For the twelfth straight year, No. 2 Stanford (30-4, 15-3 Pac-12) will be dancing in the Sweet Sixteen. A dominant first-round home-win for the Stanford women’s basketball team over No. 15 UC Davis (25-7, 15-1 Big West) was followed by a gritty display against No. 7 BYU (25-6, 15-3 WCC).
On Saturday, the Cardinal took care of business with their twentieth consecutive first-round win, defeating the Aggies 79-54. Stanford went on a 15-0 run to start the game and never looked back.
“We’ve been off for two weeks, so I wasn’t exactly sure what we were going to see,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. “Our first quarter, I thought, really set the tone.”
VanDerveer had invited Davis head coach Jennifer Gross to campus in the offseason to help teach the Princeton offense. “I wish they had played in another bracket so I could be cheering for them,” VanDerveer said.
The feeling was mutual. “They have an incredible team, incredible staff. Obviously we were doing our best to beat them and fell a little bit short,” Gross said. “We’re going to be their biggest fans from here on out, and we really wish them the best in the rest of the tournament.”
Despite being held under her 23.5-point-per-game average in the first meeting between the two sides last November, Davis senior Morgan Bertsch went for 25 in the last game of her collegiate career.
“It was pretty cool to get to end my career in front of a lot of my family,” said Bertsch, who grew up in Santa Rosa.
It did not come easy for Bertsch, who shot just 8-25. “Props to her, she’s a very, very good player, but we threw what we had at her, and I think we did a pretty good job,” said senior forward Alanna Smith.
Davis closed the gap heading into halftime, but Stanford once again emerged from the locker room with renewed vigor. “In games where you might be ahead by a lot, you might get complacent,” Smith said. “That’s not what we want to do. We want to play to our best ability the whole game.”
“That was the message at halftime: We had a great first half — let’s have an even better second half,” said Smith, who scored 12 points in the third quarter.
“Our motto is ride the hot hand,” said sophomore guard Kiana Williams.
While playing just 21 minutes, Smith scored 21 points on 9-14 shooting with seven rebounds. Smith joined elite company — Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne — as the only players with 1,600 career points, 200 blocked shots and 150 made three-pointers in the past 20 years.
Williams shot an efficient 7-12 for 19 points to go along with five assists. “Credit to my teammates,” Williams said. “We’re all playing at a high level. I still feel like we haven’t peaked yet.”
The early lead allowed for Stanford’s bench to accrue valuable experience on the tournament stage. “We needed everybody. I was really proud of our bench,” VanDerveer said.
One of those players off the bench was senior center Shannon Coffee, who has seen increased minutes down the stretch. “Shannon, her play, is so underrated but so subtle, just her passing, her screening, her defense,” VanDerveer said.
Although both teams had a pair of twins, it was Stanford’s Hull sisters that shined. Freshman forward Lacie Hull contributed six points and freshman forward Lexie Hull had three points and seven rebounds, while Davis’ Eatons managed just four combined points on 1-9 shooting.
“We got in a bit too much foul trouble because of that aggressiveness, but I don’t mind it,” Carrington said. “Making them uncomfortable is a big key.”
That aggressiveness was apparent on the glass as well, where Stanford finished with a 42-32 rebounding advantage.
BYU had defeated No. 10 Auburn (22-9, 9-7 SEC) 73-64 on the same Maples Pavilion Court earlier in the day to advance to Monday’s game. A much more unfamiliar opponent, the two teams had met just once in the past 27 years and had split the all-time series 2-2.
Stanford put a 10-game winning streak on the line against the BYU’s nine, and held off the Cougars 72-63 to reach 30 wins for the 15th season in program history.
The Cardinal were down 15-11 after the first quarter in which nothing seemed to be falling. “The first quarter kind of threw us for a loop,” Coffee said. “We knew we could knock down more shots than we did, especially at the three-point line.”
