Stanford’s bench outscored the entire USC team. The Michelob ULTRA Arena scoreboard could have read Stanford Bench 54 – USC 53 and Stanford still would have won. That is what the Pac-12’s top seed is working with.
There are a lot of ways to look at No. 4 Stanford’s (23-2, 20-2 Pac-12) quarterfinal victory over eighth-seeded USC (11-12, 8-11 Pac-12), but all of them involve domination by the Cardinal. With the starters’ points included, Stanford won 92-53. Stanford just had too many weapons on Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas.
“We’ve got weapons. We’ve got inside game and outside game,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think it was fun to be able to spread it around.”
The defense led the way early — USC scored five first quarter points and Stanford’s fifth-year guard Anna Wilson blanketed USC’s top scorer Endyia Rogers. Stanford held USC to 28.6% from the field — the 10th time a Stanford opponent failed to clear 30%.
“I loved our balance. I really loved our defense coming out,” VanDerveer said. “We ran hard. We play in a very tough conference, and I think the fact that we’ve had a lot of these games got us ready for this. We’re really excited to be playing tomorrow night.”
Then the three-pointer started falling and it never stopped. Stanford connected on a season-high 15 three-pointers to tie a tournament record and fall one short of the all-time program record. Sophomore guard Hannah Jump paced the group with four, and 10 of the made threes came from the bench.
Sixth Player of the Year junior guard Lacie Hull scored 10 points on a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. The junior guard checked into the game in the first quarter to mark her return from a two-game absence. Hull and her sister junior guard Lexie Hull, who hit two threes of her own, also took shifts guarding Rogers. It was a team effort on both sides of the ball.
Five more players made a three-pointer and the game’s predominant question was who would be next. Stanford made 10 from beyond the arc before USC made its first. The Trojans had their best shooting game (65.2%) and three-point shooting game (50.0%) a day prior against Arizona State. Playing Stanford was something else entirely.
Despite not playing or practicing in the arena, Stanford’s shots fell. VanDerveer noted that differences in the postseason, like playing in a big arena or using a different ball, can have an effect, but Stanford was not bothered.
Also unbothered was sophomore Haley Jones, a top-five finalist for the 2021 Cheryl Miller Small Forward of the Year Award, who played in her first Pac-12 Tournament game. Jones recorded her sixth career double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.
Freshman forward Cameron Brink tallied nine points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes. Both of her classmates, guards Agnes Emma-Nnopu and Jana Van Gytenbeek, earned eight and 17 minutes respectively from VanDerveer to grow accustomed to the tournament lights and playing in front of fans for the first time in their collegiate careers. The Pac-12 invited families of players to the games in Las Vegas.
“It’s fun when different people step up, especially in a tournament,” VanDerveer said. “For our young players to play in person for the first time in front of their parents, I think they really wanted to play well.”
After Stanford jumped out to a 23-5 first-quarter lead, there was ample time to incorporate everyone into the game. As the lead ballooned to 43-15 by halftime, there were essentially 20 minutes of garbage time for Stanford to learn as it played. For VanDerveer, that has been crucial all year long. To avoid injury and manage the hectic schedule, the team does not scrimmage much. The games are the only time Stanford is going full speed.
Off the bench, sophomore forward Ashten Prechtel had her first double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-5 2020 Sixth Player of the Year contributed not only to Stanford’s +21 rebound margin but also had two of her team’s 21 assists.
“Tonight shows a lot about the depth of our team,” Prechtel said. “It will definitely help keep some of the players that got high minutes fresh. So it’s big for us, and it helps us moving forward into the rest of this tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”
Senior forward Alyssa Jerome scored seven in just nine minutes, while sophomore forward Fran Belibi had eight points in 12 minutes.
“It just points to the unselfishness of this team,” VanDerveer said. “People really want to move the ball and share the ball and are just really excited for when their teammates do well. They’re excited for each other. That was really fun.”
If there is one player who did not get hot, it was senior guard Kiana Williams. Though she shot 1-for-6, she did hit a three-pointer to extend her streak of games with a made three-pointer to 15 and also had a hand in two assists.
“Our team is, you know, just like anyone,” VanDerveer said. “If they’re feeling confident, that can spill over to how well you play and I think our team is feeling confident. They’re excited that we won the regular season and want to go after the automatic bid and the Pac-12 Championship tournament…”
“We just have some really good leaders on our team with Kiana and Anna and Alyssa and very unselfish players, and they understand that it’s a grind,” VanDerveer added. “If you can play three games in three days or four days, we’re going to need everybody. So this was a great start.”
Stanford will face fifth-seeded Oregon State (11-6, 7-6 Pac-12) Friday at 5 p.m. PT. The Beavers are coming off their second win over in-state rival Oregon in five days.
VanDerveer invited Oregon State to make the trip to the Farm for the second game in the regular season series, but the Beavers never accepted the opportunity. After a signature win in the first matchup, Stanford will play for a spot in the championship game.
“The fact that we only played Oregon State once I think in some ways maybe — I don’t know, like if you beat a team twice and you had some close games, I think that that maybe gives a team a little bit of advantage,” VanDerveer said. “We’re going to have to play well. We know that. They have — [head coach] Scott [Rueck] does a great job with his team. They shoot the ball very well and they’ve got a great inside game. It’s going to be a battle. Let’s see what we can do.”