Led by a stellar Kiana Williams, second-seeded Stanford women’s basketball (22-9, 14-3) punched its ticket to the Pac-12 championship game thanks to a convincing 58-46 win against sixth seed ASU (21-12, 10-8) in KeyArena, Seattle.
“We came out very aggressively offensively and knocked down big shots for us, worked hard on the defensive end,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer.
In the middle of the third quarter, Williams hit a three-pointer from well beyond the arc. The freshman shooting guard was lights out from long distance on Saturday night, shooting 6-7 from downtown while on a 9-11 shooting night. She was the leading scorer for Stanford, as she came just two points shy of her career-high mark. In only 22 minutes of play, Williams recorded 24 points to lead all scorers, and set a career-high with six makes from deep.
“My teammates do a great job at getting me the ball,” said Williams. “We do a great job of moving the ball. So the shots I get they’re open, so I have to knock them down.”
Junior Alanna Smith chipped in 13 points for Stanford on 32 minutes of playing time. While the Aussie was on the floor, Stanford outscored ASU by 26 points.
“Being one of the leaders of the team you kind of have to lead by example,” said Smith. “But when you have other players and freshmen like [Williams] on the team, it’s not that hard.”
Thanks to the big lead established early in the game, no player was on the court for more than 32 minutes. In particular, senior Kaylee Johnson only played for 13 minutes, senior Brittany McPhee played 24, and Williams was on the courts for 22 minutes.
“I think it’s a great thing to do,” said VanDerveer about reduced minutes. “It’s not just resting them, but you’re also not exposing them to getting hurt.”
Arizona State was riding high after a high-profile win against No. 3 Oregon State on Thursday night, but Tara VanDerveer’s squad cut the Sun Devils’ momentum right of the gate. The Cardinal got off to a 13-3 first quarter after ASU scored on the opening possession. Junior Marta Sniezek used a trip to the line and a drive to the basket to get Stanford started.
After three of Stanford’s five starters got into foul trouble against USC on Thursday, Tara VanDerveer decided to take off the floor any player who picked up a foul in the first and second quarter. As a result, Stanford’s nine fouls in the first half were spread across all players, with no individual besides Johnson getting two fouls or more.
In the first half, everything was going Stanford’s way. Led by Williams, the Cardinal stretched its lead to 20 in the middle of the second quarter as ASU was unable to hit anything. The Sun Devils only hit three field goals in the first half, shooting 3-of-16 including 1-of-6 from downtown. At halftime, Williams was almost keeping up with the whole ASU roster on her own, as she recorded 13 points to the Sun Devils’ 18 heading into the locker room.
Coming out of the locker room, Stanford picked up the intensity of the game even more, forcing yet another scoring drought on the Sun Devils. Stanford finished the game with 10 steals, most of which came in the third quarter, during which the Cardinal stretched its lead to 24 points, 52-28. Stanford shot over 50 percent from the field in the third quarter, while holding ASU to a mere 20 percent in that frame.
With her team up by 24 after three quarters, VanDerveer was able to rest her starters and give some good minutes to everyone on the team. Besides sophomore Ana Wilson, still sidelined with a left foot injury, everyone on the Cardinal roster played at least three minutes; in particular, junior Alexa Romano played for 13 minutes and freshman Maya Dodson stepped on the court for nine minutes. Nonetheless, with no starters on the court for Stanford, ASU was able to use a 16-2 run as part of an 18-6 fourth quarter to half the lead of the Cardinal.
Next, Stanford will play No. 1 Oregon tomorrow at 6 p.m. PST. This is the 15th time in 17 years that the Cardinal has made it to the final round of the Pac-12 Tournament, and the team holds a 12-2 record in such games.
The Ducks are coming off a comeback win against the fourth-seeded UCLA Bruins. While Stanford has won the only contest between the two teams back in February, Oregon’s Lexi Bando was out, and she is now back in the lineup. The Ducks are ready to come out full force to not only get revenge on the Cardinal, but also to get their first Pac-12 tournament title after they won the regular season crown earlier this season.
“I think Oregon gives you the ultimate challenge, they have a great inside game and a great outside game,” said VanDerveer.
Against the Ducks on Sunday, the Cardinal will need everyone to step up, including McPhee who has been quite quiet so far this weekend.
“We have confidence in [McPhee]. We know that she’ll step up big for us tomorrow,” said VanDerveer. “It’s hard. I mean she gets the other team’s best defender.”
“It’s going to be a grind out game and a battle,” said Williams. “But we’re going to go back and watch some film and get ready for tomorrow.”
Contact Alexandre Bucquet at bucqueta ‘at’ stanford.edu.