Alanna Smith did it all for fourth seed Stanford women’s basketball (24-10) against No. 12 FGCU (31-5) on Monday night as the Cardinal won 90-70. The junior finished with a double-double as she tallied 12 boards and 28 points, 13 of which she poured in the first quarter alone, to help the Cardinal survive the three-point avalanche from the Eagles.
With the win, Stanford moves on to the Sweet Sixteen for the 11th consecutive year, where it will face top-seeded Louisville next Friday in Lexington.
With no FGCU player standing taller than 5-foot-11, Stanford made good use of its size advantage and scored 40 points in the paint. Smith and senior Kaylee Johnson were dominant inside as they both brought down 12 boards. Overall, the Cardinal outrebounded the Eagles 52 to 18, and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds that they converted to 19 second chance points.
“We knew we were going to rely heavily on our bigs to bang in down there,” said freshman Kiana Williams. “We just kept giving Alanna the ball. She was feeling it early.”
On offense, Stanford was able to answer every single FGCU run. The Eagles tried to use their three-point shooting to get back in the game, and despite making 17 of 47 from deep and setting an NCAA season record 431 three pointers, FGCU was unable to catch up with Stanford.
“They’re a great team. We knew they were going to make shots and go on runs,” said Johnson. “It was almost an uncomfortable feeling the whole game, just because when it’s a great 3-point shooting team, it doesn’t matter what the lead is, it’s easy to get back in. No lead was ever comfortable.”
Behind a phenomenal Smith, the Cardinal started off quickly with a 7-0 run. The Aussie had four of those, and Johnson added an and-one to force the FGCU timeout. Right out of the timeout, the Eagles came up with three straight treys from distance to pull back within two, but Smith answered for Stanford, racking up 11 of Stanford’s first 19 and finishing with 13 in the first frame.
The Eagles made another push late in the first, but the Cardinal answered with consecutive three pointers from Williams and sophomore DiJonai Carrington. Stanford ended up scoring the final eight points of the first frame to be up 33-17 after one.
FGCU made the second quarter its own, as the Eagles were able to pull back within five points. The run started with two threes from Lisa Zderadicka, and Nasrin Ulel then scored ten straight to cut the Cardinal lead down to two possessions. Heading into the locker room, Stanford still boasted a 43-35 advantage thanks to free throw makes late in the first half.
“I think the biggest thing is we knew that they were going to make threes, and that was okay, as long as they were taking hard threes and not wide-open ones by their best shooters,” said McPhee.
From then on, Stanford never looked back and cruised to the win. Brittany McPhee got her night started with a coast-to-coast in-traffic layup off a steal, and after the two teams traded threes the senior came up with another stop and passed it ahead to Williams. The freshman returned the favor and assisted her teammate for the easy layup to put Stanford up 52-38.
In the fourth, FGCU tried once again to climb back, this time behind China Dow. Leading the Eagles in scoring, Dow had 23 points, and went 6-for-9 from deep in the second half. In the fourth quarter, the senior had three threes in four possession, but Stanford once again answered behind an assist and a long distance make from Smith. McPhee added a layup and Carrington a steal-and-score to put Stanford up 82-65 and force an FGCU timeout.
Stanford kept its show going the rest of the way, and the team combined for three Spurs-like plays before head coach Tara VanDerveer pulled out the starters. First, Johnson found a cutting Sniezek who immediately dished it to Smith inside for the lay-in. Then, the senior fund her point guard again who this time went for the layup. Finally, after a pump-and-drive in the paint, Williams bounce-passed it to Carrington who hit a reverse layup.
Overall, Stanford shot 51 percent from the field, including 53 percent from downtown. On the other end of the floor, the Cardinal limited the Eagles to a 37 percent performance, yet FGCU converted 17 of its 47 attempts from beyond the arc.
Although Smith led all scorers, McPhee finished with 17 points and was one rebound shy of second straight double-double. Off the bench, Carrington recorded 14 points, five boards and three steals, and Williams chipped in 12 points and six assists for Stanford.
Next up for the Cardinal is No. 1 Louisville on Friday night. Stanford will travel to Lexington for the third year in a row, only one season after being crowned regional champions against then-No.1 Notre-Dame. On the other side of the Cardinal’s bracket, fellow Pac-12 foe No. 6 Oregon State will take on No. 2 Baylor.
“I think Stanford has a real chance to move on and advance further in this tournament,” said FGCU head coach Karl Smesko. “If they keep shooting the ball the way they shot it tonight, I wouldn’t bet against them.”
After the team finished its last game in Maples, Stanford took the time to reflect on a rollercoaster season. The Cardinal had started the year 6-6 and fallen out of the AP poll for the first time since 2001, but never lost confidence in their abilities and kept working to get to the Sweet Sixteen again.
“If you look at our record from the beginning, I don’t think anyone expected us to get this far. But I’ve always expected it,” said Johnson. “This is the standard that Stanford sets. Something that we always reminded each other at the beginning of the season is, yeah, our record isn’t good, but it’s a long season. We want to have what we need in March and that’s finally come together for us.”