The top play from last weekend belonged, indisputably, to Kiana Williams and women’s basketball. SportsCenter said so.
The junior guard’s teammates rushed to where she stood — closer to midcourt than the 3-point arc — for what quickly became a celebratory dogpile. Williams had drilled a 40-foot game-winning heave on the road, just moments after coming up with a game-tying 3-pointer. Then she froze in space.
“I was shocked,” Williams said. “I was just processing, like, ‘Wow, we really did that.’ The last five, 10 seconds it was happening so fast, and I was just in shock. I’m still in shock when I watch it.”
The good times kept rolling for Williams, who was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District Team, but was late to the news as a consequence of her decision to take the month of February off social media. As such, Williams had yet to see the team’s Twitter post recognizing her and sophomore guard Lexie Hull.
Last Sunday, Hull was once again ahead of Williams, only this time she was sprinting to her still-frozen teammate.
“Oh my gosh, that was just crazy,” Hull said. “It just happened so quickly that it was like, ‘Wait, does it count? Did it go in?’ I didn’t even see it. It just all happened so fast — it was so exciting … still kind of in disbelief about it.”
Between Hull’s disbelief and Williams’s ongoing shock, it is hard to imagine that the toughest stretch of No. 4 Stanford’s (23-3, 12-2 Pac-12) season begins today. The final four regular season games will all come against ranked opponents, including the date on Friday with No. 15 Oregon State (19-7, 7-7 Pac-12).
Luckily for the Cardinal, a Hall of Fame, two-time NCAA champion, Olympic gold medal head coach is at the helm. Tara VanDerveer’s presence is felt both on the sideline during game and in preparation for the upcoming gauntlet.
“What a perfect way to go into an NCAA Tournament: playing against tournament teams,” VanDerveer said, spinning the four-game stretch like a veteran politician.
Neither game against Colorado was supposed to be a thriller, at least on paper. The Buffs are winless against the Cardinal dating to the 2002 NCAA tournament, which includes their entire time as members of the Pac-12, and they have lost twice as many games in conference play this season as they have won. That both games came down to the last second is a testament to the competition of the Pac-12. That Stanford won both is a testament to VanDerveer.
The inbounds plays run by Stanford at the end of each of those games, the first to find freshman forward Ashten Prechtel under the hoop for a layup and the second to free up Williams from three, are practiced daily.
“Tara really stresses on making sure that we’re focused and locked in when we practice those,” Hull said. “It’s easy, at the end of practice, to kind of just walk through those plays. And after that first Colorado game, I’m like, Okay, this is meaningful, and these plays are gonna change the game.”
“For me as the point guard, you know you have to stay levelheaded,” Williams said. “Deep down inside, I was panicking, especially when they got that second rebound off the free throw, but thankfully she missed both free throws and we stuck together as a team.”
“Tara made sure everyone’s on the same page, and I made sure everyone’s on the same plan, and we executed,” Williams added. “That’s what we’re gonna have to do this weekend.”
The Beavers are on a three-game losing streak, but no one is taking the challenge lightly. Head coach Scott Rueck’s group has twice lost in overtime and has two players — Destiny Slocum and Mikayla Pivec — named to ESPN’s midseason top 25. Stanford eked out a win on the road in the first meeting as Slocum went for 26 points, but the main lesson VanDerveer took from that game is that “Oregon State is a really good team.”
Although freshman standout forward Kennedy Brown is out for the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL in her left knee, the Beavers have responded with a four-guard lineup that is potentially even more lethal.
“I don’t feel like they missed a beat,” VanDerveer said. “They just get more from either players who are playing or someone coming in now.”
While Stanford’s injury troubles have seen senior guard DiJonai Carrington and freshman guard Haley Jones sideline for extensive time, junior forward Maya Dodson returned to the court for a combined 26 minutes last weekend. Though her interior presence and scoring are obvious additions, her impact on freshman forwards Ashten Prechtel and Fran Belibi may be an overlooked benefit of her return.
“When you’re at this point in the season, wanting another big body that has experience — our freshmen have been doing very well, but they just don’t understand the urgency sometimes with how hard you have to play,’ VanDerveer said. “We need a grittier presence inside.”
“We’ve missed [Dodson] so much,” Williams added. “Just for Ashten and Fran, just to have another upperclassmen to look up to.”
Belibi and Prechtel, now with two different post players to pick up moves from, can focus on what Hull called the key to the game: “Playing harder than them.”
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. PT on Friday at Maples Pavilion.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.