Everything seemed to be going the way of the No. 4 Stanford women’s basketball team to start the regional semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament against No. 14 Georgia.
The Card (33-3, 17-1 Pac-12 ) started the game 9-0, and midway through the first half of the Sweet Sixteen, Georgia (28-6, 12-4 SEC) was still only 3-16 shooting from the field and trailing 11-4. National Player of the Year candidate junior forward Chiney Ogwumike was leading all scorers with eight points, shooting a perfect 4-4, while the rest of her team shot just 3-13.
All favor swung in the opposite direction though when sophomore guard Taylor Greenfield, a key contributor off the bench, left the game with a sprained finger at 13:27, and senior forward Joslyn Tinkle picked up her second personal foul and was forced to sit out crucial minutes of the first half.
Stanford allowed Georgia to hang with it for most of the game and the Lady Bulldogs slipped past the Card in the final minutes to win 61-59.
“We know that we can compete with these teams,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “Obviously we competed, but we had to really go as hard as we could, we worked as hard as we could to get to where we are. And I’m disappointed because I have experienced more going to the Final Four and winning a national championship, but I’m not disappointed with what this team accomplished.”
Tinkle, who was instrumental in Stanford’s 73-40 win over Michigan with a 21-point performance in her final game at Maples, was only able to play eight minutes in the first half due to early foul trouble and finished the game with five points and six rebounds.
VanDerveer—already down a player with junior guard Toni Kokenis sitting out her 14th consecutive game with an undisclosed illness—subbed in sophomore guard Bonnie Samuelson, who drove to the basket with seven minutes to play in the first half.
However, those would be the first and last bench points that the Card would get for the remainder of the game. Stanford did not see much scoring outside of Ogwumike and sophomore point guard Amber Orrange, with Tinkle still out of the game.
Georgia soon came back from a nine-point deficit, the largest of the game, to lead Stanford 22-21 by getting rebounds and limiting Stanford’s second chance opportunities. VanDerveer called a timeout and Stanford was able to rally with Tinkle back in the game, going on a 13-5 run to close the half leading 34-27. Ogwumike went into halftime with 18 points, shooting a near-perfect 8-9.
Neither team could connect from the field to start the second half, but Stanford controlled the flow of the game through rebounds, keeping the ball out of Georgia’s possession and capitalizing on offensive boards.
Georgia managed to take their second lead of the game with 7:20 to play at 46-44 by going on a 14-4 run. From that point on it was a tradeoff in points, with neither team regaining control.
Ogwumike fought through the double team inside to score off of offensive rebounds. However, Georgia was able to handle Stanford’s defense by knocking down 3’s and being the aggressors inside the paint. Orrange hit her third three of the game around the two-minute mark to give Stanford its last lead of the game, 55-54.
Georgia answered right back with an easy shot under their basket. Forward Mikaela Ruef (six points, seven rebounds) was sent to the line on the other end with 1:21 to play with the opportunity to put Stanford up by one. Ruef missed the first and made the second, tying the game at 56.
Again, Georgia took Stanford to the hole with a minute remaining, regaining the lead 58-56. An unproductive possession for the Card gave the ball back to Georgia, who then missed a three but got the offensive rebound with 23.5 seconds remaining.
Forced to foul, Stanford put Georgia’s freshman Jasmine James at the line. James led the Lady Bulldogs with 16 points, while Georgia’s leading scorer Jasmine Hassel was held to just 13. Six of Hassel’s points came in the final three minutes.
James went 2-2 from the line, putting the Lady Bulldogs up 60-56.
Coming out of the timeout, Stanford needed a quick three pointer to make it a one possession game. Tinkle delivered. With just her second basket of the night, the senior made her last basket of her collegiate career to put the Card within one point with 5.1 seconds to play.
Unfortunately for the Card, it was too little, too late. Stanford got the ball back with .8 seconds remaining and had just enough time to lob a prayer in the direction of Ogwumike at the opposite end of the court.
Georgia grabbed the inbounds pass and with it, grabbed Stanford’s hopes of advancing to the Elite Eight and, eventually, to the Final Four where it would have made a historic sixth consecutive appearance.
Ogwumike led all scorers to end the season with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Orrange was the only other Cardinal to reach double digits, pouring in 17 points and eight rebounds. But with the team only shooting 29 percent in the second half, coupled with lockdown Georgia defense, Stanford was unable to generate much offense outside of those two leaders.
However, Stanford has a great opportunity next year to come back strong and hungry from this unexpected loss, with basically the same team. The Card loses only one starter, Joslyn Tinkle, but redshirt junior Mikaela Ruef will return for her fifth year on The Farm. Junior guard Toni Kokenis should be ready for next season and the team will also be joined by a new set of recruits.
With Ogwumike, Kokenis, and Sara James in their senior seasons and Orrange with one more year of experience, next year could be the year that the Card finally brings home its first NCAA championship since 1992.
“I think the reason that I’m not going ballistic right now is like we’re 33-3,” Ogwumike said. “That was a huge achievement for our program.”
In addition to its impressive record, Stanford also finished the season as Pac-12 conference and tournament champions.
“I’m really proud of how we were facing our form of adversity as a team,” Ogwumike said. “So I think that’s the one thing I’m hanging on to, is like we worked our butts off this year, and things didn’t fall the way they should have, in my opinion, tonight.”
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem “at” stanford.edu.