Stanford’s Erica McCall’s late season improvements serving her team well
When the dad of Stanford junior forward Erica McCall, also the head coach of Cal State Bakersfield, watched the last eight seconds of the NCAA tournament second round game between his daughter’s No. 4-seeded team and No. 12 South Dakota State Monday night at Maples Pavilion, he knew exactly what she needed to do to help her team maintain its one-point edge: block the opponent’s last shot attempt.
Junior guard Lili Thomas secured the narrow lead for the Cardinal after a gutsy layup in traffic and a made free throw. However, SDSU had plenty of time to get the ball into the hands of their leading scorer, sophomore guard Macy Miller. Yet when Miller launched a jumper with a second to go, McCall was right there to block it and seal Stanford’s win.
For McCall to channel her dad’s wishes and get that block was “huge” he exclaimed in excitement just minutes after the win.
“I was hoping that she would look up in the stands because I would tell her the same thing,” he said. “‘Hey, go for the block because they’re going to go for it.’ She already knew, she read my mind.”
While he was stoic for much of the game, that all changed during the last several minutes. He was standing, cheering and even pacing on the step next to his aisle seat, gesticulating frantically at the floor, hoping his daughter would notice. And the day before, as a coach does, he watched film of SDSU and did his own scouting report.
“They’re a very good team,” he said of the visiting Jackrabbits. “I knew it was going to be a tough match for Erica.” But Stanford did what was necessary to pull out the victory, “play good hard-nosed defense and keep them in front,” tactics that will serve them well in their Sweet 16 rematch with the No. 1 seed in the Lexington Region, Notre Dame. Last season, the Fighting Irish eliminated Stanford in the Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City, 81-60.
Even while she was busy on the court, the younger McCall knew her dad was animated in the last minutes.
“I know he tried to contain himself for most of the time, but I knew during that time he was really into it,” she said. Sitting just a few rows behind the Stanford bench, even those sitting opposite the court could see how enthusiastic he was.
“He was ready to jump out of his seat and run to the floor with us,” said Erica laughing.
She indicated that she does not get nervous when her dad attends games but admitted that she does “feel way more comfortable when he’s there.”
“He just gives me reassurance that I’m doing well and you know when I’m struggling he gives me pointers like ‘hey do this, do that’ and so I just feel a lot more comfortable out there.”
She finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds with nearly half of her field goals coming from outside of the paint. During the past two months, she has developed her outside game, and even began attempting, and making, three-point shots. What was her motivation for becoming a more versatile forward?
“Just helping out my teammates,” she said. “Being able to get extra points out there. I think I still need to improve my game down low…but I’m definitely improving my [outside] shot.”
She also expressed gratitude for her team and their role in helping to improve her skills.
“I’m truly blessed that my teammates have supported me throughout this whole process because it’s been a journey and I’m glad that my shots are going down.”
Her journey has also included improving her perimeter defense, a skill that served her well Monday night.
With Notre Dame on the horizon, McCall relishes the heightened level of competition that each round of the tournament brings.
“Each game, it gets crazier, it just shows how much you need to do to get to the Final Four and win a national championship. Each game brings a different energy level.”
Her father will not be in Lexington and the team will be without of the support of the home crowd but she feels up to the challenge.
“We’re just going to bring a lot more energy on the court and from the bench.”