With its 88-86 overtime win over the defending national champions, Connecticut, the Stanford women’s basketball team avenged its loss to the No. 1 Huskies in the Final Four last April and silenced the widely believed notion that this would be a rebuilding year for Tara VanDerveer and company.
“It just shows that we’re very determined this year and that we’re not just going to be written off,” said senior guard Bonnie Samuelson. “We’ve been working so hard in the off-season and we know we have a very new team and a lot of new people but we’re just very excited about this win and about keeping it going.”
Despite being great underdogs, the No. 6 Card turned a questionable performance in the first half into a flawless performance to end regulation time and in the five minutes of overtime, only trailing the Huskies by as much as 10 at any point. Just as Connecticut played a perfect 20 minutes of basketball to end the last game against the Cardinal, it was Stanford this time around that dictated the pace of the game, frustrated the Huskies offensive gameplan and ultimately pulled off its only upset over Connecticut since snapping the team’s 90-game win streak in 2010.
Whereas in 2010, the Cardinal had the Ogwumike sisters to turn to and rely on, this year’s team had only each other to rely on and the knowledge that not any one player could carry the team — it had to be a group effort. Many thought that this year’s matchup would be mission impossible with the absence of a super star leader. Well, mission accomplished, because this Cardinal squad proved that it may not have one super star but multiple stars.
“Our offense has changed, our personnel has changed, but we’re just as determined as we’ve ever been,” said sophomore point guard Lili Thompson.
Thompson scored 14 points in the second half to propel the Cardinal offense after contributing just 6 points to start to game. She led all scorers with 24 points and hit the two free throws at the end of the second half that set up senior point guard Amber Orrange to knock down the layup that would put the Card within 2 points and to then hit the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. Orrange finished the game with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
“We ran a play for Bonnie [Samuelson] to get Bonnie open and then when she got the ball everybody just sucked over to her and then she just took a dribble and passed to me. I was surprised that I was calm when I took the shot,” said Orrange of her 3-point shot that sent the game into overtime.
The veteran Cardinal looked poised and confident for the entirety of the second half however, putting her head down, going hard to the basket and coming up with 7 points in four minutes to end the second half and spark the Card’s comeback.
The Cardinal again had to play catch-up in overtime after Connecticut hit a quick three in its opening drive. Three points would be all that the Huskies would lead by, however, as Stanford took the lead off of four made free throws by Thompson and Samuelson. Samuelson finished the game as the third Stanford player to score in double digits with 14. Samuelson has also had to make adjustments on offense, forced to play the forward position for lack of personnel.
After shooting poorly from behind the free-throw line for the entirety of the game, just 60 percent in regulation, the Cardinal made up for the missed opportunities to avoid overtime altogether and went 7-8 from behind the line in overtime. The Card took the lead with 1:39 to play and never relinquished it. Connecticut ran out of timeouts halfway through the middle of overtime and wasn’t able to compose itself to inbound the ball at first and then execute once inbounded.
Connecticut junior forward Breanna Stewart, who shined throughout the NCAA tournament last year and the year before as a freshman, managed to score 23 points in the win, but was unable to produce offensively in overtime.
Despite the immense height disadvantage that Stanford suffered going into the game, staunch defense made it a non-issue as Stanford was able to make adjustments at the half to correct its double team and help side defense on Stewart, forcing her to play outside of her comfort level.
Sophomore guard Karlie Samuelson and freshman Kailee Johnson were huge factors defensively for the Cardinal. Samuelson was charged the task of handling senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, a returning starter from last year’s national title team and a dead-eye shooter who can shoot over the best of any defense — as she demonstrated against the Card in the Final Four matchup. The Stanford coaches did their job in scouting the Huskies and correctly placed the younger Samuelson on the shooter, and she held Mosqueda-Lewis to just 12 points and 3-11 in shooting.
“We did a good job of taking away what they wanted,” Orrange said. “They wanted to go inside and look for Lewis but Karlie played great help defense and really took them out of their game a little bit.”
Johnson was a huge factor defensively in terms of rebounding. The freshman starter grabbed 10 defensive boards to go along with 3 offensive rebounds, enabling Stanford to hold its own underneath the basket. Stanford ultimately outrebounded Connecticut 41-37 despite the size disparity.
“Even if offensively we’re not clicking, or going through a time that we can’t score, defensively we executed the game plan,” Orrange said.
Stanford played to its strengths against the larger and stronger Husky lineup and it ultimately paid off in the end. The Card were aggressive in attacking the basket and drawing the fouls, penetrating the stalwart Connecticut defense and also finding open shooters on the perimeter.
Although VanDerveer conceded that Geno Auriemma’s team is young and not the same as last year with the loss of two first-round WNBA Draft picks, that the season is young and that she would have rather seen more made layups and free throws and less defensive mistakes, it is evident that the sky is the limit for this new Stanford lineup that previously had been written off as a rebuilding team for the program.
“I think that this can be a game to really help their confidence and show them that this is how we have to play defense and what you have to do to stay in the game,” VanDerveer said.
Mission impossible? Mission accomplished.
The Cardinal return to Maples Pavilion against Texas on Thursday with tipoff at 6 p.m.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.