By James Hemker
For the first time in seven years, the women’s basketball team has opened its season with eight straight wins. The third-ranked Cardinal entered Thanksgiving break with four W’s to their name, and they now emerge with four more in a seven-day span. The week started with a tough win over Buffalo, and then Stanford traveled to Victoria, Canada for its first taste of tourney play.
Starting on Thanksgiving Day, the tournament hosted eight NCAA teams — three of them ranked in the top 20. In 24-hour increments, the Cardinal (8-0, 0-0 Pac-12) bested three foes, each better than the last, to claim the first-ever Greater Victoria Invitational.
Cal Baptist (7-3, 0-0 WAC) was the first to fall, and a win over No. 18 Syracuse (4-3, 0-0 ACC) launched Stanford into the finals. There, the team was able to hold off No. 10 Mississippi State (8-1, 0-0 SEC), just as it had done in the Sweet Sixteen last March.
Though they were the only unranked team on the docket, the Cal Baptist Lancers nearly ended Stanford’s tourney dreams before they began. Despite holding a 21-point lead in the third, the Cardinal became complacent and let the lead dwindle to just a single point with six minutes left in the game. A pair of free-throws from sophomore guard Lexie Hull buoyed the team just enough, and they rode a five-point cushion to the buzzer, 83-78.
“That’s crazy,” said junior guard Kiana Williams of the slide. “We just have to tighten up. We got a lead and then we let it go.”
Hull was the team’s main two-way player that night, scoring 13 points and snatching 10 boards — eight of them defensive — for her first double-double of the season. Williams (seven rebs.) and freshman forward Fran Belibi (eight rebs.) were just behind her with 15 and 11 points, respectively.
Above all of them, forward Nadia Fingall posted a season-best and match-high 18 points. The 6’3” senior dominated the paint, with 14 of her points coming from under the basket.
Fingall turned in an equally stellar performance against Syracuse on Friday, dropping 10 more points and recovering a game-high 13 rebounds. Her efforts in the paint allowed the Cardinal’s perimeter shooters to work their magic, as the team shot 11-of-26 from distance.
Taking half of the team’s deep shots, freshman guard Hannah Jump nuked the Orange from orbit, splashing eight treys for 24 points. Her performance marked just the sixth-time in school history — and first since 2015 — that a single player made eight or more three-pointers.
“It was amazing,” Jump said. “My teammates did a really good job of finding me out there.”
Jump’s classmate guard Haley Jones had her own career day. The No. 1 recruit shot an efficient 7-for-12 from the floor and hit all four free throws to tally 19 points.
Despite Jones’ accuracy, the charity stripe was the team’s weak spot through the first two games. The team converted 35 of its 50 attempts for a mediocre 70% success rate.
“Free-throw shooting, right now, is an Achilles’ heel for us,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer after the game. “We’re going to have to fix that in order to really go anywhere. We left a lot at the line there.”
The team practiced what VanDerveer preached and went 14-for-17 (82%) from the line in Saturday’s championship match against Mississippi State. The closest game of the tourney for Stanford, the 67-62 victory featured four tied scores and five lead changes.
A balanced offense saw four different players reach double-digit points. Jones, Williams, Hull and Belibi contributed 13, 12, 11 and 10 points, respectively, on Saturday evening. Additionally, Jones tied with Fingall for the most rebounds at eight a piece. Hull and her twin sister Lacie combined for 13 more boards.
Stanford capitalized on a productive third quarter which ended 55-47 to build a 14-point lead with just five minutes left in the invitational. Williams’ jumper at the 5:10 mark proved to be Stanford’s final field goal of the game. Three turnovers and four missed shots brought the Bulldogs right back into the mix, but Lexie Hull was able to ice the match with two good free throws and 11 seconds on the clock.
Though Stanford came into the tournament as the clear favorite, the fact that the team survived the slog is noteworthy. The two teams ranked above the Cardinal — No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Baylor — were both felled in their own invitational finals on Saturday.
Stanford will now have two weeks of rest as students prepare for finals at the end of the quarter. The Cardinal will be back in Maples on Dec. 15 against Ohio State.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.