The Pac-12 championship matchup is set as two-seed No. 7 Stanford (27-4, 15-3 Pac-12) ended the Cinderella run of 11-seed Washington (11-21, 2-15 Pac-12) with a 72-61 win in the semifinal on Saturday. The Cardinal earned a rematch with No. 2 Oregon (29-3, 16-2 Pac-12), who came into Maples Pavilion exactly one month ago and handed Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer the worst defeat of her illustrious career.
Stanford has played in 16 of the 18 title games, leaving 12 with hardware. “I remember the two we weren’t in,” VanDerveer said. “We are really appreciative of being in the championship game. It says a lot about our program.”
The Cardinal led the whole way, but the Huskies never went away. Amber Melgoza, who scored a career-high 40 points against Stanford in Seattle last season, put up a season-high 32 points on Saturday as the only member of her team to reach double figures. In Washington’s two losses to Stanford earlier in the season, she had combined for just 14 points.
“Certainly Amber was a beast today,” Washington head coach Jody Wynn said. “She really competed on the floor. We all played really, really hard, and no reason to hang our heads.”
The Cardinal offense was clicking, especially from three-point range, where the team shot 45.8 percent. Senior forward Alanna Smith pace Stanford with 21 points on 9-21 shooting, including 3-7 from deep. Smith added 12 rebounds, an assist and two steals to record her 11th double-double of the season and second straight.
Junior guard DiJonai Carrington scored 14 points, including the loudest three of the night. The Huskies went on a 14-4 run and looked to be heading into halftime with momentum after cutting Stanford’s lead to six, when Carrington received an outlet pass as Washington missed the last shot. Falling over Melgoza, Carrington swished a three-quarters court attempt to put the Cardinal on top 40-31.
“Anyone hits a big half-court shot or big three we all get excited,” Carrington, who also contributed 10 rebounds for her seventh double-double, said. “It gave us a lot of momentum to go into halftime and gave us a little more of a cushion.”
Her coach had seen it before.
“She practices them every day and doesn’t leave the court until she hits one,” VanDerveer said. “That might be her longest.”
Sophomore guard Kiana Williams added 12 points, seven assists, three rebounds and a steal in 38 minutes. “Kiana Williams is my MVP,” VanDerveer said. “She just goes and goes and goes the whole game.”
The final Cardinal in double digits was sophomore forward Maya Dodson. Her 14 points came on 6-9 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. “Maya Dodson really stepped up big for us,” VanDerveer said. “She was really a difference-maker and we’ve missed her a big part of the season.”
Despite scoring a combined five points, freshman forwards Lacie and Lexie Hull played suffocating defense on Washington’s second-leading scorer, Missy Peterson. In the first two games of the tournament, Peterson had shot 11-14 from three-point range, but missed all six attempts against the Cardinal.
“She’s a great player, but we knew that what she wanted was open shots open threes and we just took those away,” Carrington said.
Everyone was impressed with the play of the 11-seed Huskies.
“We won two games we weren’t supposed to,” Washington senior Hannah Johnson after her final game. “If you asked me at the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t have thought so.”
VanDerveer took it as a sign of the strength of the conference. “How hard we had to play and how well we had to play to beat Washington and to beat Cal, and that’s seven and 11. I think it really points to just the great teams we have, the great players we have and the great coaches we have in the conference.”
“We all just played with tremendous heart out there, and we were just battling,” Melgoza added. “We obviously didn’t have the ending we wanted to because we obviously wanted to compete tomorrow.”
Instead, it will be the Cardinal moving on, and this time facing a one-seed Oregon who won by 40 points in the last meeting. The Ducks shot 75 percent from distance with four players in double figures.
“We were embarrassed,” Carrington said. “We know we cannot come out and play like that if we want any type of chance.”
Still, Stanford remains confident.
“We’re excited to be playing for the championship,” VanDerveer said. “We know we have to play a lot better than we did last time.”
“Obviously Oregon is one of the best teams in the country,” Carrington said, “but I believe that we are as well.” Stanford’s opportunity to prove it is at 5:30 p.m. PST on Sunday.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.