Using a strong first quarter and getting great minutes from sophomore DiJonai Carrington off the bench, second-seeded Stanford women’s basketball (21-9, 14-3 Pac-12) came away with a 69-59 win over No. 5 USC (20-11, 9-9) to move on to the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament on Friday night.
With time running out in the first quarter of the contest, Carrington launched a shot from several steps before the logo and and buried the buzzer-beater to cap-off a 21-9 first quarter from Stanford. She didn’t call “bank,” but her make definitely hyped the Cardinal bench as her teammates congratulated her on the incongruous make.
“I think it just brought a lot of energy, everyone was excited,” said Carrington. “It’s always nice to get the last shot, and when it’s something that’s not likely to go in, it’s even more exciting.”
Stanford got out of the gate fast against USC, and quickly built up a double digit lead to take command of the game. While the Women of Troy where lurking behind the Cardinal within two or three possessions for most of the game, USC wasn’t able to come back in it as the Cardinal beneficiated from an all-around effort from its squad.
Knowing that USC’s starting five was tired after playing pretty much a whole forty minutes against Washington State on Monday, Stanford ran away in the opening minutes of the game, climaxing in the middle of the second quarter with a 17-point lead. In the opening frame, Stanford shot 50 percent from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the charity stripe while limiting USC to a 16.7 percent shooting performance. The Cardinal raced behind junior Marta Sniezek, who scored all of her ten points in the first half to provide a spark on offense for Stanford.
USC managed to chip away the Cardinal’s lead in the second quarter as Stanford did not make any field goal in the final three minutes of the first half. Nonetheless, the Cardinal held onto their lead, ahead 34-24 heading into the locker room.
Coming back from the break, Stanford got into foul trouble and USC, despite still shooting under 30 percent, was able to stay in the game thanks to free throws. Junior Alanna Smith, senior Kaylee Johnson and Sniezek all collected three fouls early in the third, forcing Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer to pull them out of the game.
“We didn’t keep them off the line,” said VanDerveer. “I thought our defense was good, except for that, our fouling.”
“We didn’t get stops defensively when they fouled,” VanDerveer added. “Then it was allowing them to rest when they have, basically five players.”
In the meantime, Carrington took over for the Cardinal, finishing with 13 points, all but three of Stanford’s bench points in the game. Carrington went 5-for-10 from the field, but also converted two free throws after Johnson fouled out of the game in the fourth. Johnson got caught up with USC’s Kristen Simon on a defensive board, and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct as her elbow hit the Woman of Troy in the face while fighting for the ball. After a lengthy review of the play, the officials called fouls both ways, and Carrington and USC’s Minyon Moore traded free throws to keep the gap at six.
“I think Dijonai [Carrington], besides her defense, her rebounding, obviously she hit a half-court shot, but her free throws were probably important than that half court shot she made,” said VanDerveer.
Alyssa Jerome was also called on the floor after three of four starters collected too many fouls. The freshman took only one shot in the game, hitting a buzzer-beater to end the third period. Jerome got the ball from McPhee with three seconds left on the clock, and used a pump fake and a side dribble to get open and bury the corner three to push Stanford’s lead back to 13. Stanford wasn’t out of trouble, though, as USC got into the bonus minutes into the fourth quarter and went a perfect 11-for-11 from the charity stripe in that quarter.
USC managed to come within six points once again in the fourth, but Stanford always responded with either string defense or transition offense. Freshman Kiana Williams, leading scorer for the Cardinal, hit three of her four threes in transition, while Smith contributed fourteen points, including three crucial layups when the Women of Troy came too close.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous,” said Williams. “I was more excited than nervous. Yeah, it’s tournament time, so there is a little pressure, win or go home. But [I’m] just out here having fun with my teammates.”
On Friday, Stanford’s leading scorer — senior Brittany McPhee — was a little more silent than usual. She contributed seven points for Stanford as Aliyah Mazyck, a Pac-12 all-defense nominee did not give her the space she needed to score more. Nonetheless, the Washington-native brought down four boards and dished out three assists to help out Stanford.
For the Women of Troy, Mazyck caught fire in the second half and finished with 22 points, and Moore added ten of her own. Kristen Simon, USC’s leading scorer, was held to only two points in the first half, and finished with nine points when she fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Stanford now gears up for the third day of the tournament, and will face sixth-seeded Arizona State on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in KeyArena. This is the 16th time in 17 years that the Cardinal have reached the semifinal round of the Pac-12 Tournament; over that span, Stanford has made it to the championship game 15 times, capturing 12 conference titles.
“This is a great win for our team,” said VanDerveer. “We’ve had a lot of different people step up.”
Contact Alexandre Bucquet at bucqueta ‘at’ stanford.edu.