It's sometimes hard to appreciate what the game plan of a losing team, but the Stanford Cardinal should be applauded for their game plan on both sides of the court against the Baylor Lady Bears on Sunday in the Final Four.
The biggest problem in Stanford's 59-47 loss in the Final Four was something that rarely shows up as the most significant factor in a game statistically, but also illustrates how hard it is to shut down Baylor: free throws.
Key statistic: Baylor's above average free throw rate
It's probably not so surprising that Baylor normally wins the free throw rate (FTA/FGA) margin against opponents - with defenders sending Griner to the line at a rate of 45% and Griner having the ball in her hands so often, it's almost a forgone conclusion. But what might be particularly noteworthy is that it was Destiny Williams who had a game-high 10 free throw attempts - for one of the weird over 100% free throw rates - well above her average of just over 2 a game.
It was Griner and Williams that did the majority of damage at the free throw line, combining for 19 of Baylor's 26 free throw attempts (only two of those 19, from Griner, came during what could even possibly be considered "garbage time" free throws, which is maybe more impressive).
Although Baylor finished the game with a healthy 50% free throw rate, the bigger problem for Stanford might have been that they hardly got to the line at all.
The Cardinal's lone first half attempt came on a Nneka Ogwumike three point play opportunity and didn't even get one from someone other than her until Amber Orrange got 2 with 5:38 left in the second half.
But Stanford's 11.7% free throw rate represents their inability to consistently go to the basket and get any sort of results - Ogwumike did attack the basket some in recording 22 points, but few other players did so with any consistency. And it seemed that Ogwumike was less successful as the game wore on as well.
"In terms of Nneka's offense, I thought she could've attacked a little bit more," said women's basketball legend and analyst Lisa Leslie in an interview with Swish Appeal today. "She could've face up for a jumper a little bit more. Maybe even received a guard-post screen that could've alleviated a little pressure from Griner, but the times that she did attack and score and use the other side of the rim, I thought she was very effective."
Ironically, that lack of penetration seemed to hurt them more in the second half when they did have more free throw attempts (6) but slowly found themselves falling behind as their offense stagnated.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bears not only got easy points from the free throw line but took advantage of Stanford's defensive strategy as well.
"I thought overall as a team Stanford did the best job that any other team has done to put Brittney Griner in the worst possible position to play, having a player in her lap the whole game," said Leslie. "But their guards stepped up and hit shots."
Key player: Terran Condrey knocking down shots
The Cardinal took a calculated risk in leaving both Terran Condrey and Jordan Madden open for shots at different times in Sunday's game.
For a time, the defensive scheme worked: Madden missed her first 6 jumpers and Condrey missed 3 of her first 4 jumpers, allowing the Cardinal to stick with their game plan. Then Condrey got hot, which made life in the Final Four difficult.
Condrey finished tied for a team-high 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting - for a game-high 65.78% true shooting percentage - and made a huge difference in the game while Griner and Odyssey Sims were limited offensively. But Sims quietly did something else of importance.
Baylor statistical MVP: Odyssey Sims didn't turn the ball over
Again, to credit Stanford, this was a weird game statistically for Baylor. But within that, Sims not turning the ball over was pretty significant against a Cardinal defense that is consistently better than it's often given credit for.
People talked about the matchup between Orrange and Sims, but was probably most impressive in the context of Sims' development as a point guard is that she didn't make many of the forced or rushed decisions that can sometimes lead to her committing turnovers. Although she only had three assists in 40 minutes, she had no turnovers which led to a solid Pure Point Rating of 5.
Against Notre Dame, Sims' ability to make efficient ball handling decisions will be a key factor - Notre Dame throws a lot of defensive looks at opponents and thrives off of forcing turnovers. Although Sims has become a much better ball handler this year, her ability to control the ball could be the difference between an easy win and a tight game.
For more on this game and the 2012 NCAA women's basketball tournament, check out our "NCAA Tournament 2012" section.