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UConn vs. Stanford Final Four preview: What can the Cardinal learn from their first meeting with the Huskies?

Does Stanford have what it takes to upset UConn? If the Huskies' previous two games are any indication, probably so. But will they get it done? Sure, if they can solve UConn's top-rated defense and shoot the three better than they did when the two teams met in Storrs back in November.

Both Bria Hartley and Amber Orrange had excellent games in a November meeting between UConn and Stanford.
Both Bria Hartley and Amber Orrange had excellent games in a November meeting between UConn and Stanford.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Hu of SB Nation's Good Bull Hunting summed up Texas A&M's performance against UConn nicely by writing, "The Ags played their hearts out again and gave UConn a tough out in the Elite 8...But UConn's top D was stellar for most of the game."

However, although Texas A&M accomplished two important goals in limiting their own turnovers and UConn's second chance opportunities, they were not able to overcome one of their worst shooting nights of the season: they made just 35.3% of their shots from the field.

And really, to go much beyond the Aggies' shooting numbers in an analysis of that game is probably unnecessary: as reported in the AP preview of the game, that was a significant part of UConn's game plan from the start and they're no stranger to executing what they set out to do.

"We have to make sure we do a good job containing dribble penetration and make it difficult to get into the lane," UConn's Stefanie Dolson said. "Even though they are different than BYU, they have Karla Gilbert. They're extremely physical. We have to be ready for that."

UConn's effectiveness in containing penetration is reflected in TAMU's meager nine free throw attempts for the game, well below their average free throw rate.

Although the Aggies made enough shots in a slow-paced game to keep the deficit within single digits for the majority of the game, their inability to knock down open shots from the perimeter consistently - not to mention open three point shots - undermined their ability to get closer than they did. In the previous round, BYU had the opposite problem: they shot their way to a lead in the first half, but turnovers (and giving up untimely second chance points) killed them.

All of that is helpful in framing Stanford's Final Four matchup with Connecticut: the Cardinal might not have the best chance in the nation to beat the Huskies, but they can both hit threes and control the ball well enough to compete as well or better than the Huskies' two previous opponents.

So what do they have to do to pull off the upset? Their November meeting in Storrs might hold some clues.


What U Conn did well: Shut down Stanford's wings

Given the Huskies' defense for the entire season, it should be absolutely no surprise that they locked down Stanford on the wings which essentially left Ogwumike (and Orrange) to fend for themselves against a lineup of All-Americans.

Will they do that again? You never want to think a team can do the same thing to a Tara VanDerveer team twice. But can they do that again? Absolutely, and it would be a bit shocking if they came out and tried to do it in the same way.

What's likely to change for Uconn: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis will be available for a full game

I'm sure we'll hear about this ad nausea as a top storyline from the previous game, but Mosqueda-Lewis went out of the November meeting two minutes into the second half with that nasty elbow injury after scoring nine points in the first half. Forcing any team to account for her changes what the defensive game plan due to her shooting ability; if she continues crashing the boards the way she has been over the last three games (5.66 offensive rebounds per game), her very presence could be a game-changer.

Player to watch: Breanna Stewart.

If I were a betting man (and I'm not), I'd be willing to wager that AP Player of the Year Breanna Stewart scores more than nine points this time around - it was one of just two times all season she's been held to single digits (yes, that includes the TAMU game in which she sat for much of the first half in foul trouble) and it just seems unlikely that it happens again.

Some things you just can't scheme well enough for.

Key question: Will depth finally come into play while trying to guard Ogwumike?

The only reason to mention foul trouble is because it's the easiest way to imagine weakening Uconn - it's not exactly something they've struggled with for much of the season.

But if you're searching for hope for the Cardinal, there might be some reason to think foul trouble could be it: in the first meeting, Kiah Stokes picked up four fouls and Stewart, Stefanie Dolson, and Morgan Tuck had 3 apiece. Tuck played 18 minutes in that game, but is now out for the season with a knee injury. And Ogwumike is exactly the kind of post threat who can put a team in foul trouble quickly.

