The No. 6 Cardinal (29-5) needed a 4th quarter run–powered by offensive stud junior guard Brittany McPhee– in order to survive in Manhattan, Kansas against 15th-seed and Western Athletic Conference champions New Mexico State (24-7). With the victory, Stanford stays in Manhattan to face hometown team, seventh seed Kansas State (23-10) on Monday in the round of 32.
Saturday’s competitive contest happened to be the second consecutive day in which the No. 15 seed threatened upset over the No. 2 seed, an unaccomplished feat in the NCAA women’s tournament history.
Stanford couldn’t get their foot in front during the entire first half in which the Aggies held the Cardinal at bay, ultimately ending the first half with a nine-point lead. New Mexico State knocked down shots early, hitting 56% of their shots in addition to draining 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.
New Mexico’s first half was, in large part, due to their quickness against a larger Stanford rotation on the floor. All Aggie starters drained one three in the 38-point first half, the final starter being junior Zaire Williams who knocked down a buzzer-beating triple from an offensive rebound off a New Mexico State free throw to put the Aggies up 38-31 at half.
Overall, the New Mexico State upset effort fell on the back of sophomore guard Brooke Salas who led the Aggies with 26 points including 4 makes from downtown.
The Cardinal’s revival in the second half was led by guard/forward combo of junior Brittany McPhee and sophomore Alanna Smith who scored 12 and 13 points respectively. The two contributed heavily to the pivotal fourth quarter, with McPhee draining two consecutive shots with the latter being an ‘and-one’ jumper plus free throw three point play that put Stanford up by 4.
The Cardinal never relinquished the lead for the rest of the match after that possession.
Smith noted to reporters about the Cardinal’s mismatch in quickness yet domination in size: “I think having size is an advantage, but them being quick can be hard to guard. Them beating us off the dribble can be a problem, but we had really good help-side [defense] from the other post and other people helping was really good for us.”
Cardinal senior leader Karlie Samuelson credited the team’s composure while being down in the national tournament, telling reporters postgame, “We keep our heads in the game. I think there is a big difference from feeling panicked and having a sense of urgency. We can yell at each other and have that sense of urgency, but we’re never in a panic and know that we can always come back from anything.”
In addition to the second half point leaders, Stanford’s offense benefitted from its size and spacing, as forward combo Smith and senior Erica McCall combined for 28 points and 23 rebounds against the undersized Aggies. Senior guard/wing shooter Karlie Samuelson continued her hot hand on the season by shooting 5-9 from beyond the arc.
With the victory, second-seed Stanford moves on to face Kansas State in their hometown. The Cardinal are the only top-four seed not to host the first two rounds of the tournament as Stanford faces a conflict with the Pac-12 gymnastics championships. The Wildcats have dominated at home, going 14-3 as opposed to having a losing (5-6) record on the road.
Similar to the Cardinal, Kansas State has been led all season by strong senior performance as guard Kindred Wesemann and center Brianna Lewis who both average 14 points per game on the season. Wesemann’s ability to both generate turnovers and strike from beyond the perimeter makes her a target to slowing down the Wildcat offense for Stanford’s defense.
Meanwhile, Lewis showed her domination in the low post while powering her team to an easy first round victory with 23 points and 11 rebounds. The physical presence of Lewis in the post overcame 10th seed Drake’s (28-5) efforts to spread the ball wide and force movement from the true center.
Nevertheless, the Cardinal remain confident of their abilities while preparing to play in a notoriously loud Wildcats gym. Large tasks lay ahead for the Cardinal in their quest for March glory, yet the road must pass through treacherous and hostile Manhattan, Kansas.
The action will be streamed live on NCAA March Madness website and recapped here at the Daily.
Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu