In the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal, two-seed No. 7 Stanford (26-4, 15-3 Pac-12) overcame a slow start to defeat seven-seed Cal (19-12, 9-9 Pac-12) 72-54 and move on to face Washington (11-20, 2-15 Pac-12). Cal won the first regular-season meeting with Stanford with a layup at the buzzer in front of their home crowd, but Stanford took the rematch by 25 points on Friday night in Las Vegas.
The Cardinal had a bye in the first round, while Cal had to overcome Washington State (9-21, 4-14 Pac-12) for the right to take on their rivals. After beating Wazzu 80-58 five days earlier, the Bears won by a nearly identical 77-58 scoreline. Although Cal carried that momentum into the first quarter, by the fourth Stanford had gained control, outscoring their opponents by fifteen.
“I think it does make a difference – the fact that they played a game yesterday. And the fourth quarter, I felt like we were able to run, get out and get some transition baskets and attack the basket,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We earned that by our seed, and I think we took advantage of it.”
Senior forward Alanna Smith recorded her tenth double-double of the year and the twentieth of her career with fifteen points and eleven rebounds. Cal’s Kristine Anigwe earned her 32nd double-double on fourteen points and fourteen rebounds, but was held below her season average of 23.2 points and missed seven of her first eight shots.
Limiting Anigwe was a task for the whole team, but much of the onus fell on senior center Shannon Coffee. Getting extra minutes for her defense, Coffee had two rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Her +20 plus/minus in 24 minutes led the team.
“I was doing my work early.” Coffee said. “I’m not going to let her get to where she wants to be. She’s a great player. She’s going to make shots. When she does, I can’t hang my head.”
“Her defense was spectacular tonight,” said sophomore guard Kiana Williams of her teammate. “We’re going to need her the rest of the tournament.”
However, Coffee’s most significant contribution may not have come on defense. With 4:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, Coffee hit a three to spark a 17-2 Stanford run to close out the game.
“The three was fitting as she has a knack for making big threes against Bears,” VanDerveer said. Coffee made three of her six three-point field goals this season in a win over the then No. 3 Baylor Lady Bears.
“I don’t necessarily have anything against bears in real life,” Coffee said. “On the court, it seems that I do.”
The three came with Stanford clinging to a three-point lead they had brought into halftime and never surrendered. “She takes the three when we need the three,” VanDerveer said. “Her whole play was fantastic. She was facilitating our offense. She was talking out there and very calm and just really mature.”
Despite passing up other three-point looks earlier in the quarter, Coffee said, “When the time came, I took my shot.”
Williams, who drained her own three on the possession after Coffee’s shot, went for a season-high 23 points on 8-15 from the field including 5-8 from range. In a team-high 39 minutes, the point guard added seven rebounds and six assists.
“Tara’s main message to me is that point guards have to find a way to win,” Williams said. “That’s what I tried to do today.”
Though they finished the game strong, Stanford fell behind 11-6 midway through the first quarter after an 8-0 Cal run. After making their first three shots from the field, the Cardinal went nearly seven minutes without making a field goal. At the end of the first quarter, Stanford only trailed by three despite five turnovers.
“It’s not just that Cal is a very talented team with great players and great coaching staff,” VanDerveer said, “they’re our rival, and it just brings out the best in both teams.”
Anigwe, the conference’s reigning defensive player of the year, was making her presence felt on both ends of the court. Anigwe had three blocks on the game and four of Cal’s nine offensive rebounds in the first half as the Bears outshot the Cardinal by twelve. Stanford, however, made 48 percent of their shots to Cal’s 35 percent, and a six-point second quarter swing gave the halftime lead to the Cardinal.
Cal’s Recee Caldwell surpassed 1,000 career points and by the break was the only player in double digits. She added six more points in the second half to lead the Bears with 17 on 7-15 shooting, and contributed six rebounds and two assists.
Stanford came out and shot nearly ten percentage points better in the second half and turned the ball over three fewer times. “At halftime, Tara made some adjustments, and we just stuck with our game plan,” Williams said.
In the third quarter, the Stanford lead swung between two and seven points, but ended where it started at three with each team adding fifteen points. Freshman forward Lacie Hull scored four of her seven points in the third, finishing with four assists, three steals and a rebound.
“I genuinely felt if we could get over that hump, we’d tie it and win the game,” Cal head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Credit to them – when you have the chances and you don’t take advantage, a great team is going to eventually do what they need to do.”
In the fourth quarter, Stanford scored 25 to Cal’s 10. The ever-consistent junior guard Dijonai Carrington scored exactly four of her sixteen points in each quarter to go along with six rebounds and two assists.
The hero of Cal’s buzzer beater win, Asha Thomas, struggled from the field with just five points on 2-15 shooting including 1-10 from behind the arc. Cal struggled from deep as a team, as Stanford finished with as many three-point makes as their counterpart in nearly half as many attempts. The Cardinal went 7-16, while the Bears were 7-30.
Stanford, the conference leader in blocks per game with 5.1, surpassed its average with a pair each from Smith, Coffee, and sophomore forward Maya Dodson, along with one more from freshman forward Lexie Hull. Smith, however, was held out for stretches of the second half due to foul trouble.
“When she’s out of the game, other people have to make plays, and I made some shots,” Williams said. “We don’t want our seniors to go out of their last Pac-12 Tournament on a bad note.”
The 11-seed in the tournament, Washington has upset six-seed Utah and three-seed Oregon State. Stanford beat Washington 91-54 at home and 72-53 on the road in the last game of the regular season.
Amber Melgoza, who leads Washington with 17.6 points per game, scored 40 points against the Cardinal in Seattle last season, but was held to just fourteen points in two losses to Stanford in 2019.
Stanford will face Washington today at 8:30 p.m. PT. “It’s tournament time, so you have no choice but to win,” Williams said.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanaford.edu.