The No. 2 seed Stanford women’s basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight after dismantling No. 3 Penn State 82-57 on Sunday. After starting out sluggishly in its last two games of the NCAA Tournament, Stanford didn’t let Penn State start with any momentum and led for the majority of the game as it cruised to a romp of the Nittany Lions.
“I think today was an ideal day for Stanford basketball,” said senior forward Chiney Ogwumike. “I think we had so many contributions. I’m looking at defense, looking at offense, and I told my team, you guys, we are great players collectively and individually. I want to be an afterthought. I want people to be aggressive, and I think that’s what we saw. Having that aggressive mindset, and that’s what Coach Tara [VanDerveer] said, one of our big goals for the game was have the aggressive mindset. We know they have the size advantage, but we want to have the heart advantage.”
Although Ogwumike earned another double-double, finishing with 29 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, a block and two steals, it was freshman Lili Thompson on the defensive end who keyed the win.
Thompson was set with the task of containing senior guard Maggie Lucas, an aggressive player who approaches each game with a powerful emotional intensity and averages 21.5 points per game. Thompson, however, only allowed Lucas to notch six points in total, holding the Lady Lions’ leading scorer to her lowest output of the season — first-seeded Notre Dame was the only other team to hold her to under 10 points this year. Thompson herself finished with 11 points and three assists.
“Coach [VanDerveer] provided me with a lot of film to watch on [Lucas], and I kind of studied her game and just decided that I wanted to shut her down and make other people score for them, and that would be the best way I could contribute to the win,” Thompson said. “So just playing hard and trying not to let her get as many touches as she usually does was pretty much my number-one plan.”
Senior forward Mikaela Ruef came through once again in taking care of the “grunt work,” as Ogwumike calls it: rebounding, boxing out and finding the open players. In her final season, Ruef has been doing it all; she finished the game with 11 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two steals.
In addition, junior Amber Orrange had a stellar performance with 18 points, taking much of the pressure away from Ogwumike down low. With four players scoring in double digits, the Cardinal offense got the spread in scoring that it has been looking for all season.
After having played in Iowa to earn the right to play on its home court in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, the team was provided a boost in energy from an energetic home crowd. However, the players took the game, regardless of location, as just another opportunity to perform on the court and advance.
“The crowd was great,” Ogwumike said. “We love Nerd Nation, but it comes down to doing our jobs on the court. The energy was great, but people in the stands can’t make the plays. So I think that’s what we focused on, just controlling what we can control. It’s nice to have cheers behind us, but I think it just comes down to just playing basketball.
Although Thompson was able to contain Lucas, senior Ariel Edwards was difficult for Stanford to contain and carried the burden of the Lady Lions’ offense, finishing with 22 points. Size was a problem for the Cardinal in the beginning as both of Penn State’s centers exceeded 6-foot-5, but Ogwumike and Ruef adjusted underneath the basket to stifle their post play.
The Cardinal will advance to the Elite Eight on Tuesday to take on fourth-seeded North Carolina. The Tar Heels upset top-seeded South Carolina, leading the majority of the game with their athleticism and speed. UNC was led by freshman Diamond DeShields and her 19 points.
The Elite Eight game of the Stanford Regional will be on Tuesday, with tipoff at 6 p.m.
For more photos of the Cardinal’s win, click here.