No. 2 Stanford (31-4, 15-3 Pac-12) escaped with a 55-46 win to end the Cinderella run of No. 11 Missouri State (25-10, 16-2 MVC) and advance to the Elite Eight. Despite the worst shooting game of the season, the Cardinal will be facing No. 1 Notre Dame (33-3, 14-2 ACC) on Monday for a spot in the Final Four in an identical situation to the tournament two years ago.
“That was an absolute root canal,” said Stanford Hall of Fame head coach Tara VanDerveer.
Stanford never trailed, even carrying a lead as large as 13, despite shooting 25 percent (17-68), the worst for a winning team in the past 20 years of tournament history. “I think the feeling on the team was we weren’t worried,” said senior forward Alanna Smith. “We know that we can hit down those shots.”
VanDerveer was decidedly less confident. “I don’t know what game she was at,” VanDerveer said. “I mean, wow. We just — we tried a lot of different things. We tried a lot of different people, and we struggled.”
The last time the two teams faced off, the Cardinal shot 15-33 from three-point range, but on Saturday, Stanford shot a season-low 3-29. The struggles extended to the other locker room, where the Lady Bears shot 2-13 from behind the arc.
“If you had told me we’d shoot 10 percent from three and win, I’d be surprised,” VanDerveer said. “But we did.”
Senior center Shannon Coffee, who has, throughout her four-year career, averaged twice as many points, rebounds and assists against Bears, scored seven points against the Lady Bears. Coffee shot 1-3 from behind the arc for one of the Cardinal’s three three-pointers, in addition to six rebounds, an assist and two blocks.
“She has a knack for making big threes against Bears,” VanDerveer said following a win against the Cal Bears in the Pac-12 tournament.
Stanford led 16-10 after the first quarter, but missed 11 of its final 12 shots in the half. At the break, the Cardinal were halfway to matching a season high 20 offensive rebounds and led 28-19 on the strength of 10 second chance points but were 1-17 from three. At the same time, Missouri State struggled, not scoring from the field over the final 5:51 of the half, a cold streak that extended through the first three minutes of the second half.
Due to the high volume of missed shots on the other end of the court, Stanford also recorded a season high in total rebounds.
In her final game for the Lady Bears, Danielle Gitzen led Missouri State with a game-high 14, to go along with eight rebounds. Gitzen shot just 6-17 from the field, however, as the entire team was a season worst 25.4 percent (16-63).
“Stanford is a great team, and they’re very long, and I think that it definitely was disruptive having their long arms and getting into passes,” Gitzen said. “I think also we got good looks. We just couldn’t hit them at the end of the day.”
The Cardinal are now leading tournament teams in field goal percentage defense, after holding their first three opponents to a combined 31.1 percent (57-183).
Missouri State’s Jasmine Franklin recorded her sixth double-double of the year with 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Lady Bear’s second leading scorer, Alexa Willard, was held to two points on 1-11 from the field. “We worked really hard on defense, to hold a team as talented as they are to 46 points,” VanDerveer said.
After injuries her first two seasons on the Farm kept her out of the Big Dance, junior guard Anna Wilson is excelling in her first opportunity. “This is my first NCAA tournament,” Wilson said. “I’m going to play as hard as I have to.”
Wilson scored a season high 11 points on 4-7 from the field with two rebounds. “My defense is kind of my thing, so if I can score some points, that’s nice, too,” Wilson said.
“Anna gave us a lift at both ends,” VanDerveer added.
Senior forward Alanna Smith, playing only 25 minutes due to foul trouble, scored a team-high 13 points on 3-7, and contributed six rebounds with two assists. “We struggle when we have our key people in foul trouble,” VanDerveer said.
Sophomore guard Kiana Williams added nine points, but shot just 3-17 and could not hit from behind the arc despite 11 attempts. Still, VanDerveer’s “coach on the floor” contributed five rebounds, two assists and five steals. As a team, the Cardinal managed only eight assists, a season low.
“Ki picked up an early foul but she stayed with things really well, even though she really struggled offensively,” VanDerveer said.
Although coming into the Sweet 16 matchup Smith, Williams and junior guard DiJonai Carrington combined for 64 percent of Stanford’s scoring offense, against the Lady Bears the trio were just 51 percent of the Cardinal offense. The bench, led by Wilson’s 11 and freshman forward Lexie Hull’s seven, contributed 25 points.
“Our bench really helped us a lot,” VanDerveer said. “We needed maybe a little more help.”
Hull also tallied a team-high ninr rebounds in addition to two assists, but shot just 2-10.
Missouri State also managed 48 rebounds, the most for a Stanford opponent this season. Despite the Lady Bears having won the rebounding battle in 29 of their previous 34 games and ranking 12th nationally in rebound margin (+8.7), the Cardinal out-rebounded the Lady Bears by seven (55-48).
“We weren’t going to come in here and back down,” Missouri State head coach Kellie Harper said. “Somebody was going to have to beat us. Stanford beat us. They had to work hard to do it.”
Missouri State outscored Stanford 16-15 in the third quarter, bringing the game to within three for the last time with 1:07 left in the quarter on a Gitzen jumper. Coffee responded with a three, and Carrington made a layup for her first points since a layup on the game’s opening possession.
In the fourth quarter, the Cardinal slowed down the tempo to hold off a Lady Bears’ comeback. Wilson’s layup with 5:24 remaining was the Cardinal’s final made field goal.
“It just was hard getting anything going, and we did get that lead, and we did try to milk the clock a little bit,” VanDerveer said. “We found a way to win.”
“When we needed to score, we did,” added Wilson.
Smith ended the five-minute scoring drought at the free throw line with 27 seconds remaining. The Cardinal shot 18-24 at the charity stripe a game after converting a season-worst 8-19. Missouri State had made more free throws than its opposition in 22 of its last 25 games, but fell to Stanford 18-12 in that category despite ranking in the top 18 nationally in both free throw makes and attempts.
“We kept each other accountable,” said Smith. “We kept each other in the game.”
The Cardinal ended the Lady Bears’ streak of 16 consecutive wins away from Springfield and will face the Irish with identical 12 game winning streaks and a Final Four berth on the line. Stanford is 4-1 all time against Notre Dame, with the last matchup coming in the 2017 edition of the tournament, a Stanford comeback victory to end the Irish’s 17 game win streak.
The defending national champions, Notre Dame leads the country in scoring offense with 89.2 points per game. “There are no chinks in that armor,” VanDerveer said. “They have everything.”
The Irish are led by Arike Ogunbowale and her 21.5 points per game. Ogunbowale is coming off a career high performance of 34 points against No. 4 Texas A&M.
“We know it will be a big challenge, but I have a lot of confidence in our team,” VanDerveer said. “We know we’ll have to play better.”
The matchup will take place in Chicago’s Wintrust Arena, with Notre Dame benefitting from a one seed for the location close to home. “They’re playing kind of in their backyard,” VanDerveer said.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Wilson said.
So are we. The game will tip off Monday at 6 p.m. PT.