In a game won and lost on the perimeter, Stanford could not find enough offense to overcome a swarming Texas A&M defense. The Card fell to the Aggies, 63-62, in the final and most thrilling game of Stanford’s season.
Both teams struggled to fall into any kind of cohesive offensive flow in the opening half. Stanford and Texas A&M combined for just 50 first-half points, with Stanford bringing a 4-point lead into the tunnel. The refs let the players play, and play they did: throughout the game, and the first 20 minutes in particular, women on both sides were hit, shoved, and thrown to the ground. In the most violent (but legal) collision of the night, Aggie guard Sydney Colson ran straight into a Nneka Ogwumike screen while defending Stanford’s Melanie Murphy. Colson went down hard and stayed on the floor for several minutes with what may have been a concussion. The injury was reported on the telecast as a neck strain, and Colson re-entered the game several minutes later.
Colson and her teammates in the A&M backcourt were a big reason why the Aggies–a team that, even in victory, is clearly not as talented or as smart a team as Stanford–pulled the upset in Indianapolis. Stanford finished the game with advantages in rebounding, shooting percentage, blocks, steals, and assists, but A&M’s one edge among the major statistical categories–turnovers–made the difference. Stanford committed 21 turnovers to A&M’s 12. In turn, the Aggies converted those turnovers into points, and scored 21 points off of turnovers compared to Stanford’s 10.
A&M’s highly pressurized, turnover-inducing defense helped compensate for an otherwise unimpressive offensive night for Gary Blair’s team. A&M shot 35% from the field and from three, and mustered only 4 points from its bench. The Aggies needed 19 more attempts to match the number of field goals that Stanford made (Stanford shot an even 50% from the floor) and a good number of those additional looks came from Stanford’s mistakes.
When A&M really needed points, its stars did come through. Junior guard Tyra White, who led the team in scoring with 18 points, sank two lay-ups in the closing 19 seconds to pull her team out of 1-point deficits on two straight trips down the floor. All-American center Danielle Adams also kicked in 14 points, and guard Sydney Carter added 14 points despite never getting a breather.
And although Stanford could not match its ordinary offensive production, Nneka Ogwumike deserves no blame for the Card’s troubles. Ogwumike scored a game-high 31 points with 7 rebounds, a block, and only 3 personal fouls in 39 minutes. Murphy also played the most substantial and important minutes of her season, during which she scored 8 points, dished out 4 assists, and recorded 3 steals.
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer gave Murphy a season-high 27 minutes in order to help break the Aggie defense and get some flow to the Cardinal offense.
That Murphy did. Although she committed 5 turnovers and eventually fouled out, she was an important catalyst for the handful of offensive spurts that Stanford put on at the end of the first half and throughout the beginning of the second half. Murphy’s 8 points also placed third on the team in scoring. Fellow senior guard Jeanette Pohlen’s 11 points fit in between Ogwumike and Murphy for second in the box score.
Though turnovers are surely the primary reason for Stanford’s loss, mediocre foul shooting also hurt the Card. The team went to the line for 19 foul shots and missed 6 of them–good for a 68% rate. If the team had shot even 75% from the line, we’d probably be talking about how Stanford would do in a Tuesday rematch with Connecticut.
Sunday’s loss will be interminably frustrating for the players, coaching staff, and fans. But Stanford finishes the year with a 33-3 mark, a fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four, and a graduating class that never failed to protect the integrity of a Maples Pavilion home court advantage. The 4 straight Final Fours and 4-year undefeated streak at Maples are both firsts in school history.
In addition–and at the risk of speculating about the future much too far in advance–the 2011-12 roster holds a lot of promise. With three starters set to return and an incoming recruiting class that features 2 McDonald’s All-Americans and lots of quickness in the backcourt, next year’s squad will likely have yet another opportunity to play in the final weekend of the collegiate season.