In a tale of two halves, No. 2 Stanford (31-4, 15-3 Pac-12) could not keep up with the nation’s premier offense, as No. 1 Notre Dame (33-3, 14-2 ACC) downed the Cardinal 84-68 in the Elite Eight with a 58-point second half. The Irish will advance to face UConn in the Final Four.
“We have to play 40 minutes, and we didn’t,” senior forward Alanna Smith said. “We played 20 minutes really, really well and had one bad quarter.”
“I thought we competed very hard and very well, but they were the better team today for 40 minutes,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer added.
The Cardinal jumped out to an early lead, holding the Irish to 11 points through the first quarter, with Smith and junior guard DiJonai Carrington combining for all of Stanford’s 13 points.
Smith shot 3-4 from the field for seven points and seven rebounds. Held quiet for the remainder of the game, Smith would double her point total but haul in only one more rebound in her final game for the Cardinal.
“It has been the best four years of my life,” Smith said. “I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without my teammates and my coaching staff, and it is going to be very, very hard to leave.”
It will be a tough goodbye for her coach as well. “I just want to just congratulate Alanna,” VanDerveer said. “She had a great career at Stanford, and we’ll really miss her next year.”
The suffocating Stanford defense held Notre Dame scoreless on 13 contested shots taken in the first quarter.
The Cardinal extended the halftime lead to seven, 33-26, by hitting five straight field goals in the second quarter, with the last three coming from behind the arc. The 26 points represented a season low in a half for Notre Dame.
Sophomore guard Kiana Williams had eight points at the break, shooting 2-5 from three point range after missing all eleven attempts the previous game. “We’re just trying to take good shots,” Williams said. “We all need to lock in to help each other.”
The Cardinal outrebounded the Irish 28-22 in the half, but the story flipped in the second and the margin wound up being 10, in favor of Notre Dame.
After shooting just 3-12 in the first half for eight points, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale poured in 13 more while going 7-7 from the line. Jackie Young was 1-7 in the first twenty minutes but finished with a game-high 25 points after sinking 8-12. Young added ten rebounds, three assists and a steal.
“We did not do a good enough job defensively,” VanDerveer said. “We fouled them too much.”
The Irish were on the line 16 times to the Cardinal’s six, and were an extremely efficient 15-16.
“I think just we came out at halftime and kind of lost our focus a little bit and against teams like Notre Dame you can’t do that,” Smith said. “We weren’t boxing out, we weren’t following our game plan as well.”
With eight second-half points, Brianna Turner finished with 14 points and five rebounds on 7-10 shooting. Jessica Shepard scored seven of her 11 points in the second half to go along with four assists and a game-high 14 rebounds. Marina Mabrey scored all 7 of her points in the second half after missing on six attempts in the first. Mabrey would also contribute four rebounds and a game-high 6 assists.
The Cardinal’s 13 points in the third quarter were doubled up by the Irish, who shot 12-17 in the period to reclaim the lead with just over two minutes remaining as part of an 11-2 run.
“In the Pac-12 tournament championship we also kind of laid a little egg in the third quarter,” Carrington said. “In the fourth quarter we started turning the ball over, and they were getting easy buckets like they wanted.”
The Cardinal did not record a steal in the second half and finished with a season-low two on the game. Stanford turned the ball over 12 times throughout the game, and was outscored 21-4 on fast break points and 24-10 second chance opportunities.
A bright spot for the Cardinal in the second half was Williams, who shot 2-3 from distance and 5-12 for 12 points to finish with 20 points, three rebounds and two assists. Freshman forward Lexie Hull hit both of her three-point attempts for six points in the half and eight points and seven rebounds overall.
Although Notre Dame was just 10-39 in the first half, the Irish finished with 44 percent shooting to the Cardinal’s 39.6.
In addition to Smith, the matchup was also the last of senior center Shannon Coffee’s career. Coffee was a perfect 1-1 from the field for two points, three rebounds and two assists.
“In different games, different people stepped up and this team is really special and our seniors are irreplaceable,” Carrington said. “There won’t be a team like this but hopefully we’ll be able to live up to this standard next season.”
Stanford will be bringing in the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class next year. In addition to the nation’s No. 1 recruit and Naismith Trophy Girls’ High School Player of the Year Haley Jones, dunking sensation Fran Belibi and the No. 16 recruit Ashten Prechtel, VanDerveer will also be welcoming five-star talent Hannah Jump.
“We have great recruits coming in next year that will help our team a lot,” VanDerveer said. “It’s something to look forward to.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.