The Gonzaga Bulldogs have had a magical run to the Elite Eight, capitalizing on their home court advantage to set up a chance to make more history as the first 11 seed to make a NCAA women's Final Four.
But standing in the way is a top-seeded Stanford Cardinal team that is well-accustomed to playing at this time of year and boasts among the most versatile rosters in the nation, with four stars that demand attention and are more than capable of taking over a game in their own way.
But perhaps the most important key for Gonzaga to beat Stanford is competing on the boards: Stanford's Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike as well as Kayla Pedersen are all capable of hitting the boards hard and Pedersen might be a particularly dangerous matchup as her skill allows her to play multiple positions around the floor. While the Ogwumike sisters were big down the stretch, Pedersen's play throughout was particularly huge.
Stanford Survives North Carolina - Swish Appeal
So Stanford guard Jeanette Pohlen, is in a little, minor, just a teensy little bit, tiniest bit of a slump. It’s very small, so small we should hardly mention it. So small R didn’t even want me to mention it here in the blog because then we might be responsible for jinxing her for the rest of the tournament. She was 1-9 shooting for the night, yet she was 80% percent from the free throw line and she made 3 out of 4 free throws in the final 30 seconds. She is ice, ice baby. In fact, the other coach called a timeout to try and "ice" her first attempts and she was all like, huh, free throws I can do. So yeah the final score was 72-65 but it was a much, much closer game.
Kayla Pedersen had her usual "quiet night" scoring 15, yet was 5 for 13 from the floor, and only 2-6 from three-point land. Fifteen points is nothing to sneeze at, but Stanford’s shooting percentage is waaay down, shooting 36% for the game, and only 19% from beyond the arc. Gotta step that up for these next few games.
Pedersen's the type of glue player that could be a huge factor against a relatively undersized Gonzaga team even if Pohlen remains cold.
Of course, all eyes will be on Courtney Vandersloot for Gonzaga, who is having an outstanding tournament, but she's going to need help from the post players for her team to contend with Stanford and that will include Kayla Standish, but will also require a strong team rebounding effort. And as SBN's Rule of Tree has observed, the Cardinal have to worry about those "other" Bulldogs as well.
Stanford Must Contend With Vandersloot, Pro-Gonzaga Crowd - Rule Of Tree
While Vandersloot makes Gonzago go, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer says the Bulldogs are a lot more than just one player. Kayla Standish, Katelan Redmon, and Janelle Bekkering all average double figures for the Zags.Two out of three ESPN experts picked Stanford to advance to its fourth consecutive Final Four, but Graham Hays thinks Gonzaga has a good chance to crash the party in Indianapolis.
One of the keys for those supporting players is for them to be efficient as passers in addition to rebounders and scorers. Vandersloot is obviously going to get a lot of attention and has clearly shown the ability to handle it, but that attention also means that it helps immensely when other players can be competent with the ball.
A big x-factor that can't be ignored here is just the fact that Gonzaga is playing at home - that's been a tough environment for opponents during the tournament and both teams are playing much better than they were in November.