Women's Basketball Game of the Week preview: No. 12 Stanford at No. 20 UCLA

StanfordPhoto.com, UCLABruins.com

Who: No. 12 Stanford at No. 20 UCLA

When: 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks, with Krista Blunk, Mary Murphy and Kyndra de St. Aubin on the call.

It’s another top-20 matchup on Pac-12 Networks’ Women’s Basketball Game of the Week, as Stanford and UCLA each try to avoid potentially falling three games behind conference-leading Arizona State.

The Story so Far: Stanford (15-4, 5-2)

“Defense wins championships” might be the cliché, but if Stanford wants to seriously contend for the Pac-12 title, it’s gonna have to start putting the biscuit in the basket a little more frequently against the top-tiered teams in the league. The Cardinal is averaging just 57.7 points per game in Pac-12 play (tied for ninth in the conference) and has yet to top 65 points in a conference road game this season.  The numbers get uglier in their two Pac-12 losses to Arizona State and Oregon State, games in which the Cardinal scored just 81 points combined. In last week’s loss to the Beavers, Stanford scored just six points in the last 8:08 as Oregon State roared back from 11 down in the fourth for the 58-50 win.

On the positive side for the Cardinal, the defense has been stellar this season (outside of allowing Oregon State to hang 28 on it in the fourth quarter last Sunday). Stanford is second in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.319), 17th in scoring defense (53.3 points per game allowed) and most recently held USC to 31 percent shooting in a 57-47 win over the Trojans. The schedule also lightens up for the Cardinal, which had to play six of its first eight conference games on the road. If Tara’s Team can escape from L.A. with a 2-0 record for the weekend (with or without the help of Snake Plissken), a 6-2 Stanford team will be in great position to contend with seven of its last 10 games at home, including Maples Pavilion rematches with top dogs Arizona State and Oregon State.

The Story so Far: No. 20 UCLA (13-5, 5-2)

This is the UCLA many expected to see last year. The Bruins, ranked 23rd to start the 2014-15 season in large thanks to the top-ranked incoming freshman class in the country, weren’t able to live up to the hype, as the youthful bunch went 8-10 in conference play and was 13-18 before going on their WNIT championship run. But those freshmen have become sophomores (and one of those freshmen became a Texas Tech Lady Raider), and UCLA is showing that it’s a force to be reckoned with.

The Bruins narrowly missed out on some major-league wins in the non-conference slate, falling by three to second-ranked South Carolina, taking third-ranked Notre Dame to overtime on a neutral floor and losing to then-No. 21 Cal in a non-league game in a 50-minute marathon. Those close losses prepared Cori Close’s group for the a tough league slate in the top-RPI conference in the country, however, and UCLA got out of the gates by handing USC and Oregon their first losses of the season and handing Oregon State its only conference loss in a 20-point blowout. Last week, the Bruins salvaged a three-game road swing with a hard-fought win at Wazzu after losses to USC and Washington and are coming off a revenge-exacting 75-56 win over the Golden Bears on Friday.

As much as Stanford needs this game, UCLA might need it more, because the Bruins hit the road for four straight after Sunday night, with games against upstart Utah and first-place Arizona State in enemy territory looming.

Three players to watch: Stanford

  1. #24 Erica McCall (6’3 Forward, Junior)- The numbers are down for McCall in conference play (that’s the way it goes for pretty much everyone), but McCall is coming off a dominant performance against USC, a game in which she posted 14 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. It was her 11th double-double of the season, which is good for seventh in the nation.
  2. #1 Lili Thompson (5’7 Guard, Junior)- Stanford’s leading scorer has struggled in conference play, shooting just 24 percent from downtown (she’s 34 percent from 3-point range overall) and averaging just 10.7 points and 2.6 assists in seven league contests, down from her overall averages of 14.8 points and 4.1 assists. That said, she usually steps up when it matters most, providing the game-winning bucket at Oregon earlier this season, so don’t be surprised in the least bit if she goes to work in Westwood Sunday night.
  3. #44 Karlie Samuelson (6’0 Forward, Junior)- With defenses tightening up in conference play, Stanford is shooting just 40 percent from the floor and 32 percent from beyond the arc in Pac-12 contests. However, that’s not Samuelson’s fault. The 46 percent 3-point shooter on the season is a whopping 57 percent from downtown in league action.

Three Players to Watch: UCLA

  1. #3 Jordin Canada (5’6 Guard, Sophomore)- Big Shot Jordin does not back down in crunch time, hitting a buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime in the non-league contest against Cal (she had 28 points and eight assists in that game). The team’s leading scorer (17.4 points per game) also gets it done on the defensive end, pacing the team with 45 steals (2.5 per game) and has at least one theft in 13 straight contests.
  2. #21 Nirra Fields (5’9 Guard, Senior)- While eight of the 11 Bruins who have seen time on the court this year are freshmen or sophomores, the Bruins do start two seniors and a junior, and Fields brings more than just experience to this young squad. The Montreal native who lived with former NBA head coach Mike Brown for a time (great story, read it) is second on the team in scoring (16.5 points per game) and steals (2.3 per contest) and third in rebounding (6.2 per outing).
  3. #2 Kari Korver (5’9 Guard, Junior)- The cousin of Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver can stroke it as well, shooting 41 percent from downtown overall and 46 percent from beyond the arc in conference play. And while Kyle holds the NBA record for consecutive games with a made 3-pointer (127), Kari holds the UCLA record in that department, having hit from downtown in 29 straight games (and counting).

Three Notes to Know

  1. Stanford has won 21 straight against UCLA- The last time the Bruins defeated Stanford was Jan. 4, 2008. Stanford leads the all-time series 59-22, which isn’t actually that bad of a mark for the Bruins when you consider what Stanford has done historically to some other teams in the Pac-12.
  2. UCLA is 11-0 when leading at halftime- On the flipside, the Bruins are just 2-5 when trailing at the break. So if UCLA has a lead after the second-quarter buzzer, feel free to catch up on the latest episodes of your favorite TV shows, because this one’s over (kidding).
  3. Stanford holds opponents to 15.6 points per game below their average- In conference play, that number jumps to 18.7 points per game below. No Pac-12 team has come within 11 points of getting their season average against the Cardinal this season (UCLA averages 78.7 points per game on the season).
Now on Pac-12 Network
6:00 AM PT

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