The Zags welcome the #3 Stanford Cardinal to the McCarthey Center today at 4pm ET for a matchup that will be featured on SWX/ESPN+. Let’s take a look at the team named after a color since 1972 (you’re darn right I’m not letting that old nickname slide) with a pretty cool unofficial mascot costume if you ask me (although I think this takes the cake).
Stanford currently sits at 8-0 while ranked #3 in the AP & Coaches Poll. They will be first of three Pac-12 teams the Zags will face this month (Cal 12/07 and Arizona 12/20) and fourth this season (previously WSU). As indicated by their ranking, Stanford will likely be the toughest matchup of this season and boast a strong resume to date including wins at then #9 Indiana 96-64, then ranked #13 Florida State 100-88, and a previously #22 ranked Duke 82-79 that’s still getting more votes in the Coaches Poll than the Zags.
In last seasons matchup, the short-handed Zags (only 7 eligible players at that point) travelled to Palo Alto as the #23 AP team to take on the Cardinal, then ranked #2 where they were defeated handedly 84-63. The game started off close as the Bulldogs trailed by only 1 point at the end of the first quarter and took a brief lead at the opening of the second quarter, but from then on out, the Cardinal pulled away convincingly and led by as much as 20 at one stage.
Kaylynne and Brynna had big scoring performances of 22 and 19 points respectively, but the supporting cast was unable to add much as only 22 points were scored between four players with another player not scoring at all. Looking at that game’s boxscore deeper, we can clearly see that Gonzaga was shorthanded as players like Esther Little, Payton Muma and Destiny Burton got major burn this game as all saw nearly double their end-of-season minutes and the other four all played more than thirty minutes. Talk about playing with one hand behind your back.
But while the Zags were working with limited personnel, the Cardinal got 13 players action on the court to along with 11 players recording their name in the scoresheet, led by Brooke Demetre’s 17 points. Stanford also torched Gonzaga in rebounding by snagging 37 total rebounds, including 13 on the offensive end, while Gonzaga could only grab 23 total rebounds, 7 of which were on the offensive end.
But that was last season and I expect this game to look vastly different, if only because Gonzaga has their full slate of players to bring into this matchup. Another factor will be that this game will be played at home where the @ZagWBB account announced that it was sold out several days ago. Having that home court advantage cannot be underestimate and I wish I could be there to experience the energy. Unlike last season, the team has also been healthy so far this season and to boot, we’re seeing some quality performances from those taking the court.
Yvonne has been an offensive powerhouse as she’s averaging 19.2 ppg (66.7%) and 8.1 rbg while playing big against quality opposition: WSU (18 points), Toledo (22 points), Alabama (23 points), and Louisville (23 points). Kaylynne might have taken a step-back in scoring this year (12.7 ppg compared to 15.7 last season), but she’s improved her ball distribution (6.3 assists and just 2.2 turnovers) while also showing that she can get her own basket when the team needs it (22 points at WSU and 23 points at Eastern). Kayleigh has come back from her injury woes last year looking to score big as she tied her career-high in points twice (21 points) before breaking it two games later (25). While she struggled mightily against Eastern, all players have bad games and I expect big things from her tonight. Brynna hasn’t brought the same shooting touch from the 22-23 season, but even while shooting 38.6% FG and 37.6 3FG%, she’s scoring near her career average and it’s only a matter of time before her beautiful shot starts going through the net. Eliza’s success may not get as much coverage as the above players, but we should recognize her for the quality rebounding (7.3/g), steals (1.7/g), and blocks (1.1/g) while not forgetting that she has two double-doubles at this early juncture.
We will need these players, as well bench stalwarts Maud Hujibens and Cali Stokes, to play well against a Stanford team that has essentially demolished all challengers thus far. Cameron Brink, the 6’4” Pac-12 Preseason All Conference Team forward from Beaverton, continues to grow her game and make an impact all over the court as she’s averaging 19.6 ppg (58% FG and 36.5% 3FG), 12.1 rbg, 2.3 apg, 3.8 bpg in just 22.9 minutes per game. Watching in her in previous games, she can dribble fairly well, make the high-low post pass, and has some threat from deep, as evidenced by her 36.4% conversion on 1.4 attempts per game.
In addition to Cameron, 6’3” forward Kiki Iriafen means that Stanford brings serious height inside. She may not be the same defensive presence as Cameron, but she certainly carries some of the same offensive threat as Kiki’s scoring inside the paint (18.0 ppg on 60.8% shooting; no three pointers this year) and rebounding acumen (10.4 rbg including 4.6 orbg) will be a handful for our bigs to manage. Like Cameron, she’s also averaging just under 23 minute per game so her per 40 numbers look insane. And don’t let her lack of three pointers fool you as she’s not just some stationary big as in the games I’ve watched, she’s been extremely active by changing her attack angle when its blocked off, clearing out space for the driving guards, and driving to the rim when receiving the ball outside the paint.
The other Pac-12 Preseason All Conference Team selection, Hannah Jump, stands out as the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game during which time she’s averaged 11.6 ppg 3.1 apg and just 0.5 tpg. While those assist numbers pale in comparison to someone like Kaylynne, that turnover number is miniscule and highlights her high quality decision making on the court. She loves to shoot the ball from deep, as evidenced by her 7.5 attempts per game (38.3 3FG%) compared to just 2.6 two-pointers per game, and I expect this to be a nice foil to the twin towers in Kiki and Cameron down low and a test of our guards when they elect to help on the opposing big
Stanford runs an extremely deep bench with five players getting 12 minutes per game or more and it will be interesting to watch how the Zags cope with those different styles and if Coach Fortier goes deeper into her bench as a response. That question could be determined by foul troubles, particularly against Stanford’s talented Brink and Iriafen. I’m expecting to see a lot of Maud Hujibens this game as the primary bench option as, alongside Eliza, has shown some guts on defense and both have the height to compete against Stanford’s bigs. It’s even possible we see some court action from Naya, although that’s a shot in the dark as she didn’t suit up against Easter for unclear reasons.
I think big factors in this game for Gonzaga will be how they can limit or even win the rebounding battle as currently, Stanford sits at second in the nation in total rebounding and twelfth in offensive rebounding. I will also be interested to see how we limit the scoring proficiency of Cameron Brinks and Kiki Iriafen; will it be through double teams? fronting? pulling a Tanya Harding? It’s clear that this question has been something that no team has been able to full address as one of the two players has led their team in scoring in all but one game this year, an 88-32 victory over Cal Poly where the Cardinal bench got major action.
I’ll be looking for Kayleigh to make a comeback against a disappointing game against Eastern Washington because it’s hard to envision a win if she scores under 10 points. I’m still waiting on Brynna to get her shooting into the same efficiency range as last season and I’m hoping this big-time matchup is her break out. Gonzaga has had a tendency to go cold from the field for minutes at a time this season and they’ll need to avoid this tonight as the Stanford offense that averages 86.1 points per game will punish those them for it.
I hope everyone tunes into this game and wears their favorite Zag gear to give this team all the good juju we can because this should be a tough battle, but one where I see an opportunity for us to get the upset. #gozags