The Cardinal dropped their Final Four matchup against No. 3 South Carolina (32-4) by a final score of 62-53, ending their run in the postseason tournament. Despite accomplishing victorious rallies in three of the Cardinal’s first four games, No. 6 Stanford women’s basketball (32-6) was ultimately unable to overcome the large deficit due to a cold-shooting second half.
Stanford started the game strong in the first half, controlling tempo and physically defending SEC Player of the Year junior A’ja Wilson in the low post, holding the forward to only four points on two-of-five shooting. Despite an early injury to senior guard Karlie Samuelson, Stanford entered halftime with a 29-20 lead over the Gamecocks.
However, the Cardinal could not buy a basket during a struggling third quarter — backcourt leaders junior guard Brittany McPhee, sophomore guard Marta Sniezek and Samuelson were unable to bucket the types of shots that had powered Stanford into the Final Four. After an eight-point third quarter, the Cardinal showed glimpses of fight throughout the fourth. Yet, the women couldn’t find the momentum to generate a truly threatening run.
“It was looking good in the first half, especially with that nine-point lead,” senior point guard Briana Roberson told reporters in the locker room postgame. “Offensively, they came out strong.”
Stanford ultimately couldn’t power through a night. Samuelson, the nation’s leading three-point shooter by percentage, did not hit a single shot. Team tournament leader McPhee crawled to eight total points on the night. The Cardinal finished shooting 37 percent from the field, including 28 percent from beyond the arc.
A large reason behind Stanford’s second-half offensive failure came from the impact of Samuelson’s blatant sprained ankle that took the guard out for most of the night. With one of the nation’s best shooters off the court, the Cardinal rotation and potency that forced defensive chaos for opponents in earlier rounds of the tournament looked out of sorts, often desperately struggling to find mediocre shots that came easy with the danger of Samuelson’s shot on the perimeter.
Overall, the Cardinal defense performed well on the night while holding South Carolina to 36 percent from the field, largely behind a defensive focus on Wilson and junior guard Kaela Davis, who has led the Gamecocks’ backcourt.
Wilson ended the evening with 13 points on 5-11 shooting and 19 rebounds for the Gamecocks. Junior guard Allisha Gray eventually took control of the South Carolina offense down the stretch, scoring 13 of her 18 points in the second half including knocking down a dagger and-one layup late in the fourth quarter.
The major difference on the night lay in South Carolina’s ability to get to the foul line. The Gamecocks owned a 13-3 free throws made margin while getting to the line 21 times, as opposed to the Cardinal’s five shots from the charity stripe.
For the Cardinal, who won five of the past six games in comeback fashion, Friday night’s game in Texas concludes an exciting run. This year marks the 13th Final Four under head coach Tara VanDerveer.
While a number of senior leaders step off the court for Stanford for the last time, the program recognizes the promise in younger players like McPhee, sophomore Alanna Smith and Sniezek. However, thanks to senior leaders Erica McCall, Samuelson and Roberson, this year’s roster has been a spectacle for fans and teammates alike, particularly the underclassmen.
When asked about her thoughts on this years team at the close of campaign, McPhee stepped up to answer. “Just how much we stayed together. How close we are as a team. I’ll always remember that, more than any of the wins or the accomplishments.”
The Gamecocks move on to face Mississippi State in the National Championship on Sunday in Dallas.
Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu.