Borderline Cardinal sin

The No. 7 Stanford women’s basketball team (1-0) resorted to an old trick Friday night to narrowly defeat the U 63-57 in the Huntsman Center.

The Utes (0-1) appeared to have the game in their control for much of the game until midway through the second half when the Cardinal implemented the full-court press-a game plan that worked to perfection.

The change of pace gave Stanford a chance to recover from a significant deficit and changed the momentum of the game in the Cardinal’s favor.

Since it was the season opener for both teams, the game opened with jittery play from both sides. The Cardinal grabbed an early lead, but U veterans Shona Thorburn and Kim Smith would not let their team surrender. With four minutes left in the first half the Utes found themselves down by nine, but gritty play helped the Utes finish the half on a 7-0 run, leaving them down by only two at the break.

The Utes opened the second half with the same fury with which they ended the first half, jumping out to an eight-point lead before the Cardinal had a chance to react.

Faced with the possibility of losing the first game of the season, the nationally ranked Cardinal showed the poise of a championship caliber team as head coach Tara VanDerveer instructed her team to start using the full-court press to slow down the sharp-shooting Utes. The strategy worked as the Utes had trouble getting the ball down the court and setting their half-court offense. The Cardinal capitalized on the Utes’ offensive lapse, regaining the lead for good at the nine-minute mark.

VanDerveer said the full-court press was the key to the Cardinal’s victory.

“The full-court press disrupted [the Utes] and threw off their timing,” VanDerveer said. “They’re really good at passing, moving and screening and I don’t think they were able to deal with the match-ups as well without setting their regular offense.”

U head coach Elaine Elliott was disappointed with her team’s inability to break the press. She said the Utes needed to attack the press and exploit the match-ups down court, but Stanford’s adept ability to trap the point guard made aggressive play nearly impossible.

“The press forced us into a short clock,” Elliott said. “We didn’t turn it over, but we didn’t attack it.”

Smith, who finished the game with 15 points and nine rebounds, agreed with her coach. She said that the only way to beat the full-court press is to pass the ball down the court, which requires a more aggressive approach.

“We didn’t attack it and we didn’t have the right mentality to play against that style of defense,” Smith said. “We were way too laid back and way too complacent.”

VanDerveer was quick to complement the Utes, despite their inability to deal with the full-court press. She said that the Utes will be a team to be reckoned with as the season progresses.

“It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it’s a great win for our program,” VanDerveer said. “Utah is a very good team and I think they’re going to have an excellent season.”

While no team wants to lose its first game, the U players were realistic about the outcome. They said that having the chance to win a game against a top-notch program gives them confidence that they can play with anyone.

“We had it,” Smith said. “So it’s disappointing, but at the same time it’s something we can look at and say, ‘we can compete at this level.’ We still have a couple more chances this year to take on teams with the capability of Stanford, and we’re right up there, so we’ll be ready for them.”

Elliott said she was glad to see that her team would not back down when faced with a highly touted opponent.

“I’m glad to know that they’re going to get out there and compete,” Elliott said. “They competed hard, and I’m proud of them.”

With little time to ponder the loss, the Utes will have their hands full again as they play Georgetown (0-1) tonight at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

The Hoyas dropped their season opener to cross-town rivals George Washington on Friday night, and while they do not have the national ranking of Stanford, they are widely recognized as a solid program.

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