With 10 seconds on clock in the fourth quarter, Tara VanDerveer’s squad was in an unfamiliar position.
Stanford was down by two in the Second Round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, with the No. 12-seeded South Dakota State Jackrabbits seconds away from forcing the program’s earliest exit from the Big Dance since 2007.
But Lili Thompson guaranteed that Stanford would still be dancing into the Sweet 16 for the ninth straight season.
With just over eight seconds to go in the game, the junior guard drove to the hoop and acrobatically sent up a floater as she crashed to the floor. The ball bounced around the rim before finally dropping through the net, and the referee signaled: Foul on the play, and count the basket.
Thompson completed the three-point play to secure the one-point Stanford lead, which — along with a monstrous block by forward Erica McCall on the Jackrabbits’ last-second shot in the paint — would be enough for Stanford to avoid an early tournament exit with a 65-64 victory over South Dakota State, sending the Cardinal to the regional semifinals in Lexington, Kentucky.
“Every person, every basket, every rebound. It was what coaches love to talk about — you’ve got to play each play, because each play mattered,” VanDerveer said after the game.
The victory Monday evening was particularly sweet for VanDerveer: The game marked her 1,000th as Stanford’s head coach. She is also 21 victories away from 1,000 career wins — an exclusive milestone that only Tennessee’s Pat Summit has reached so far in NCAA women’s college basketball.
Down by eight points with 4:43 to play in the fourth quarter, things did not seem to be going right for the Cardinal, and the possibility of a Jackrabbits win, which would have sent the program to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, was very real. The Cardinal began to chip away at South Dakota State’s lead, but Stanford’s abysmal shooting from the charity stripe (10-for-22 on the night) kept it from catching up to the Jackrabbits sooner.
“Coach Kate Paye said, ‘We don’t have to do it on one possession, but take it one possession at a time. Do it on the defensive end, and we’ll start to chip away at it,’” Thompson said.
And the Cardinal did exactly that: Stanford slowly cut away at South Dakota State’s lead and held the Jackrabbits scoreless from the field in the final 4:43, though the latter were able to maintain their lead from the charity stripe. Yet Stanford was able to chip away enough at the score to make it a two-point game with 18 seconds on the clock, setting up Thompson’s game-winning “and-one.”
The go-ahead play came after Thompson had missed two free throws and two layups in the final few minutes, as well as a three with just under 20 seconds to play. But when the team needed her most, Thompson didn’t dwell on her misses, stepping up to win the game for her team.
“[Thompson] is the one. You want the ball in her hands,” McCall added about her teammate, who ended the game with 19 points. “She is clutch. This girl is crazy good.”
After South Dakota State got out to an early lead in the first, McCall, Thompson and Karlie Samuelson, who combined for all but two of Stanford’s first quarter points, got Stanford back ahead, a lead that it expanded in the second period. The team led by seven twice and went into halftime with a 33-27 lead, but it was during the third quarter and the first five minutes of the fourth in which the Jackrabbits started to come alive: South Dakota State scored 23 points alone in the third quarter — and held Stanford to 13 — off a well-rounded effort from the Jackrabbits’ Miller, Ellie Thompson, Kerri Young and Clarissa Ober, who all ended the game with double-digit points.
“[South Dakota State] gave us everything,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t think you could ask for a better, harder fought game by both teams. But having said that, when we needed to make plays, we did.”
Part of Stanford’s offensive struggles in the third quarter came from an absent McCall, who, after a 13-point first half, sat on the bench with three fouls. Her 7-point fourth quarter following her substitution back into the game helped spur the Cardinal’s comeback, and her block sealed the team’s spot in the Regional Semifinal.
“I knew Bri [Roberson] played great defense on her [South Dakota State’s Macy Miller], and when I saw the ball in her hands, I knew I [could] get a clean look at it,” McCall said.
“The only thing I thought about was blocking the shot,” McCall added. “At that point, I had no worries, just making sure she didn’t get a good look.”
“I’m proud of the fight, the resilience, just the grit that our team showed,” VanDerveer said about her team, which improved to 26-7 on the season after Monday’s win. “This isn’t maybe our best shooting team or best execution team, but maybe it’s the hungriest team.”
“We know it’s going to be a great game and great team,” sophomore forward Kaylee Johnson said. “We know we can play a lot better than we’ve been playing. We’re excited to get out there and start preparing and really give it our all.”