- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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They might play on opposite sides of the country, led by coaches with distinctly contrasting styles, but Stanford and Connecticut -- which meet as the top two teams in the country again Saturday at 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU, ESPN3) -- have one very important thing in common: an affinity for players who can put the ball in the basket.
"I think we both value offensively skilled players," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We both work hard at the defensive end, but I think we both really emphasize playing with a purpose -- passing and shooting."
At this point in the season, on the cusp of conference play, the Huskies and the Cardinal are, predictably, among the top scoring teams in the country. Connecticut ranks third at 85.3 points per game. Stanford is 12th at 78.6. They rank No. 1 and No. 3 respectively in field goal percentage, both shooting well above 50 percent as a team.
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said both programs are "fortunate" to be able to recruit players with strong offensive skills.
"Not every program is capable of recruiting the offensive players that we can recruit at Stanford and Connecticut, and that gives us an advantage," Auriemma said. "We can go out and attract the best offensive players in the country.
"Teams can't build their teams around defense because they are not skilled enough on the offensive end. That's one of the things that needs to continue to grow in the women's game. More teams have to value putting the ball in the basket."
That being said, neither coach is expecting triple digits from their Saturday showdown.
"Saturday, you have two of the best offensive teams in the country," Auriemma said. "Hopefully, the fans will get a chance to see that. That's not to say we're going to see who can win 110-109."
VanDerveer believes the game should be showcasing those offensive abilities, not literally tamping them down with brutal, body-jarring physical play. The Cardinal are coming off their most physical game of the year at South Carolina last week.
VanDerveer has always been vocal about her belief that rough play takes away from the game and leads to significant injuries, already pervasive in the women's game.
Rough, she would tell you, is not the same as tough. She certainly wants her teams to be physically and mentally tough on the floor.
"Philosophically, I think basketball is different than wrestling and football and hockey," VanDerveer said. "I think there is a place for physical play, but not at the expense of seeing the athleticism and skill that our team has. We've never said we'll beat you up instead of beating you at basketball.
"I don't know what other styles people play, but I personally feel the game has become too physical. It doesn't highlight the great skill of our female players that people are paying good money to come and watch. From my point of view, [Saturday's game] will be a basketball game."
Auriemma chuckled at that idea.
"That's good to hear, because last time we were here I thought we needed helmets," Auriemma said. "That was one of the more physical games that was played last year."
But in truth, it's another thing on which VanDerveer and Auriemma agree.
"The game of women's basketball has to be played differently than men's basketball," Auriemma said. "I always laugh when the people that run women's basketball want to showcase our physicality. I don't know that that serves any purpose. You want to showcase putting the ball in the basket. That's what attracts fans. That's what makes the game enjoyable to watch.
"We are very good defensive teams. We wouldn't be in the positions we are in if we weren't. But we try to make scoring and scoring often a priority in our programs. … notwithstanding the 20-12 half we played in the national championship game [in 2010 in San Antonio]. I remember all 12 of those points. ..."
Tara VanDerveer and Geno Auriemma want to showcase offenses in Stanford-Connecticut showdown.