Women’s NCAA Tournament Fresno Elite Eight Breakdown
The Fresno Regional at the SaveMartCenter comes down to the top two seeds in what should make for a potentially epic battle between Pac-12 powerhouse Stanford and ACC powerhouse Duke. Both teams had a test early in their Sweet 16 games. St. John’s led Duke 25-23 with 6:12 left in the first half, but then the Blue Devils blew the game open with a 16-0 run spanning through into the early stages of the second half making the Duke lead 39-25.
Shay Selby, the only senior starter for the Blue Devils, led the way with 18 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in a very well balanced all-around game. Chelsea Gray, a Stockton, California native, had a solid homecoming with 13 points to go along with eight steals causing plenty of havoc on the defensive end in wearing down the Red Storm in the second half.
In game two, Stanford was rescued by Nneka Oguwmike who put on an a world class performance scoring 39 points and securing 10 rebounds in a 76-60 victory over South Carolina in a game that was closer than the score would indicate. South Carolina’s tough defensive approach kept the Gamecocks in the game well into the second half giving the Cardinal a rare challenge that they haven’t had since Cal took them to overtime in Maples Pavillion on January 28th.
One very glaring point of concern heading into the game against Duke is their bench scoring as Stanford only had two points out of their bench. I know benches are shortened during the post-season but with the athletes that Duke has, if any serious foul trouble happens, the bench will need to step up.
This game should be fascinating to watch unfold. You have Duke out of the ACC, which has plenty of depth to challenge them during the regular season with competition like Maryland, Miami, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia. Then you have the Cardinal who, along with Cal were the only Pac-12 NCAA Tournament berths. The effect of playing a lot of teams who went through coaching transitions definitely affected the conference in the 2011-12 season and helped Stanford run the table again in Pac-12 play.
The talent and youthful exuberance of the Blue Devils is imposing and they have been comfortably taking care of business so far in the tournament. The senior leadership of Shay Selby, playing with a strong sense of urgency to get back to the Final Four, is a stabilizing force with this team heading into Monday night’s showdown against the Cardinal. The young players like Gray, Elizabeth Williams, and Hayley Peters are going to have to be all in and follow the senior Shay’s leadership on Monday. Also, look for them to attack Nneka Oguwmike to try and get her into foul trouble early on like South Carolina did on Saturday night.
Stanford, with Nneka Oguwmike, an almost for certain number 1 WNBA draft pick this April, playing at another level, comes into this game with plenty of confidence and momentum after holding off a tough South Carolina team. You know Oguwmike is going to get her numbers; a very big key on Monday night will be the backcourt play of Amber Orrange, and Toni Kokenis. Those two will have to value the basketball at a high level against the Blue Devils. I would suspect they would try to put at least some pressure on them to make it more difficult to get the ball to the Oguwmike sisters and Joslyn Tinkle.
This championship game for the right to go to Denver, I would think, would be a bit of an up tempo contest with the difference being which team avoids the turnover bug and defends well enough to get the job done. I like Stanford to prevail because of their experience in these types of games. Duke is playing very well and should not be intimidated by the Cardinal. This game should be decided by about six points capping off what should be a great doubleheader with Baylor and Tennessee battling first on Monday night.
Score: Stanford 81 Duke 74