April 16, 2016

Season reflections --- Part 1 of 3

When the Stanford women’s basketball team ended its 2015-16 season with an 85-76 loss to Washington in the Elite Eight on March 27 in Lexington, Ky.,  fans were left with a slew of memories, some quite pleasant, others not.

Here’s a look back at how the up-and-down, 27-8 season evolved.

It unofficially started in June when the three incoming American freshmen and five returning players took part in San Francisco Pro-Am games at Kezar Pavilion.

Freshman guard Marta Sniezek and freshman forward/center Shannon Coffee were Bay City teammates, joined by Stanford alum Markisha Coleman, ’07. Freshman guard Alexa Romano and senior center/forward Tess Picknell were on the San Francisco team.

Also competing were two sophomores, guard Brittany McPhee and forward Kaylee Johnson, on the Mission Rec Center team. Junior guards Lili Thompson and Briana Roberson were on the Palo Alto TnT team.

These players were among the Stanford women attending summer school while spending two hours a week with the coaches and six hours a week with strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil.

Alanna, Bird get international experience

Freshman forward Alanna Smith of Australia hadn’t arrived yet because she was representing her country in U19 international competition in Russia.

Likewise, junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall was co-captain of the USA team that won the gold medal at the World University Games in South Korea.

Fans got their first look at the new edition of the team during an open practice Oct. 17. Besides the freshmen and returning players, the roster added senior guard Kiran Lakhian, who had been with the team her freshman year.

After the scrimmages, head coach Tara VanDerveer introduced the team and her staff. The latter included new trainer Katelin Knox; video coordinator Hana Potter, who was an intern last year; and intern Mary Merg.

Easy win in exhibition game

Unofficial play began with an 81-48 home exhibition win over Academy of Art University on Nov. 7.

Alanna had 12 points off the bench. (Stanford Athletics)

By the end of the game, all 12 available players had played and scored. Bird led the way with 19 points and 16 rebounds, followed by junior guard Karlie Samuelson with 17 points and eight rebounds. Alanna came off the bench to add 12 points and nine rebounds.

Redshirt senior guard Alex Green was still recovering from an ACL injury, and Lili, wearing a boot on her right foot, was held out as a precaution.

This was the first game played under new rules. The most significant is that games are divided into four quarters rather than two halves.

Another is that two shots replace one-and-one free-throw shooting. Free throws are still allowed on shooting fouls. Otherwise, there are no free throws until a team has accrued five fouls in a quarter.

Davis falls in first official game

The team went on the road for its first official game, a 74-45 defeat of UC Davis on Nov. 13. All 13 available players got into the game. Alex was still rehabbing and didn’t make the trip.

Starters were Marta at the point, Bri and Karlie at the other guard spots, and Bird and Kaylee at the forwards. Bri had 15 points, followed by Alanna with 13, and Bird and Lili with 10 each.

Foreshadowing a problem that sometimes cropped up during the season, the team made only 13 of 21 free throws, 61.9 percent.

The road trip continued with a 65-48 win over Gonzaga in Spokane on Nov. 15. Bird topped the team with 23 points, 13 rebounds and four steals, a career high. The only other player in double figures was Lili with 21 points.

Back on its home turf, the team breezed past George Washington 84-63 on Nov. 21. The Cardinal was behind 15-19 at the end of the first quarter but took off after that.

The starting lineup changed as Lili got the nod over Marta. Lili immediately opened Stanford’s scoring with a 3-pointer, the first of nine for the team. She went on to make two more 3’s to finish with a team-high 21 points and 33 minutes. Bird was right behind with 18 points, as were Karlie with 17 and Alanna with 10.

Alex was in uniform for the first time but didn’t play. Junior forward Kailee Johnson wasn’t in uniform.

Santa Clara hands team its first loss

Two days later, 26 turnovers contributed to the team’s first defeat, 61-58, at the hands of Santa Clara on Nov. 23. Santa Clara scored 24 points off those turnovers, while the Cardinal managed only 8 points on the visitors’ 13 turnovers.

