The Connecticut Juggernaut Juggers On
Lady Huskies should be champs.
by Clay Kallam
The Man in the Moon didn’t exactly shine a light on the Sweet 16, but that’s what it means to be Dead Wrong in Public (to steal San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins’ phrase).
Undaunted, the MitM now takes a look at the Final Four – but betting the rent is not advised.
The received wisdom is that a team that wins the national championship will have one bad game out of the six it takes to cut down the nets – and the trick is to win that bad game.
Stanford certainly played poorly against Xavier, but thanks to Dee Dee Jernigan’s missed layups, and Jeanette Pohlen’s mad dash, the Cardinal lived to fight again. The game also revealed the importance of even a wounded Jayne Appel to Stanford, as her defensive presence is still imposing, even though she’s clearly not nearly 100 percent.
That said, the display of speed and quickness the Sooners put on against Kentucky has to have Tara VanDerveer and staff more than a little concerned. If the Wildcats, with a much more athletic backcourt, couldn’t contain Nyeisha Stevenson and Danielle Robinson, how will the Cardinal’s guard corps hold up?
Then again, how will Oklahoma handle the inside power of Stanford, as 6-4 Kayla Pedersen is a wing for the Cardinal, but would be the tallest Sooner starter?
So there’s a definite stylistic clash here, and the team that can impose its will on the game will most likely win – which is to say that if Stanford can control the game with its post players, the Cardinal should advance; if Oklahoma can control the game with its guards, then the Sooners will move on.
Over the season, Stanford has been the better team, and the Cardinal just had their bad game. If they bounce back to their previous form, they should be able to get past an Oklahoma team that isn’t quite as complete. Then again, the Big 12 is a lot better than the Pac-10, and the Sooners looked a lot better than Stanford in the Elite Eight.
So it comes down to what you like: Guards or posts? Recent play or a season’s worth of work?
The Man in the Moon admits to some West Coast bias, and maybe that’s the reason for a lean to Stanford – plus the Cardinal have been much more consistent over the course of the season. So that means Stanford, for better or worse, gets another shot at Connecticut.
If this was just Brittney Griner versus Tina Charles, it would be a very interesting game. Griner, of course, is a brilliant shotblocker, but she hasn’t faced a post as tall, quick and skilled as Charles. If Connecticut does go inside, it will be fascinating to see these two go at it.
Unfortunately for ESPN, the rest of the matchups aren’t nearly as compelling, and UConn should dominate all over the court. If the Huskies struggle to shoot from outside, though, then Griner becomes more important and maybe the game is closer than most anticipate.
Sadly, even that would mean it’s a 20-point game. More likely, though, the Huskies sail into the finals without about as much drama as a Russian election.
THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
The inevitable coronation of Connecticut can only be derailed if a) the Huskies play their worst game of the season, and b) Stanford plays its best game of the season – and even then it would be close.
But if UConn gets its usual contributions from Tina Charles and Maya Moore, and Kalana Greene and Tiffany Hayes do nothing special, that should be more than enough to get by Oklahoma or Stanford.
Foul trouble? Could be an issue, as UConn doesn’t have a lot of depth. Poor shooting? Could happen, but the Huskies have a lot of weapons and it’s unlikely all would misfire at the same time. It’s possible Stanford’s inside presence or Oklahoma’s perimeter athleticism could cause some problems, but then it’s also possible the moon will turn into green cheese as an April Fool’s prank.
So that means the ESPN announcing crew can spend most of the second half debating whether the UConn juggernaut is good or bad for the sport. Sure, that’s sort of boring, but the game will be even worse.
For more from Clay Kallam, and on women’s basketball overall, check out Full Court Press.