As she so often does, Carrington came through in the second quarter with 14 points, including three from behind the arc on four attempts. Her pull-up jumper in the waning seconds of the half capped a 20 point quarter to give the Cardinal a 31-29 halftime lead.
“She really put the team on her back,” VanDerveer said.
The rest of Stanford was 1-19 from deep in the first half as the team played “firehouse basketball.” In the first half, the Hull sisters shot a combined 0-11, including 0-9 from three point range. Lexie Hull would hit two shots in the second half, but Lacie Hull was held scoreless throughout.
“It wasn’t a beautiful offensive game for us,” Carrington said. “We found a way to win.”
The Cougars’ freshman, Shaylee Gonzales, made all four of her three-point attempts on her way to a career high 32 points. Although Stanford recruited Gonzales, VanDerveer admitted “not hard enough.”
“They have just a great team and a really special player in Shaylee Gonzales,” VanDerveer said. “We had all we could handle with her.”
“She clearly was scoring anyway she wanted,” Carrington said. “I think that our defense still did a good job, though.”
Despite averaging 12.9 points as the Cougar’s third-leading scorer, Brenna Chase missed her first eight shots, and the staunch defense of Williams held her to just eight points.
With 6’7” Sara Hamson patrolling the paint and BYU in a zone, Stanford attempted its third-most shots from behind the arc this season — 35 — with six different players combining to hit 12. Hamson, who had four blocked shots in the first-round, had just one against the Cardinal.
After Carrington’s outburst in the first half, it was Smith in the second. “DiJonai really kept us in the game in the first half and Alanna stepped up in the second half,” VanDerveer said.
Stanford was “hungry” and once again dominated the third quarter, including a 16-0 run. Despite starting the game 0-5 from three-point range, Smith heated up to sink her final three. Smith led all Stanford scorers with 23 points, with 17 coming in the second half. The senior added 14 rebounds, three assists, and a steal for her double-double.
“You can’t get down on yourself,” Smith said. “I have confidence in my teammates; they have confidence in me.”
Her teammates’ confidence is unsurprising, seeing as the senior just recorded her fourth career 20-point game in the NCAA Tournament in Stanford’s last five opportunities.
The Cardinal were able to hold Gonzales scoreless for a nearly fifteen-minute stretch during the second half, which coincided with Stanford pulling away. “We locked in defensively,” Smith said.
Coffee hit a late three-pointer, finishing with five points, three rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes. “The BYU guards are very aggressive, in our guards’ faces,” Coffee said. “My role is to stay calm on the court.”
Williams “did her usual,” tallying 13 points, four rebounds and five assists.
The team struggled the most from the free-throw line, shooting a season-worst 8-19. Eight turnovers, on the other hand, were the fewest since February 8 against Oregon State, but three came in a span of 30 seconds in the fourth quarter. BYU went on a 9-0 run over 52 seconds to cut the Stanford lead to nine with 1:19 remaining.
“I would have liked it if we could have made some free throws and taken care of the ball down the stretch,” VanDerveer said.
Stanford will be joined in the Sweet Sixteen by four fellow Pac-12 teams after the conference went 11-1 in the first two rounds, the second-best showing by a conference with at least ten such games. “We’re really excited for five teams to be in the Sweet 16.” VanDerveer said. “It’s a great statement about our league.”
“While it’s sad that it was my last game in Maples, I have another one in Chicago, so I’m just trying to ride this wave and ride it as long as possible,” Smith said.
After another perfect opening weekend in the NCAA tournament, the ninth straight, Stanford will travel to Chicago for the regional round on Saturday.
Although VanDerveer was hoping for another late game, like the 8 p.m. PT tip-off against BYU, Stanford will instead battle for an Elite Eight birth at 3:30 p.m. PT facing the tournament’s Cinderella story, No. 11 Missouri State (25-9, 16-2 MVC).
“You hope it’s a late game and midnight, Cinderella goes home,” VanDerveer said.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.