The No. 4 Stanford women’s basketball team is no longer a one-trick pony.
With star junior Chiney Ogwumike having the lowest scoring game of her career in Sunday’s Pac-12 Championship game, sophomore point guard Amber Orrange stepped up against No. 14 UCLA to lead the Cardinal to a thrilling 51-49 victory.
The win earned Stanford its seventh consecutive tournament title and a highly desired No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. The game’s aggressive and down-to-the-wire play simulated the intensity of March Madness, and the Cardinal’s success in pulling out a close win in the end proves its ability to compete at a higher level — especially when Ogwumike was taken out of the game by tight Bruin defense and netted just three points.
Against Washington State in the quarterfinals, Ogwumike recorded the Tournament’s first 20-point, 20-rebound game in its twelve-year history. She also scored 25 points and grabbed 19 boards in the Card’s semifinal win over Colorado.
In the finals, though, Orrange became the saving grace for the Card, scoring a career-high 20 points, along with three steals. Although only a sophomore, she demonstrated senior leadership on the court and never gave up on any play.
“With about eight minutes left in the game, coach [Tara VanDerveer] came up to me and said ‘You can’t do this by yourself,’” Ogwumike said. “So after that I knew that this was Amber’s night. She had the best feel of the game of anyone on the floor and I trusted her…She’s a hard worker and it proves that hard work always wins out.”
Stanford started the game on an 11-0 run, holding the Bruins scoreless until 12 minutes were left in the first half. All momentum was with the Cardinal as it knocked down shot after shot, with UCLA shooting a dismal 9.7 percent at one point in the first.
But UCLA, led by Atonye Nyingifa (10 points, nine rebounds) hit two shots with under a minute to play in the first half to finish the opening period on a 23-12 run of its own. The Bruins were able to capitalize while Ogwumike sat out with two fouls for the final five minutes of the half. UCLA went into halftime with a narrow 27-26 lead and all of the momentum on its side.
“I thought because of the nature of the game, the way it was being called, I wanted [Ogwumike] in the second half, and it was a good chance to let her rest,” VanDerveer said. “I really have confidence in Chiney that she won’t foul. I just thought I’d let her rest a little bit and we just needed other people to come in and help a little.
“I thought we would’ve been in more trouble without Amber. We couldn’t run an offense — they were athletic and aggressive. We turned the ball over too much when [Orrange] was out. The person in the first half who really kept it together was Bonnie, though.”
Sophomore guard Bonnie Samuelson shot an impressive 3-for-4 from behind the arc and kept the Card close at half with her much-needed boost from the bench.
The second half was a dogfight, with five ties and seven lead changes. Both teams brought the same grit and determination, but Ogwumike credits the Card’s mental toughness as the reason it pulled out a win in the end.
Although UCLA was physical down low, Stanford demonstrated its own physicality by taking three charges for Bruin offensive fouls. Ogwumike drew two charges in the game and redshirt junior Mikaela Ruef (eight points, four rebounds) took another one late in the second half to give Stanford a much-needed possession.
In the end, though, it was Orrange who saved the game for Stanford. With two minutes to play, the score was tied when she drove hard to the basket to finish with a left-handed layup. UCLA went down the court and answered right back, tying the game at 47 and threatening to send the game to overtime.
After the teams exchanged baskets, Orrange waited until there were just seconds left on the shot clock and took the game into her own hands, driving to the hoop and throwing up a circus shot that went in, giving Stanford the lead at 51-49 with just seven seconds to play.
At the end of the game, the only thing Orrange remembers thinking was, “I wanna win, I wanna win, I’ll do whatever it takes. I just looked for opportunities to take chances on offense and defense and luckily it worked out.”
“She has had a great tournament,” VanDerveer said. “She had more help around her last year so I think this was her best game. Amber put the team on her back today and she really went to the basket, she made some really nice passes. I was most proud of when she had a turnover, she made a mistake, and having resolve she went back and got the steal.”
UCLA senior forward Markel Walker (16 points, seven rebounds) tried to tie up the game on her end of the floor with a layup, but the Stanford defense was too much for her to overcome and the ball ricocheted out of bounds with .2 seconds left. UCLA had just enough time to inbound the ball to Nyingifa, but her shot was way off and an ecstatic Cardinal bench stormed the court to celebrate an exciting Pac-12 championship victory.
Ogwumike was awarded with the Tournament MVP and Orrange was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Surely the most important thing to come out of this weekend for the Card is a No. 1 seed heading into the NCAA Tournament later this month. Stanford will have two weeks off from playing to prepare for March Madness, hoping to enter the Final Four for another year and make it to the championship game of that tournament as well.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem “at” stanford.edu.