Lili had a game-high 21. Her only teammate in double figures was Bird with 12. She also had 11 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season.

Thanksgiving week found the team in Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament.

It was a successful venture with an 82-65 win over Missouri State on Nov. 27, a 74-66, come-from-behind win over Dayton on Nov. 28 and a 71-65 overtime win over Purdue on Nov. 29 for the tournament championship.

In that Purdue game, free-throw shooting saved the day with the Cardinal cashing in on 25 of 26 attempts, or 96.2 percent. Purdue made 8 of 12 shots, or 66.7 percent.

Bri posted a career-high 26 points in that game, while Lili was named tournament MVP.

Loss to Texas follows tournament success

Road games continued on Dec. 13 when the Cardinal fell to Texas 77-69. Kailee was named a starter in place of Kaylee, while Alex saw her first action, albeit only for a minute. Lili led the team with 21 points, followed by Bird with 14 and Brittany with 12.

Returning home, the Cardinal prevailed 69-55 over Tennessee on Dec. 16. Except for the Lady Vols’ first basket and a tie early in the first quarter, Stanford led for the entire game, which was followed by a Behind the Bench.

Lili again led the scoring with 19. Bird had 14, and Kaylee had 10. This was Kaylee’s best game so far this season.

Marta got the crowd’s attention with 9 points, three rebounds, two steals and four assists in 29 minutes.

This game gave fans their first look at the panels that have replaced championship banners in the four corners of Maples. Women’s basketball is in its usual spot in the southeast corner.

Three routs in a row

The Cardinal wrapped up 2015 and its pre-conference schedule with three easy wins.

The first came Dec. 19. With everyone playing at least 9 minutes and no one playing more than 19 minutes, the team easily defeated visiting Cornell 93-38.

The five juniors started. Less than 4 minutes into the first quarter, they had racked up a 12-3 lead on 100 percent shooting.

Alex gets her first significant playing time. (Stanford Photo)
Alanna, Kaylee, Brittany and Marta came off the bench and continued to widen the lead. Also coming off the bench in the first quarter were Tess and Alex, giving Alex her first significant playing time. She didn’t score, but she had a rebound, assist and steal in 14 minutes. Moreover, she seemed to be as speedy as she was before her injury.

Some other milestones included Alexa’s first basket and Kiran’s 9 points in her career-high 10 minutes as she shot 3 of 4 from beyond the arc.

The next team to fall was CSU Bakersfield, 83-41 at home Dec. 22. The Roadrunners are coached by Greg McCall, Bird’s father.

Before the game started, he and Tara presented Bird with a USA Basketball plaque honoring her performance in the World University Games in South Korea during the summer. As co-captain, she averaged 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

In this game, she led her team with 15 points and 10 rebounds, her eighth double-double of the season. Some of those points came from mid-range jumpers, a relatively new addition to her repertoire.

The five junior starters accounted for 41 points, while bench players added 42.

Bird’s four blocks led the team, followed by Tess with three in her 7 minutes. Tess, who doesn’t get much playing time, scored 4 points and had six rebounds. When she made her first basket about halfway through the fourth quarter, the crowd and her teammates erupted in cheers.

Chattanooga game wraps up year

The third rout came after the Christmas break when Chattanooga fell 73-30 in Maples on Dec. 28.

As had been true in previous games, stingy defense was given much credit for the victory. Chattanooga was limited to 21.1 percent shooting, while Stanford shot a more respectable 42.9 percent.

And once again the lopsided score gave all available players a chance to get into the game. The only one missing was Brittany, who was in street clothes.

Thus the team ended the first part of its season with a 10-2 record.

According to Stanford Athletics, “The Cardinal has held 11 of 12 opponents this season to below 40 percent shooting, five below 30 percent and one below 20 percent. Stanford is now limiting its foes to convert at only a 30.6 percent clip, the second-best mark in the country.”

Next: The Pac-12 season

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