whatever reason), Boyd's performance on Saturday is one of those that would be perfect fodder for those who toss around the narrow-minded refrain I KNOW WHAT I SEE! - what we saw was a freshman flash the kind of star potential that might suggest that she's the type of program-changing player that could help Cal upend Stanford once again.
For those of us that saw the game on Saturday, the boxscore for this game not only serves as a complement to our imperfect subjectivities, but also a reminder to keep things in perspective for someone who might have left with gushing sentiments similar to mine - Boyd is still a freshman who has plenty of room for growth and it is her response to the brief moments of imperfection that will dictate how far she can take her obvious talent and this program.
Her response on Saturday is probably as perfect as one could hope for.
Unfortunately, for astute observers who didn't see the game, their eyes will likely scan the boxscore and see her inefficient statistical performance as nothing as spectacular as it really looked. And ultimately, it can be hard not to add Boyd's performance to every other reason to dwell on the fact that Saturday's contest at Maples Pavilion wasn't televised - locally or nationally - particularly given Stanford Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer's comment that the California Golden Bears team that almost ended her home winning streak at 73 should be ranked; all we're left with is a set of numbers that do just about nothing in this game any justice but will definitely be used to judge whether Cal deserves more than the one vote they got in the polls last week.
Set aside that rivals tend to play each other tougher regardless of location or any other excuses you can conjure up for the nation's fourth-ranked team to struggle against an unranked opponent in a conference that is undeniably weaker than most major conferences- as first-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb alluded to after the game, Cal turned in exactly the type of extra-special performance that a team would need to come into that place with a charged up crowd and get an upset.
Nothing about the box score can do the twists and turns of that game any justice.