The top seeded Stanford women’s basketball team defeated South Carolina 76-60 in a hard fought contest in Fresno last night to move on to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Back on the Pacific coast after playing the first two rounds in Virginia, the Cardinal (34-1) had the support from a large crowd of local fans at the Save Mart Center on the campus of CSU Fresno. In contrast, the Gamecocks (25-10) were a long way from home, but seemed unfazed by being in Stanford’s backyard.
“They were an extremely aggressive and physical team,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “They worked really hard against us; we really had to work hard to beat them. We really had to chip away at things; we took care of the ball; we worked really hard defensively and Nneka would just not be denied.”
Senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who posted 39 points and ten rebounds, again led the Card, as the Gamecocks could not stop the Pac-12 Player of the Year. Nneka’s offensive dominance was followed by sophomore guard Toni Kokenis, who had 12 points and seven rebounds, and sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike, who grabbed her own double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. The only bench points for Stanford came from freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson, who stepped up to shoot two free throws when Chiney went down hard on her already injured knee after being fouled.
South Carolina’s top point scorers through the year, senior guards La’Keisha Sutton and Markeshia Grant, led the Gamecocks with 18 and 14 points, respectively. It also got significant contribution from the bench, including an eight point and 12-rebound performance from freshman forward Aleighsa Welch.
Though the Cardinal was ahead for the entirety of the game, the first half proved to be a tough opening period. The Gamecocks rallied from ten points down to close back to just a three point deficit with five seconds remaining before the break, until junior forward Joslyn Tinkle beat the buzzer with a Cardinal’s only three pointer of the night to double the gap and send Stanford to the locker rooms on a high.
When Nneka Ogwumike hit ten points with less than five minutes gone and with the Cardinal dominating in the paint, significantly outrebounding and outscoring the South Carolina players, it seemed like it might turn out to be a very different game. The Gamecocks, though, frustrated Stanford with quick guards and a physical play.
Stanford’s life got no easier in the second period. South Carolina’s junior guard Ieasia Walker made a simple steal from Nneka Ogwumike and drew the Cardinal player’s third foul. After Chiney Ogwumike fell on her injured knee after fouls in both halves, there may have been some concern that either, or both, of Stanford’s star sisters might be sidelined.
Neither of the disaster scenarios ever happened, though. Nneka Ogwumike didn’t pick up a single extra foul, though added another 17 points, and Chiney Ogwumike didn’t appear to be held back after the hard falls.
“I don’t want any game to be my last really, until, obviously, next weekend,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “I play for my teammates; I play for my coaches. Anytime we’re out there, whatever they need me to do, whether it’s on offense or defense, when I’m on the bench or the locker room, I just try to do my best.”
Stanford will now play the No. 2 seed in the Fresno region, Duke, in the regional final on Monday, after the Blue Devils defeated St. John’s in the first game on Saturday. Duke recovered from an early eight-point deficit against St. John’s to win comfortably, 74-47.
The NCAA regional final between Stanford and Duke will tip off at 6pm in the Save Mart Center in Fresno, and will be broadcast live on both ESPN and KZSU.