Women's Basketball Game of the Week preview: No. 11 Stanford at No. 12 Oregon State

StanfordPhoto.com, Oregon State Athletics

Who: No. 11 Stanford at No. 12 Oregon State

When: Sunday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks, with Krista Blunk and Mary Murphy on the call.

It’s a clash of conference titans on Pac-12 Networks, as tied-for-second Oregon State and Stanford battle for Pac-12 positioning. Can Oregon State live up to its preseason billing as the top team in the Pac-12 and knock off the reigning conference tournament champions?

The Story so Far: No. 11 Stanford (14-3, 4-1 Pac-12)

Stanford’s reign as the clear-cut top team on the West Coast is over. After finishing tied for third during the 2014-15 regular season, Stanford was picked to finish second, snapping a streak of 15 consecutive years of being the coaches’ top choice in the fall. The Cardinal’s “vulnerability” was on display two weeks ago in Tempe, when the Sun Devils held Tara’s Team to a program-low 31 points in an 18-point loss. It was also on display during the non-conference slate, when Santa Clara secured its first win in Maples in 31 years.

But this is still Stanford, and this dynasty isn’t going down without a serious fight. The Cardinal won the Pac-12 tournament last season before securing its eighth consecutive Sweet 16 bid, and Tara VanDerveer has the weapons to be a second-weekend team in the NCAA tournament yet again. While the loss to Arizona State was a tough pill to swallow, the Cardinal sent a stern message to most of the unranked foes it has played in conference thus far, outscoring Arizona, Colorado and Utah by an average of 20 points per game before escaping Eugene Friday night with a 64-62 win in a game it trailed by nine points late in the third.

Oregon never used to give Stanford a run for its money, but in this new “MikeBall” world we live in (really enjoyed the feature, Michelle Smith), anybody can beat anybody in the Pac-12. Stanford might not have a Chiney Ogwumike or a Jayne Appel or a Candice Wiggins, but the Cardinal hasn’t dropped off that much. It’s still a top-15 team; the problem for the Cardinal is that everyone around it is significantly better.

The Story so Far: No. 12 Oregon State (13-3, 4-1 Pac-12)

Enough credit can’t be given to Scott Rueck for the turnaround job he has done in Corvallis. Needing to fill out the roster with walk-on tryouts his first season in 2010-11, Rueck literally started from the bottom and now has one of the premier squads this side of the Mississippi. Picked to finish at the top of the conference for this first time ever, Oregon State is right in the thick of the Pac-12 race as the first third of the league season wraps up.

But as good as Oregon State has been over the past two years and change, the Beavers are still looking for the benchmark victory that they can really hang their hat on. Last year, Stanford convincingly beat the Beavers in their only meeting, and while Arizona State was a big win, it still doesn’t carry the luster that a triumph over Stanford would. This season, the Beavers have come up just short in their opportunities to notch a trademark victory, losing to Tennessee at home by three and falling on the road at Notre Dame by one without markswoman Sydney Wiese (Katie McWilliams should have gotten three free throws at the end of that loss to the Irish, not two; Beavers fans know what I’m talking about). Will the third time be the charm for an Oregon State team that is coming off an impressive 70-48 beat-down of a surprisingly 1-4 Cal team?

Three Players to Watch- Stanford

  1. #1 Lili Thompson (5’7 Guard, Junior)- It’s not just that Thompson leads the Cardinal in scoring (15.4 per game) and assists (4.2 per game), it’s that she makes the big plays, the winning plays. Thompson, who scored 24 points to help hand UCONN its only loss last season, scored nine of her 16 points in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s comeback win over the Ducks, including the game-tying and game-winning buckets. She can stroke it from distance as well (36 percent for the season), though her three-point shot hasn’t been falling as frequently as it did in the non-conference slate (30 percent in conference games).
  2. #24 Erica McCall (6’3 Forward, Junior)- Stanford’s player representative at 2015 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day is the team’s junkyard dog, leading the team with 49 offensive rebounds and 9.5 caroms corralled per contest. She’s more skilled than “junkyard dog” would insinuate, as she can run the floor well and has good touch inside.
  3. #44 Karlie Samuelson (6’0 Guard, Junior)- The younger sister of Bombin’ Bonnie, Karlie is also a serious threat from distance, connecting on a fourth-best-in-conference 44 percent of her three-point attempts. She is third on the team in scoring with 9.6 points per game and is also active on the defensive end, collecting 19 steals in 17 games (second on the team).

Three Players to Watch: Oregon State

  1. #44 Ruth Hamblin (6’6 Center, Senior)- The reasons why Oregon State leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense all start with the anchor down low. The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Pac-12 Player of the Year in the media’s eyes averages 3.0 blocks and 9.3 rebounds per game, a ridiculous number of boards considering how many shots she challenges. And oh yeah, she has touch, as Oregon State’s third leading scorer at 11.8 points per game and 74 percent from the foul line. Not much more you can ask for out of a post player.
  2. #15 Jamie Weisner (5’10 Guard, Senior)- With Sydney Wiese having missed the last seven games (Oregon State was hopeful Wiese could play this weekend, but she didn’t play against Cal), Weisner is the most dangerous threat from distance for the Beavers, connecting on 40 percent of her three-point attempts and burying nearly two triples per outing. She’s more than that, though, as Weisner leads the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game and has also made 93 percent of her free-throw attempts. Don’t foul her if you’re trailing late.
  3. #11 Gabriella Hanson (5’11 Guard, Junior)- Hanson was Scott Rueck’s MVP on Friday night, as she set career highs with 20 points and six assists in the 22-point thumping of struggling Cal. The Anaheim native also leads the team with 22 steals.

Three Notes to Know

  1. Defense Wins Championships- We could see some ugly shooting stats in this one – Oregon State and Stanford are the top-two teams in the Pac-12 and second and third nationally in opponents’ field goal percentage through games played on Jan. 15, with both teams allowing foes to hit around 31 percent of their shots.
  2. January 11, 2001- That’s the date of Oregon State’s last victory in the series with the Cardinal. Stanford has won 29 straight in the 15 years since, with just two of those decided by single digits. Stanford holds a commanding 53-6 edge in the series.
  3. Free Throws could be the Difference- It’s not just Weisner who can stroke it from 15 unguarded; Oregon State entered the weekend leading the nation in free throw percentage at 78.7 percent (now down 78.4 percent after a 4-for-6 effort against Cal). Meanwhile, Stanford hit only half of its 12 attempts in the close win over Oregon and is seventh in the Pac-12 at 67.4 percent from the stripe.

 

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