When a coach says “I liked our first three quarters,” you should immediately be worried about what happened in the fourth.
Through 30 minutes, No. 6 Stanford (16-2, 13-2 Pac-12) led 49-26 over Colorado (6-9, 4-8 Pac-12). It was a storybook return to Maples Pavilion.
Then the fourth quarter happened and it was a two possession game with a little over a minute to play. As head coach Tara VanDerveer said, Stanford had enough of a cushion to survive a 17-0 fourth quarter Colorado run, winning 62-54. But it was not the revenge Stanford was seeking.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot,” VanDerveer said.
It’s not a stretch to say the worst game of the season came the last time these two teams met. Then again, No. 6 Stanford (16-2, 13-2 Pac-12) has just two losses to choose from.
Stanford came into that game with an undefeated record and the top ranking in the AP Top 25 but came out with a low-effort loss by five in overtime. VanDerveer issued a challenge to her team after that game: “I hope I see people digging in a lot deeper, working a lot harder.”
Stanford failed that test in a loss to UCLA. Another two weeks away from Stanford followed, and the bad taste lingered. When Stanford learned its first game back in Maples since the season opener on Nov. 25 would be against Colorado, the team was chomping at the bit.
Through three quarters, Stanford was nearly perfect. Junior guard Lacie Hull certainly was. She was 3-for-4, all from deep, with six rebounds and three assists, and played primary defense on Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed.
Last time out, Hollingshed ran roughshod over the Cardinal defense for a career-high 32 points. Stanford did not defend her “worth a darn.” This time around, VanDerveer and her assistant coaches gameplanned to stop Hollingshed.
“She tears our team apart,” Hull said. “Especially from the last game, we knew that she was who we needed to stop.”
In practice, back in Maples, the team keyed in to stop Hollingshed. Through halftime, it worked; Hollingshed had just two missed shots and two made free throws. At this point, VanDerveer began to lament Stanford’s one-on-one defense. Hollinghsed got to the line four times in the third quarter and six times in the fourth before she fouled out herself.
“We started out very well and we were very focused,” VanDerveer said. “Somewhere along the line, instead of being focused, we started fouling.”
Entering the final quarter, Colorado had scored just 26 points and was in danger of falling below their season low of 47. Then the Buffaloes responded with 28 in the fourth.
Colorado’s zone throughout the game, and full court press in the later stages, stifled Stanford’s offense. The Cardinal were a season-worst 38.9% from the field. Stanford had six turnovers in the fourth quarter and one made bucket, which came just a minute into the quarter. If not for going 10-of-11 at the line, Stanford would have blown a 25-point lead.
“We needed to move the ball more,” Hull said. “We weren’t really an offensive threat there in the fourth quarter. They definitely made us feel a little rushed.”
Freshman forward Cameron Brink was perfect on seven shots from the foul line, including 5-for-5 down the stretch in the fourth quarter. She totaled 13 points, eight rebounds and a tied-for-sixth-most-in-program-history six blocks. Brink also finished with four fouls.
“It’s really important for her to stay in the game and not be fouling,” VanDerveer said. “She loves to block shots, so that gets her out of position sometimes. She’s got to learn to stay down and maybe change shots instead of blocking shots.”
Junior guard Lexie Hull also ended the game with four fouls. For the first time since a Mar. 10, 2019 game against Oregon her freshman season, she did not score. Sophomore guard Haley Jones was the third Cardinal in foul trouble. The entire frontcourt lacked intensity and no one found a rhythm. Sophomore forwards Jones, Fran Belibi and Ashten Prechtel combined to shoot 4-of-17 for nine points in 54 minutes.
“Our fouling makes us sub so much,” VanDerveer said.
Fifth year guard Anna Wilson scored 11 and her plus-nine was the best of any starter. Senior guard Kiana Williams led the way with 16 points, but she never found her stroke and shot 6-of-15 while playing all 40 minutes. It was not the homecoming tale Stanford wished to write.
In pregame warmups, Stanford was all smiles. Through three quarters it was much of the same. But as VanDerveer joked, “you’d have to be a wizard to understand what teenagers are feeling or thinking,” and her team could not close out the blowout.
Stanford will have another opportunity in Maples on Sunday at 1 p.m. PT against Utah.