Dishin on the Elite Eight: Too much Ogwumike for Duke to handle
In the “other” Elite Eight game Monday night, two teams that could almost be polar opposites squared off in Duke and Stanford.
Duke relies on eight players to each go over ten minutes each and contribute on the offensive end of the court, while Stanford will usually use only six for any substantial playing time, and may not be counted on for more than intangibles, as Nnemkadi Ogwumike is the offensive juggernaut..
Duke plays a matchup zone frequently, in part as an attempt to help save freshman center Elizabeth Williams from foul trouble and to save some wear on her injured leg. Stanford plays man-to-man, and will try to lock down each player without help if possible.
Stanford came out determined to prove they are a worthy adversary for Baylor. After taking, and making, one three-pointer versus South Carolina, Joslyn Tinkle, the 6-4 center, hit two in the opening minutes as Stanford worked the ball around the perimeter of the matchup zone. In fact, Stanford took eight three-pointers in the first thirteen minutes of the game, making three.
Those perimeter shots helped open the inside for Ogwumike, who hit her first five shots, plus three foul shots for thirteen points, before catching an inadvertent elbow forced her to the bench temporarily.
Over the last few years, Duke teams under Joanne P. McCallie have been criticized for their inability to perform on offense, continually disappointing with talented rosters that played excellent defense. This season’s team struggled early but has been rolling in the NCAA tournament. The offensively challenged Duke team emerged somewhat tonight.
Duke struggled offensively, notably Williams, missing four of her first six shots, and Stanford controlled the boards, opening up a substantial rebounding advantage for the Cardinal, and a corresponding fourteen point lead.
Duke ended a four minute scoreless streak with a three pointer from Tricia Liston and a Chelsea Gray layup, cutting it to nine before another Ogwumike jumper broke the streak with her fifteenth point.
Freshmen Amber Orrange and Taylor Greenfield hit three pointers for the Cardinal, and the lead was fifteen at the half for the Cardinal, 40-25. The most telling stat of the half was that Chiney Ogwumike alone outrebounded Duke eleven to seven for the half.
Duke came out with more of a sense of purpose, and after Orrange upped the lead to seventeen, Duke went on a 6-0 run. Gray and Williams took it inside the paint, drawing first the second foul on Nnemkadi, followed by the third foul on Chiney. Liston scored on a drive, and the lead was down to nine with 15 minutes to go.
Stanford seemed out of synch, with Nnemkadi not getting touches on several possessions. When she did get the ball, good things happened for Stanford, including a layup and drive that drew the third foul on Williams, putting her on the bench. The Cardinal seemed to be too in love with the three point line for a while, taking fourteen attempts by the 12 minute mark in the second half.
Heralded freshman Orrange, who struggled early in the season and did not see substantial playing time, continued to show why she was considered such an important recruit, running the offense, scoring on her own penetration or short jump shot, and dishing out assists while not committing substantial turnovers.
There are certainly many reasons why Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is a Hall of Fame coach, but the work that she and her assistants do in preparing their team for an opponent is impeccable. At the 11 minute media timeout, the pace of ball movement and defensive pressure was clearly taking its toll on the Blue Devils. Williams was in foul trouble, and a team that had seventeen assists versus Saint John’s only had five until then.
Duke continued to go inside, creating contact and getting to the line, where they were flawless. On the other side, Stanford continued to settle for three point shots or attempts without Nnemkadi touching the ball. Duke made hustle play after hustle play, getting second and third chances, but could not get the ball to go down.
Williams, Selby, and Haley Peters all missed opportunities to cut the lead to six, but in the end it was Chiney who put it back up to ten. Chelsea Gray had 19 at this point for Duke, but if you took out her six for twelve shooting the rest of the team was only 12-of-36.
At least Duke kept getting the ball to Gray and Williams, who each had as many shot attempts as Nnemkadi Ogwumike at the seven minute mark (twelve). After the game against South Carolina, where Nnemkadi simply imposed her will on the game, demanding the ball and putting on one of the most dominant performances in NCAA tournament history, she seemed content to let the game run its course, until VanDerveer finally got tired of what she was seeing and called an important time out up eight points, with 6 minutes to go.
As with Baylor in the first game, Stanford executed out of the timeout, with Chiney getting the easy one. After Gray hit again, Nnemkadi demanded the ball after that, drawing a foul and then scoring on an inbounds play to put the lead back to ten for Stanford. A more patient Stanford team then found Tinkle for an open three, a better look this team than they had been taking, and the lead was back to thirteen with 4:26 to go, and brought Williams back in despite her four fouls.
Williams continued to struggle, and the inevitable started to come into focus. Stanford continued to be patient, and the improvement of Orrange over the course of the season cannot be overstated. At the beginning of this, I wrote that Stanford relied on multiple players to score, while Stanford was all Nnemkadi excellence. Ironically, by the end of the game, while Duke did have Gray, Williams, Selby and Liston all in double figures, it was Stanford that also had four players in double figures in the Ogwumike sisters, Tinkle and Orrange while Gray and Williams were the only Blue Devils with at least ten points.
Final score Stanford 81, Duke 69.
Nnemkadi finished with 29 points. Chiney had with 18 rebounds. In the end it was too much Ogwumike and too much pressure for the Blue Devils. The future is bright at Duke though, as only Shay Selby and Kathleen Scheer are seniors, so Gray, Williams, and the rest will all return for Coach McCallie. They will also return several key players that missed substantial time with injuries.
Stanford moves on to the Final Four for all four years of Nnemkadi Ogwumikes career, an amazing achievement. Coach VanDerveer has completely re-tooled a team that had multiple options in Kayla Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen and the Ogwumikes last year, and turned them into a team that revolves around Nnemkadi. She commented postgame that she was excited to play Baylor and take on Brittney Griner. She noted that it “seems like everyone has played Brittney except me.”
This is the one on one matchup everyone was hoping to see. The two best players in the country (with apologies to Elena Delle Donne) going head-to-head, on the big stage, the Final Four. Add in great teammates like Chiney and Baylor’s Odyssey Sims, and two of the very best coaches, VanDerveer and Kim Mulkey, and this should be one of the great national semifinals of recent memory.
I cannot wait.