Should UConn's frontcourt find themselves struggling to contain Ogwumike without fouling and they can hit threes, they could put themselves in position to compete for an upset late in the game. And that's about all you can plan for against a team as good as the Huskies.


What Stanford did well: They won the rebounding battle against UConn the first time around, but you're probably seeing a pattern with UConn: they're not a particularly aggressive rebounding team, which arguably helps them defensively (they're either hitting shots or getting back to set up their top-rated defense). Rebounding is no guarantee of beating the Huskies, but if you give them second chance scoring opportunities it's almost certain they won't lose.

What's could change for Stanford: Turnover rate

Stanford turned the ball over a bit more often than they normally do in this game (in raw terms, almost four times more times than their 12.5 per game average). Is that abnormal for a U Conn opponent this season? Not at all - in shutting down the interior as well as they do, most teams are bound to commit turnovers just in the process of trying to change their normal approach on the offensive end.

But this is also a Stanford team: if nothing else, they've been known for their precise execution and ability to hold on to the ball better than they did the first time around.

Player to watch: Amber Orrange & Lili Thompson vs. Bria Hartley and Moriah Jefferson

It's hard to pick one player to watch in this game, but the backcourt matchup will be really interesting in part because Hartley and Orrange had outstanding games and in part because Jefferson and Thompson didn't.

Amber Orrange had a career-high 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting against UConn the first time around, which was offset a bit by her four turnovers. Hartley didn't have her best game of the season, but did have a season-high eight rebounds to go with 20 points - quite a few in transition - and six assists. This is not the Stanford of years' past without speed on the perimeter, but pushing the tempo isn't a bad idea against Stanford and Hartley would be a key component to doing so.

Moriah Jefferson had her worst shooting performance of her career (1-for-7) as Tara VanDerveer gave her the old Eliza Pierre treatment that Stanford has refined over the years (standing literally five feet off a poor shooter); Cardinal freshman guard Lili Thompson scored six points on 2-for-4 shooting with no assists in 19 minutes - she hasn't played under 25 minutes since February 23 at UCLA and has scored in double figures in seven of her last eight games in addition to having a significant defensive impact in holding Maggie Lucas to a career-low 6 points in the Sweet 16.

Something in that equation is going to change, likely beginning with the fact that Thompson has matured over the course of the season and is now a starter averaging more minutes than she played in that first game. But how the coaches choose to defend (or not defend) each of these players will be one of the more interesting dynamics in their Final Four meeting, both in how they come out and how they're forced to adjust.

Key question: Will Stanford get better three point shooting from their supporting cast?

What Stanford has that BYU doesn't is an absolutely dominant low post scorer (sorry, folks - Jennifer Hamson is a good player, but an "absolutely dominant low post scorer" she is not); what Stanford has that TAMU didn't is a number of reliable three point shooters and a senior who's coming off a career-best three point performance (Mikaela Ruef). The combination gives the Cardinal a better chance than most to knock off the Huskies.

Part of this really isn't about x's and o's: saying "Stanford has to knock down shots" is obvious, but they can't beat U Conn shooting 3-for-11 from three again with the Samuelson sisters combining for just two attempts in 15 minutes. But part of it really is about tactics, if not shifting strategy entirely: the only way to beat UConn's defense is to spread them out, move the ball and pray hope for poor rotations out to shooters, especially as players get tired. Stanford is more than capable of doing that, but that depends heavily on whether those shooters actually stepping up rather than having one of those deer-in-headlights games.

Ruef, not known for being a scorer, was 1-for-6 the first time around. Bonnie Samuelson played just 10 minutes the first time around and has seen her minutes steadily increase over the course of the season while shooting 41.9% from the three point line. Taylor Greenfield, who gets inconsistent minutes but was a huge factor in Stanford's win over Tennessee back in December, didn't play the first time around and shoots 36.4% from the line.

UConn's defense is so good and so disciplined that you can never assume that a combination of role players will suddenly break them - and going cold is part of what hurt Stanford in their loss to Washington this season - but Stanford's role players have improved across the board and should make this a more competitive game than the first meeting might suggest on the surface.

For more on the Final Four, check out our 2014 Final Four storystream.