History was made Sunday afternoon, but Stanford women’s basketball was on the wrong side of it.
The Cardinal got off to a slow start and had no response to the red-hot Washington Huskies, which won a 85-76 decision over Stanford to earn their first-ever Final Four berth. The Huskies’ victory marked the first time in 12 years that a No. 7 seed made it to the Final Four, a feat accomplished through Washington’s upset wins over No. 2 Maryland, No. 3 Kentucky and No. 4 Stanford.
Meanwhile, after making it to their 10th Elite Eight in the last 13 years, the Cardinal (27-8) failed to advance to what would have been their 13th Final Four in program history and their seventh in the past nine years.
“Their team is playing really well,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer about Washington. “I don’t feel like we lost to a bad team. We lost to a very good team.”
Washington’s Kelsey Plum, who entered the matchup with the third-best points-per-game average in the NCAA, scored 26 points, but it was forward Chantel Osahor whose performance truly lifted the Huskies over the Cardinal. Osahor ended the game with 24 points — 9 coming from beyond the arc — and 18 rebounds and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Lexington Region after averaging 21.5 points, 17.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
“Osahor was really the difference,” VanDerveer said. “[The Huskies] have a very skilled team. Kelsey Plum is an All-American. Flat out, period. There is no player that we played on any other team all year that was harder to guard than her.”
Washington (26-10) jumped to a 12-0 lead at the start of the game, initiating what would be a horrific quarter for the Cardinal, which were outscored 22-7 during the period and shot 3-of-17 from the field.
“Unfortunately, we dug ourselves too big a hole in the first quarter,” VanDerveer said. “But we just for some reason did not come out with the intensity and aggressiveness that we needed to.”
“I think that they came out with more energy than us,” said junior guard Lili Thompson. “I think that those first few possessions they really put their heads down, they were aggressive, and they kind of just came out and threw the first punch.”
“They have a really good defense,” said junior forward Erica McCall. “We struggled with it all year, so hopefully we’ll come back next year and find a way to solve that problem.”
While Stanford would eventually get its offense going — particularly from beyond the arc, where it went 10-for-18 after halftime — the Cardinal could not make enough defensive stops to stop the Huskies and Oshafor: Washington shot 49.2 percent overall and 56.5 percent in the second half alone.
In addition to Plum’s and Oshafor’s combined 50 points, Talia Walton and Alexus Atchely also notched double digits with 12 and 11 points for the Huskies, respectively.
Whenever Stanford would appear to be cutting away at the lead, the Huskies would respond to keep the Cardinal at bay. The closest the Cardinal would get to catching up to the Huskies was four points, which they achieved with 7:19 to play in the game after a 12-0 run to open the final quarter.
After McCall’s monstrous 27-point performance on Friday to help Stanford take down No. 1 seed Notre Dame, the junior forward was held scoreless until nearly three minutes into the third quarter, though she ended with a 17 point, 15 rebound performance — her 18th double-double of the season.
While Thompson accounted for half of the team’s 26 points in the first half, Karlie Samuelson’s 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc, as well as 25 bench points from Kailee Johnson, Marta Sniezek, Brittany McPhee and Alanna Smith, helped the Cardinal hang around until the very end.
Samuelson, the Cardinal’s ace shooter, fouled out with 2:33 to play, taking out one of Stanford’s best options for a 3-point shot that could have helped it come back.
“I don’t have really answers for it. It was disappointing,” VanDerveer said. “I think we did regroup and we had some people making some plays… I think that we have a very young team that I hope will learn a lot from this experience.”
Stanford will return all of its starters and main rotational players next season as it will seek the third national championship in program history in the 2016-17 season.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.