One of just two teams to beat Stanford (27-5, 14-4 Pac-12) at Maples Pavilion this season, UCLA (26-5, 14-4 Pac-12) set up in a half-court press midway through the second quarter trailing by 1. Senior forward Nadia Fingall heaved a full-court pass that found freshman forward Fran Belibi in stride for an easy 2 points.
Fingall did not take a three-step drop, but it looked as if she had been working out with the football team during spring practice.
On Tuesday, Stanford Hall of Fame head coach Tara VanDerveer spoke about the need for adjustments heading into the Pac-12 tournament. The response from VanDerveer to UCLA’s press defense was brilliant and exemplified Stanford’s effort to avenge the regular season loss and book a ticket to the championship game with a 67-51 win.
“I love that full court pass that Nadia threw to her — just showed a lot of confidence,” VanDerveer said.
In the first half, junior guard Kiana Williams played off the ball and did not score. This allowed Stanford’s other guards, especially sophomore Lexie Hull and senior Anna Wilson, to find their rhythm.
Hull scored 13 in the first half on the way to a game-high 28. Hull shot 11-of-19, 3-of-7 from beyond the arc, was a rebound shy of a double-double and led a stifling defensive effort with five steals.
“We had Lexie,” VanDerveer said. “She really was the engine of this train today.”
Wilson scored 5, downed a 3-pointer, secured three rebounds and provided a steady presence.
“Anna Wilson’s defense and her ability to run our team was really special for us,” VanDerveer said. “She really stepped up and had a great game.”
“I get to play against two of the best guards in the Pac-12 everyday in practice — Ki and Lexie,” Wilson said.
Most importantly, Williams was able to rest for the second half. Coming into the game, Williams led the team in minutes by nearly four, but took it easy in the first half, and even came out in the first quarter. She was effectively bottled up, shooting 0-for-4. In the third quarter, however, she propelled the team with 12 points, a pair of triples and two assists.
“I hate to say this but my mother, we were talking today and my mother’s like … ‘I never worry about the first half because the second half is the ballgame,’” VanDerveer said. “That’s what I think too.”
Stanford won the quarter 25-10 and never looked back.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal defense led by Wilson, Lexie and her twin sister Lacie Hull took away UCLA’s biggest weapons. Japreece Dean, Michaela Onyenwere and Charisma Osborne each had 14 points for the Bruins. The rest of the team combined for just 9.
Stanford was 8-of-23 from beyond the arc and shot 51% overall to the Bruins’ 32%. Using their size advantage, the Cardinal won points in the paint 32-20.
In the first meeting, UCLA claimed a 12-point margin in points off turnovers. On Saturday, it was Stanford that won the category by 12, 26-14. Last time, Stanford was held to just 5 fast-break points. This time, UCLA managed just 6.
VanDeveer also shortened her rotation, and just nine Cardinal saw the court.
The Cardinal were plus-five in rebounds and took away one of UCLA’s strengths in doing so. Fingall had 7 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Belibi had 8 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two assists.
Stanford got to the line for the first time in the fourth quarter. Lexie turned the ball over seven times and the team combined for 21, one shy of its season high. Against Oregon in the championship, neither of those will spell an upset.
“I think Oregon is the number one team in the country, and they’re the number one team in the country because they execute extremely well offensively,” VanDerveer said. “They don’t have any weaknesses.”
Nevertheless, in the postgame press conference, VanDerveer’s hands were red and when asked why, the living legend said, “I had a lot to clap about tonight.”
“As a team, we’re really excited to play them for the third time,” Lexie said. “We know it’s going to be competitive.”
“We’re really excited to play them [Oregon],” Wilson said. “We’re excited to be in the championship game.
“If it was anyone else we’d be excited to play them too,” she added.
In the first round, Stanford faced an elite Oregon State team for the third time this season and made adjustments to limit Destiny Slocum and won. Against UCLA, Onyenwere was slowed. Now, the biggest adjustments of the season will need to come on Sunday.
“Quite honestly, our team is I think a lot younger, not as experienced, and we’re going to have to figure out something to do that will really help our team be successful,” VanDerveer said.
Stanford will play in its fourth consecutive Pac-12 championship game, will meet Oregon for the third time this season and will face Oregon with a trophy on the line for the third year in a row. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. PT.