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Preview: No. 23 Gonzaga Bulldogs face major test in No. 2 Stanford Cardinal

Gonzaga has dominated the WCC in recent years, and has been successful thus far in its 2022-23 non-conference schedule. The Bulldogs face what will perhaps be their biggest challenge of the season on Sunday when they take on a Pac-12 powerhouse in the Stanford Cardinal.

NCAA Womens Basketball: South Carolina at Stanford
Stanford’s Haley Jones (left) and Cameron Brink are once again leading a machine-like Cardinal offense.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 2 Stanford Cardinal (9-1) aim for their fifth straight win when they host the No. 23 Gonzaga Bulldogs (7-1) on Sunday. The matchup between the two nationally-ranked, conference-leading programs will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network with tip-off scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.

Both the Cardinal and Bulldogs, as their records would suggest, have gotten off to hot starts to the 2022-23 NCAA season; an overtime loss to No. 1 South Carolina is the only blemish on the Cardinal’s record, while the Bulldogs’ only defeat came at the hands of No. 24 Marquette.

The Cardinal (Pac-12) and Bulldogs (WCC) are also currently leading their respective conferences, though this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Stanford received 39 of a possible 40 first-place votes in the Pac-12 preseason poll, while Gonzaga was picked by 9 of 10 preseason voters to win the WCC.

It would be reasonable, then, to expect high-level play in Sunday’s contest, though the historical matchup between the two programs has been one-sided. Stanford and Gonzaga have played 13 times since 2010, with the Cardinal winning 11 of those games, including a pair of meetings last season (66-62 on Nov. 21 and 66-50 on Jan. 9).

Stanford made a deep run in the NCAA Tournament last season, losing to the eventual champion South Carolina Gamecocks in the Final Four, and certainly has the firepower to return to those lofty heights again in 2023 — if not win it all. The Cardinal return leading scorers Haley Jones and Cameron Brink, both of whom were recently named to the Wade Trophy watch list for national Player of the Year, and surround them with knockdown shooters like Hannah Jump (50.8 percent 3-point percentage) and Ashten Prechtel (48.1 percent), as well as 2022’s No. 1 overall recruit, Lauren Betts. As a team, Stanford is scoring 119.2 points per 100 possessions, which is fifth among Division I teams (Her Hoop Stats).

Needless to say, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. They, too, have plenty of 3-point shooting at their disposal, with players such as Brynna Maxwell (54.1 percent 3-point percentage) and Kayleigh Truong (40 percent) lighting it up with the best of them. There have been fewer teams hotter from beyond the arc than the Bulldogs thus far; Gonzaga is knocking down 40 percent of its 3-pointers, 11th in the nation, with that success translating to the free throw line as well (80.9 percent; sixth).

Clearly, Gonzaga will need to continue its hot outside shooting in order to upend the Stanford juggernaut, particularly when the Cardinal have such an advantage on missed shots (80.8 percent defensive rebounding rate; second in the country). Neither team looks to push the basketball very often — Gonzaga plays particularly slowly, recording 68.7 possessions per 40 minutes — so the game will most likely be decided by execution in the half court rather than which team makes more plays in transition.