It was a season that began with many questions but that ended with mostly satisfactory answers for the Stanford women’s basketball team in 2017-18.
How would the young team fare with only two seniors?
How would the team adapt to the new Princeton offense stressing constant motion, back-door cuts, passing, picks on and off the ball, and disciplined teamwork?
How would the team rebound from one of the most grueling early schedules in its history?
The answers: Amazingly well. The team finished with a 24-11 record, hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 in Lexington, Ky.
Amy retires from coaching
Before all that, though, in April 2017, just after the 2016-17 season had ended with the annual banquet, associate head coach Amy Tucker said she would leave the bench after 32 years at Stanford. Earlier in the season, Kate Paye had been promoted to associate head coach alongside Amy, but with the new season pending, Kate had the job alone.
|Lindy did her share of scoring. (SWBB photo)|
Lindy La Rocque, a 2012 SWBB alum, became an assistant coach. Tempie Brown, the other assistant coach, assumed Amy’s responsibility for coordinating recruiting. Amy stayed on as women’s basketball administrator.
Most of the 14-member squad reported to campus for the summer, when they could practice with the coaches for two hours a week for eight weeks.
Alyssa, Alanna and Britt play internationally
The exception was freshman forward Alyssa Jerome, who was captain of Canada’s U19 Women’s Basketball Team in July. After an exhibition tournament in France, her team won bronze in the FIBA U19 Women’s Basketball World Cup 2017 in Italy.
Junior forward Alanna Smith left campus in mid-July to join her country’s Australian Opals, which won silver in FIBA Women’s Asia Cup games in India.
Shortly after that, senior guard Brittany McPhee went to the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s National Training Camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she made the 12-player squad. It won the championship in the U23 Women’s Basketball Four Nations Tournament in Japan.
Team travels to Italy
After summer school ended Aug. 17, everyone returned Sept. 4 for a trip to Italy Sept. 5-15. The team visited Rome, Florence and Venice and won one of five games against Italian college and professional teams. The fourth loss came in a 64-57 overtime game against a team with recently graduated Karlie Samuelson.
Despite the losses, the trip was a big win, allowing the players to form all-important bonds and get valuable playing experience. It gave the coaches a chance to see how the team was meshing and how various lineups worked.
After a short break, the well-traveled team returned to campus Sept. 21 for fall classes on Sept. 25.
Fans got their first look at the team on Nov. 4, when it defeated visiting UC San Diego 60-46 in an exhibition game.
With only two seniors, Britt and forward Kaylee Johnson, the young team shot only 39 percent overall and just 16 percent from beyond the arc while logging 16 turnovers.
All 14 players were available, and all saw action. The starters were Britt, Kaylee, Alanna and junior guards Marta Sniezek and Alexa Romano.
After that, the team got a taste of powerhouse competition at a tournament in Columbus, Ohio, where the 2018 Final Four would be played. The Cardinal left with losses of 64-85 to Ohio State and 53-78 to UConn.
First win comes against UC Riverside
Returning home, the Cardinal notched its first victory, 53-43 over UC Riverside on Nov. 17. The team was short-handed with Britt in a boot and sophomore forward Nadia Fingall in street clothes. She missed only this game, but it was the first of nine that Britt missed.
Sophomore guard DiJonai Carrington, in her first career start, played a team-high 31 minutes, scored 13 points and snared 22 rebounds. Alanna, Kaylee, Alexa and Marta also started.
|Alexa shoots against UC Riverside. (Bob Drebin/ISI Photos)|
Two days later, the team hosted Cal State Bakersfield and won 57-34. Alexa was the top scorer with a career-high 13 points, including three three-pointers. Sophomore guard Anna Wilson also had three three’s, and freshman forward Estella Moschkau had one for her first collegiate points.
Back on the road for a tournament in Las Vegas, the team defeated Kent State 79-54 on Nov. 23 and Belmont 74-53 on Nov. 24. Wrapping up the tournament on Nov. 25, the team met Ohio State again and lost 82-94, this time in overtime.
Alanna, Anna honored
Alanna led the team in scoring for in two games in Las Vegas and was named Pac-12 Player of the Week. She and Anna were named to the all-tournament team.
A quick road trip resulted in an 86-66 win over the University of San Francisco on Nov. 29. The game started slowly for the Cardinal, who trailed after the half, but the team turned the tide to win.
The comeback was fueled by a fusillade of treys: 11 of 21, or 52.4 percent, after the half, a school record for a half. For the game, the team had 15 three’s, third-most in team history.
Freshman guard Kiana Williams led the trey parade with five. Alanna, Alexa and DiJonai had three each. Anna had one.
Still on the road, the team lost to another powerhouse, Baylor, 57-81, on Dec. 3. Junior center Shannon Coffee was the top scorer with 14, with four three’s. She was followed by Kiana with 13 points and Alanna with 11.
With finals in the rear-view mirror, the team enjoyed a 74-33 victory over visiting UNLV on Dec. 16. DiJonai joined Britt on the unavailable list.
|Kiana is interviewed after her first start. (Stanford Athletics)|
Kiana had the most points, 14. Alanna and freshman forward Maya Dodson had 11 each.
The revamped starting lineup featured regulars Kaylee and Alanna joined by three first-timers: Kiana, Shannon and Anna.
Season’s nadir: Loss to Western Illinois
In what was perhaps the most surprising loss of the season, the Cardinal fell 64-71 to unranked Western Illinois on Dec. 18 in Maples. Poor free-throw shooting and turnovers contributed to the loss.
Completing the non-conference schedule, the team lost 71-83 to then-unbeaten Tennessee on Dec. 21 in Maples. This loss, along with the one to Western Illinois, dropped Stanford out of AP’s top 25 for the first time in 17 years.
Despite the loss, fans were cheered by Britt’s return after a nine-game absence. She proved to be a spark plug and poured in 27 points. DiJonai was still out.
Thus the nonconference season ended with an uncharacteristic 6-6 record, but five of the six losses were against teams that were in the top 10 at the time.
Returning from a brief holiday break, the team upset visiting UCLA 76-65 to start Pac-12 competition Dec. 29. This victory marked the season’s first over a ranked team.
|Britt goes for a layup against USC. (Richard Erstad/ISI Photos)|
Britt led the way with a game-high 26 points. Alanna had a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Nadia added 10 points. DiJonai was back in action and added seven points in only 10 minutes.
The starting lineup featured Britt, Alanna, Marta, Maya and Kiana.
The team ended 2017 by defeating USC 72-65 on Dec. 31. This victory returned the Cardinal to AP’s top 25, with the Jan. 1 poll ranking Stanford No. 24.
Britt led the team with 21 points. Because she had scored at least 21 points in the three games since returning from her injury, ESPNW named her its National Player of the Week.
Next: Part 2, the new year