On a night when Kiana Williams passed Trisha Stevens ’91 for 11th on the all-time scoring list, it seems appropriate to appreciate the excellence of Stanford’s senior point guard. Williams scored 20 points, played all 40 minutes and now looks up to former teammate Alanna Smith ’19 for a spot in the program’s all-time Top-10 scorers.
More importantly in the moment, Williams had every answer for the Cardinal. With two minutes to play, she called her own number, got to her spot at the elbow and cut the game to a single possession with a jumper. The next time down the court, Williams set up the offense with a pass to sophomore forward Haley Jones, used a screen from freshman forward Cameron Brink to free herself up, then got the ball back from Jones to hit a game-tying 3-pointer.
“We needed every one of her points,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer.
In a game that had everyone drooling in anticipation of March, No. 6 Stanford (19-2, 16-2 Pac-12) outlasted No. 13 Oregon (12-5, 9-5 Pac-12) in Matthew Knight Arena, 63-61. The Cardinal led by as many as 15, but the coach put the win in the gritty, but not pretty, category.
VanDerveer also sent out the same five players for the final 9.5 minutes of play. Williams, Jones and Brink were joined by the Hull sisters, junior guards Lacie and Lexie. While Oregon won the quarter by 3, Stanford held Oregon without a field goal for nearly the last three minutes and forced three turnovers within the last two.
Williams caused the final turnover, a game-sealing travel with 2.5 seconds to play. She also had five assists and six turnovers of her own — Stanford swung from a season-low five against Oregon State to a season-high tying 18. But Oregon also had 18 turnovers in what was a very physical game.
“We noticed in the first half, you know, neither team shot a free throw,” Hull said. “So we knew it was gonna be a physical one. And I mean, they’re calling it the same for both teams for the most part. So we knew we had to play through things and keep working our hardest. And if we can’t get a call, we can’t get a call and just move on to the next play. I think this game especially is really getting us ready for tournament time, because games like this are going to happen.”
Hull scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, and benefited from the referees letting both teams play. No one appreciated the dearth of whistles more than freshman forward Cameron Brink, who played a career-high 36 minutes — 11 more than her previous most and double her season average. In her eighth game in the starting lineup, Brink notched 16 points, nine rebounds, four steals and Stanford’s lone block. She only got to the line once, but made both free throws for what became the go-ahead points.
“She’s a very skilled player, and I think she’s getting better every game,” Hull said. “For her to be able to play as much as she did and stay out of foul trouble — that’s what our team needs. And I think she thrives in this situation: she’s a very, very physical player. I think she likes that battle in the post, and we really need her for that.”
At times, Oregon went big with a lineup that included 6-foot-5 forward Nyara Sabally, 6-foot-4 forward Angela Dugalic and 6-foot-7 forward Sedona Prince. For the most part, Stanford held up. While the Ducks’ 41.8% shooting from the floor was the best for a Stanford opponent (including 10-for-21 from 3-point range), Prince shot 1-for-6, Dugalic 0-for-1 and Sabally 5-for-13 before she fouled out. Stanford even used a strong second-half effort to win the battle on the boards and outscored Oregon by 10 in the paint.
The Hull sisters were a big part of the defensive effort, as always. Lacie had one steal and Lexie had three, but their impact always extends beyond the boxscore. Their size and speed allow them to match up with anyone and their hustle makes them natural fits for a closing lineup.
“Oh, they make big-time plays,” Williams said. “They do things that don’t really show up on the score sheet — getting those fifty-fifty balls, boxing out and rebounding because they’re boxing out. So Lexie and Lacie — they motivate me to play hard every position, especially on the defensive end. And on the offensive end, I count on them to make big shots. Lexie made a big 3 that we needed. Lacie missed those free throws, but you know, I’d put her back on the free-throw line, and I know she’d knock both of them down. I have a lot of confidence in both of them.”
Stanford struggled to score in the second half, shooting just 37.9% from the field down from 55.6% in the first 20 minutes. For the game, just six players scored — whereas normally six players average at least 6.0 points.
“Personally, I’m not too worried about those dry spurts when we’re not scoring very much,” Hull said, “because hopefully, during those dry moments, the other team is dry too, because we’re playing really good defense.”
The ingredients are there for a championship team. Fifth-year guard Anna Wilson is also an elite defender, who in the flow of the game was held to just 19 minutes. Everyone has embraced their role and identity.
“I definitely think it’s our defense that’s going to carry us to win a national championship,” Hull said. “It’s something in basketball that we know we can count on.”
“Tara tells us to not be the nice girls from Stanford and to be out there and be aggressive and be physical,” Hull added. “If you come to our practice, you see everybody on the ground, we have bruises on our knees, we’re working hard, and we’re being physical.”
Unlike last time, where despite missing 3 players Stanford won by 7, this round went back and forth. Still, Stanford found a way to win its eighth-straight for the longest active streak in the Pac-12, and sit atop the conference.
“It was kind of a heavyweight fight,” VanDerveer said. “It wasn’t what either team probably is used to, but, you know, we’re excited to be in first place in the Pac-12 — and we really want to win a Pac-12 championship, and we had to come through Oregon for the chance to do it.”
With a Top-15 matchup, a nationally televised game and national media on the scene, everyone was looking forward to tournament implications. During halftime, the tournament committee released its Top-16 seeds if the tournament ended today. Stanford was ranked as a No. 1 seed and the third overall.
“We need games like this, close games,” Williams said. “This is a tournament atmosphere game. … We got film to watch, and we’re for sure going to learn from this.”
“I think we have a great shot if we can just stay healthy,” VanDerveer said.
Stanford welcomes Arizona State to the Farm Friday at 7 p.m. PT.