Stanford vs Penn State Sweet 16 Preview

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Spor

Getting you prepped for the Cardinal women's battle with the Nittany Lions

"This was a great trip for us. We played three tough teams over here, including an excellent Penn State team tonight. Our depth really helped up this weekend. We had a lot of great individual efforts, and several different people came through in clutch situations." - Tara VanDerveer,after the last time Stanford and Penn State met on November 25, 2001, a 90-68 Stanford win.

Nearly 13 years later, not much has changed. If Stanford can get the same "great individual efforts" from "several different people" in key moments as it did then, the Cardinal will put itself in a good position to move on to the Elite 8. When Stanford has multiple players score in double digits, as opposed to just senior forward Chiney Ogwumike carrying the offensive load, the Card have experienced the most success this season. Most recently, the Cardinal got this group effort in a definitive win over Florida State to get to the Sweet 16. Ogwumike led with 21 points, while freshman Lili Thompson and junior Bonnie Samuelson added 14 and 11 points, respectively.

The combined backcourt and frontcourt strength of Amber Orrange, Thompson, Ogwumike and Mikaela Ruef drives the Cardinal offense and sets the pace of their play, with everything falling into place when they execute effectively. If those four can get into a rhythm from the opening tip - high screens for the guards setting up good shots and assists down low - the Card will be able to keep a talented Penn State team at bay.

In 2010, three current Penn State seniors were shut out of the Sweet 16 after falling to DePaul on their home court in the round of 32. Those same seniors capitalized on another opportunity of hosting the first and second rounds by beating Florida on Tuesday, and after a 83-61 win, the no. 3 seed Lady Lions will no doubt come out strong and confident against the no. 2 seed Cardinal. The speed, size (PSU's starting center is 6-5) and rebounding advantages that Penn State holds over Stanford will no doubt be a factor and will boil the game down to a battle of the boards.

The Lions are led by senior guard Maggie Lucas, who averages 21.5 points per game. The All-American candidate plays with a lot of emotional intensity and is a sharp shooter from the behind the arc, knocking down 37 percent of her 3-point attempts. Senior forward Ariel Edwards leads the Lions in shooting efficiency at 45 percent, while averaging 15.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg. Senior Dara Taylor led the way in the Lions’ win over Florida, leading the Lions' defense to force 22 Gator turnovers. The point guard’s speed was too much for Florida to handle as she scored 22 points, passed out four assists, and snagged two steals.

Stanford struggled against FSU in the opening minutes of its last game, allowing the Seminoles to jump out to an eight-point lead, but the Cardinal rallied in typical dominant fashion, finishing the half on a resounding 26-2 tear after VanDerveer made the decision to switch to zone defense.

The Lady Lions were the opposite story against Florida jumping out to the early lead against Florida - so whoever controls of the momentum in the opening minutes of the game could be a critical factor in which team comes up on top, especially since both Stanford and Penn State have comparable season statistics. Although Stanford holds the edge in shooting efficiency, thanks to Ogwumike’s 61 percent accuracy from the field and Samuelson’s 41 percent display from behind the arc, Penn State has the slight advantage in rebounding, steals, and blocks. The Cardinal average 43 rebounds per game to the Lady Lions’ 44, while the Card also average two less offensive boards per game.

In addition, if Stanford can take care of the ball on the offensive end and thwart Penn State’s defensive strategy of forcing and capitalizing off turnovers, the Lady Lions will have a hard time stopping the Cardinal, especially if Ogwumike, Orrange, Ruef, and Thompson can start the game strong from the tip and Samuelson is able to knock down shots coming off of the bench. Stanford and Penn St. will battle for a spot in the Elite 8 at Maples Pavilion on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The winner will advance to play the winner of the South Carolina and North Carolina matchup.

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