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Seniors lead Stanford past Oklahoma to the Sweet 16

Senior guard Amber Orrange (33) had a game-high 24 points as she led the Cardinal to an 86-76 win over Oklahoma to advance to the Sweet 16. (RAHIM ULLAH/The Stanford Daily)

Sixteen seconds left before the end of the half. Stanford is down by 7 against Oklahoma in the second round of the NCAA tournament. After a rough first half — the Cardinal have been trailing for all but a minute and a half — Stanford is looking for anything that will give it momentum going into halftime.

With time ticking off the clock but no open teammates, sophomore guard Lili Thompson, who has the ball in her hands, knows she’ll have to take the last shot. She gets a screen from sophomore forward Erica McCall with four seconds left and passes her defender, gaining enough space to quickly put up a 3 with two seconds left. The shot goes in as time expires and Maples erupts.

Thompson’s buzzer-beater was not the game winner, tying shot or go-ahead bucket — after all, the Cardinal were still down by 4 at halftime. Rather, her shot was the game-changer upon which Stanford built momentum to come back and win the game, 86-76, sending Stanford to its eighth straight Sweet 16.

After scoring the first basket of the game, Stanford went down after a 3 at the 18:21 mark by Gioya Carter, who scored all of the Sooners’ first 12 points and ended the half with 16. Besides struggling to contain Carter, the Cardinal had difficulty getting into an offensive flow against the Sooners’ aggressive defense, shooting just under 40 percent and 25 percent from 3-point range. Stanford committed 12 first-half turnovers — right around their game average — but because the team was able to get to the foul line 14 times, where it shot 86 percent, it stayed within striking distance of Oklahoma.

Stanford scored 6 straight points at the beginning of the second half to regain a two-point lead, part of the team’s 12-2 run. Senior forward Bonnie Samuelson, who went 0-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half, knocked down her second 3 of the half at the 9:31 mark to put Stanford up by 14, its largest lead of the night. After this point, Stanford did not see its lead go below 9.

Stanford shot much better in the second half — with the team shooting its first 15 shots at 80 percent — while the Sooners struggled; despite shooting 47 percent in the first half, Oklahoma missed 12 of its first 13 field goals of the second half. Stanford also defended Carter much better in the second half, as she only scored 4 points after halftime.

While Oklahoma played physical defense the entire game, the Sooners committed 18 of their 28 fouls in the second half — some because of their aggressive defense and others because they were forced to foul at the end of the game — putting the Cardinal at the line 24 times in the second half alone.

In their last games at Maples Pavilion, seniors Amber Orrange and Samuelson led the Cardinal with 24 and 19 points, respectively. Orrange had 7 of the team’s first 8 points and ended the game 11-for-18 from the field.

“[Orrange] is unstoppable when she puts her mind to it,” Samuelson said about her teammate, who was two points shy of her career high. “You definitely saw that tonight. When she’s being aggressive and taking those jumpers she can’t be stopped.”

Samuelson was scoreless at halftime but went 3-of-9 from behind the three-point arc and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe in the second period.

“I was definitely frustrated [in the first half]. I was thinking this is my last time playing in Maples and I wanted to do well for my team,” Samuelson said. “The coaches told me, ‘You’re fine, just keep shooting.’ I came out at halftime and said let’s just start it over.”

“Bonnie doesn’t go 0-for,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “You knew she was going to have a big second half. I just told her to keep shooting the ball.”

Stanford had four players reach double figures, the 13th time the team has done so, all 13 of which have resulted in wins. In addition, Thompson (19 points) ended the game 3-of-3 from three point range, 5-of-6 overall from the field and 6-of-11 on free-throws.

Despite having a quiet past few weeks, sophomore guard Briana Roberson stepped up for the Cardinal with her shut-down, disruptive defense. In her 37 minutes of play, she also tallied 13 points after going 2-of-3 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.

“The three-guard lineup was energizing for our team,” VanDerveer said. “They’re so quick and they’ve got hands on the ball. Bri [Roberson] never gets tired, you can play her the whole game.”

Next up for the Cardinal is No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. The game will take place in Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday, March 27, at a time to be announced.

Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

For more photos from the Cardinal’s win on Monday, click here.

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