Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 04/01/19: Hiking Guide, Ducks' Next Foe, Notre Dame Dizzied Me

1. A little book I ordered arrived today: Best Easy Day Hikes: Spokane/Coeur d'Alene. I started reading it and imagining some outings with my camera.

2. After Baylor crushed Iowa late this afternoon, 85-53, all of us Duck fans now know what a difficult challenge Oregon faces this Saturday in the national semi-final in Tampa. Baylor's team, I'd say, is built around two towering players, 6'7" Kalani Brown and 6'4" Lauren Cox. Against Mississippi State and their 6"7" center, Teaira McCowan, the Ducks collapsed two or three defenders on McCowan and dared MSU to shoot from the outside and, often, but not always, this strategy worked. I don't know how they'll defend Baylor's Brown and Cox. Brown and Cox work together very well. Double team one of them, and she'll flash the rock to the other, often in a high-low set up with Brown high and Cox low. In this afternoon's game, Brown shot about three times from the free throw area, missed them all, but my guess is that she's got some good history from that spot. Iowa couldn't stop Cox down low.

Another challenge for the Ducks is that Baylor's quick and cagey guard, 6'1" DiDi Richards is a relentless defender. No doubt she'll hound Sabrina Ionescu on Saturday. Richards is also one of those uncanny right place at the right time players. She benefits from all the attention opponents have to pay to Brown and Cox. She likes to hang around the paint and score short shots on assists from the big girls and on put backs when teammates miss shots. The Ducks have to box out Brown and Cox, but if they don't also block out DiDi Richards, she'll hurt them on the offensive glass.

I don't know if Baylor's defense slowed down Iowa or if Iowa is simply a slower team than the Ducks. I want to believe that the Ducks' screen and roll offense, the variety of ways they can score, their ability to find open shooters and get open shots inside and outside on their screens and rolls will challenge the Baylor Bears. I would love it if Satou Sabally and Erin Boley could stretch Baylor's defense by hitting three pointers early on. If the paint opens up a bit, Ionescu and Hebard can work their picks and rolls inside. Iowa rarely ran picks and rolls with their star center Megan Gustafson. She set up camp down low. Iowa fed her entry passes and she scored with her quick feet and deft touch on bank shots near the basket. Hebard, for the Ducks, tends to score in motion, setting a pick for Ionescu, rolling to the hoop when Ionescu draws defenders, and gobbling up a pinpoint pass and scoring. I haven't seen Baylor defend this kind of play -- I've only seen Baylor play once! -- and I don't know how they'll handle the Ducks' offense.

I agree with Charlie Creme and Michelle Voepel, here: to defeat the Baylor Bears, the Ducks will need to score a lot of points. My way of saying it? Their offense will need to run on all five cylinders. I don't think the Ducks can afford a cold shooting night from Erin Boley and my hope is that the streaky Satou Sabally goes on an early hot streak, not a cold one.

I can tell from her post-game interview that Baylor's coach, Lynn Mulkey, is motivating her players by telling them that even though they've won 27 games in a row this season and even though they are the tournament's top seed, that the press doesn't respect them and she's working to put a chip on her team's collective shoulder. Coach Mulkey has taken offense at comments by commentators that her center, Kalani Brown, has "mobility issues".  Baylor's team has rallied around Kalani Brown, dedicated itself to winning a championship for her (she's a senior). It's a wily move by Mulkey: get the team to think the world is against them, that they aren't being properly respected, and get them thinking like they are the underdogs. Teams that see themselves this way often play harder, motivated by having something to prove.

Coach Kelly Graves won't have to make up an underdog (underduck?) story for Oregon.

Baylor is widely regarded as the favorite to win this tilt.

I can hardly wait.

3. After Baylor dispatched Iowa, I watched Notre Dame shoot miserably in the first half against Stanford, trail by seven points at halftime, and return from intermission a different team. The Irish want to speed up the game's temp, get into a race with their opponent, rebound missed shots, get out on the fast break, and score points in bunches. That's exactly what they did in the second half. I texted Linda during the third quarter with my observation that Stanford looked dizzied by Notre Dame's third quarter blitz of steals, rebounds, fast break points, and pinpoint jump shots. The Irish outscored the Cardinal 58-32 in the second half, routing Stanford, 84-68. If Stanford wasn't dizzied by the blur of  Notre Dame's point production in the second half, I was.

Notre Dame is the defending champion of this tournament. In recent years, a grudge has developed between the Notre Dame program and the University of Connecticut. Notre Dame's coach, Muffet McGraw and UConn's coach, Geno Auriemma seem to relish trading barbs.  Last year the Irish knocked the Huskies out of the tournament in the semi-finals on a last second shot by possibly the USA's most joyous player, Arike Ogunbowale. The two teams play in the semi-final on Saturday. It's good drama and superb basketball when these teams meet and I look forward to Saturday's contest.

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