With a tough Pac-12 season beginning at the end of this month, it’s only right that the last few games leading up to it be just as challenging. For No. 11 Stanford, December just isn’t the time to settle into complacency.
Stanford perhaps has the most difficult schedule of all, facing a pair of top-10 opponents just two weeks after being knocked out of the top 10 by then-unranked Gonzaga: the Baylor Lady Bears and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. The finals break between the Gonzaga loss and today’s game should have rejuvenated the Cardinal and given them ample time to fix mistakes from their first loss of the season.
But Baylor has yet to require such regrouping; they’re still undefeated. In fact, the Lady Bears have outscored their opponents this season by an average of 32.5 points, which includes a 25-point rout in South Carolina against the Gamecocks. But this stretch also includes a pair of six-point victories, one at Arizona State and one in the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout against South Dakota State. If the Cardinal can identify and capitalize on these instances where Baylor has looked uncomfortable on the road — rather than let the game get away from them in the first quarter — they could find themselves back in the top 10 by next week.
One of the main ways Stanford can stay in the contest is by keeping Baylor’s star center, Kalani Brown, in check, as Brown ran all over the Cardinal and put up 28 points in their meeting just over a year ago. Beyond that, the Cardinal do have history on their side and a large home-court advantage, owning a 14-game winning streak at Maples Pavilion and having the 1-0 advantage over Baylor in their home arena (though the Lady Bears lead the overall series, 4-2).
Then, Stanford travels to No. 9 Tennessee on Tuesday with a chance to disrupt another undefeated season, though the Lady Volunteers have been similarly impressive so far, highlighted by their road win over No. 12 Texas on Dec. 9. That said, the Vols needed overtime to beat UAB in the Junkanoo Jam last month.
Cardinal in action
No. 11 Stanford Cardinal (6-1) vs. No. 3 Baylor Lady Bears (8-0)
When: Saturday, Dec. 15, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Maples Pavilion, Stanford, CA
Notes: Today’s game will be the highest-ranked meeting between these teams since the 2012 Rainbow Wahine Classic, when Baylor was No. 1 and Stanford was No. 4. The Lady Bears were on a 42-game winning streak following their undefeated 2011-12 national championship season, but Stanford managed to grab the 71-69 victory, ending the streak and handing the Bears their first loss since the 2010-11 season.
No. 11 Stanford Cardinal (6-1) at No. 9 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (8-0)*
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN
Notes: This meeting will mark the 30th anniversary — to the day — of these teams’ first meeting, which Tennessee won, 83-60. They’ve played each other at least once a year since that first game. The Cardinal have a staggering 2-13 record when playing at Tennessee, and are just 10-25 overall against the Lady Vols.
* Records and rankings current as of Dec. 14, 2018.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12:
- The conference Player of the Week is Utah senior forward Megan Huff, who was key in preserving the Utes’ undefeated start against in-state rival BYU. The Freshman of the Week, also from Utah, is freshman guard Dru Gylten, who put up a career-high 17 points in the BYU game.
- Though they’re still the top-ranked team in the conference, No. 7 Oregon has had a rough time lately, falling to then-unranked Michigan State on Sunday, Dec. 9, before having to make a comeback to win on Wednesday against that same South Dakota State team that gave Baylor trouble last month. The Ducks don’t have it any easier in the near future, as they host No. 5 Mississippi State on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
- No. 8 Oregon State is playing in the Maui Jim Maui Classic this weekend, with the Beavers beating Eastern Washington in their first game, 93-45, behind sophomore guard Aleah Goodman’s career-high 22 points. Their second tournament game is tonight against Texas A&M (12:30 a.m. ET, Facebook Live).
- As undefeated starts go, No. 13 California’s has been relatively bump-free — that is, until their meeting with the WCC’s Saint Mary’s last weekend. While they won, 81-78, they needed a fourth-quarter comeback and overtime to seal the victory. The Bears have a five-game homestand coming up, with UC Santa Barbara visiting tomorrow (5 p.m. ET, Cal Live Stream) before No. 1 UConn comes in on Saturday, Dec. 22 (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network).
- After losses to Baylor and Louisville, No. 17 Arizona State is on a five-game winning streak, with their most recent victory coming against Colorado State. The Sun Devils’ next challenge is against Kansas State in the Battle by the Bluff, which will take place Sunday in La Crosse, Wisconsin (5 p.m. ET, paid live stream). After that, ASU has just one more game — at home against Fresno State — before opening the Pac-12 season against Arizona on Dec. 30.
- Washington opens the Husky Classic today against Montana (4 p.m. ET, Washington Live Stream). The Huskies, picked to finish last in the Pac-12, are currently riding a 6-3 record with key wins over Duke and, most recently, Big Ten defending champs Ohio State.