Many did not expect much from Stanford’s women’s basketball team going into the Pac-12 tournament. Stanford’s nine regular-season losses was the team’s most since 2000-01. The Cardinal dropped their final regular season game to Oregon, one of the conference’s weakest teams, falling to 13-5 in the conference play.
The season had been filled with incredible highs, including wins against defending national champion UConn and top-ranked Oregon State. There were deep lows as well: losses against ranked and unranked teams, and often inconsistent play. In addition, with Oregon State and Arizona State securing the top two seeds in the tournament, many thought the championship would evade the Cardinal for the second year in a row.
But senior forward Taylor Greenfield ensured that that would not be the case.
After a stellar performance in the semifinals, Greenfield notched a career-high 20 points in a 61-60 win against Cal in the finals to lead the Stanford to its 11th Pac-12 tournament championship.
When all was said and done, it was a familiar sight – @stanfordwbb celebrating a title. http://t.co/7WNltIfYyb pic.twitter.com/kjWW0CumeL
— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) March 9, 2015
Despite averaging 3.7 points per game in the regular season and having gone 11 straight games without scoring in double figures before the tourney, Greenfield exploded over the weekend. She scored 17 points in the Cardinal’s win over No. 9 Arizona State in the semifinal match, including the go-ahead basket in the final seconds. And after her performance in the championship game, she earned the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award.
“[Head coach] Tara [VanDerveer] is always emphasizing how sometimes different people need to step up in different games,” said freshman forward Kaylee Johnson. “Taylor really showed that this weekend.”
Stanford’s win against the Bears can be broken down into the following: First and foremost, Greenfield had an outstanding game, going 8-for-11 from the field, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Lili Thompson’s 8 first-half points and senior point guard Amber Orrange’s 10 second-half points were clutch contributions in the Card’s fight for the lead and the win.
Cal’s Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray’s ineffective days certainly helped the Card, although Mercedes Jefflo, Courtney Range and Mikayla Cowling were able to compensate. Boyd left the game for 12 minutes in the first half after going down hard on the court, while Gray had a few early fouls that kept her on the bench.
The Card shot 52 percent in the second half, allowing them to gain the lead, and also shot 17 free throws, giving them opportunities to score free points. The team’s 11 steals — 5 from Orrange — tied a season-high and also led to 15 Stanford points.
Stanford didn’t clearly outplay the Bears. In fact, the Cardinal broke down in some places and will have to make some adjustments going into the NCAA tournament. Nonetheless, players and coaches said that a key factor in the team’s tournament success was its grit, intensity and mental toughness that allowed them to come through with wins in all three close games.
“We didn’t play necessarily a pretty game, but a gritty game,” said VanDerveer. “I’m really proud of our team.”
“We know that if we go out and play the way we need to and play with grit and play with heart that we can succeed, and [I’m] glad we got that done today,” Thompson said.
Losing 25-23 at the half, Stanford was in a familiar situation: This game marked the 12th time this season the Cardinal had been down at intermission. The team had come back from double-digit deficits to win four times before, but a talented Cal team — led by impressive performances from Jefflo and Range, who each had 9 at the break — threatened to crush the Card’s championship goals.
Two Greenfield 3-pointers early in the second half put Stanford up with 15:17 left to play. The teams traded leads and tied three times over the next 3 minutes before a free throw by Thompson put the Card ahead with 12:20 left to play, a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the game.
Senior point guard Amber Orrange had a quiet first half yet made some important plays down the stretch to help the Cardinal come out with the win. Two of these plays occurred midway through the second half: Orrange grabbed two steals and finished a layup at Stanford’s end — the first of which drew the foul and completed a 3-point play. Cal was able to keep Stanford’s lead within 5 at the most before Orrange converted on another 3-point play to give the Cardinal an 8-point lead of 55-47 with 4:46 left to play.
After that point, Stanford only scored 6 total points and needed to resist a Bears comeback. With 40 seconds left to play, Stanford went up by 6 at 59-53 after two free throws by Johnson. A layup by Cowling with 19 seconds left the Bears within 4, but they fouled and sent Thompson to the line, who scored 2 more points and gave Stanford another 6-point lead with 18 seconds to play.
Brittany Boyd was able to score a layup with 11 seconds remaining to make it a 4-point game once more. Orrange turned over the ball with 9 seconds left, giving the Bears another opportunity to score. While Jefflo made a 3 with one second remaining, it was not enough to come out with the win, securing the Card’s victory.
“This is as rewarding a championship as I’ve ever sat up here and felt because we definitely had to really scrap for it and battle,” VanDerveer said.
Greenfield’s 20 points were complemented by 13 from Thompson and 12 from Orrange. Johnson also led all players with 12 rebounds. Range, Cowling and Jefflo combined for 47 of Cal’s 60 points. Boyd and Reshanda Gray, who were Cal’s leading scorers coming into the championship game with a combined average of 31.4 points per game, scored 7 and 6, respectively.
Never gets old. #GoStanford pic.twitter.com/MeNnjQROlT — Stanford WBB (@StanfordWBB) March 9, 2015
With this tournament win, the Cardinal have secured a spot in the NCAA tournament and will likely host the first and second rounds. Because it beat top-ranked Oregon State and ASU and won the Pac-12 tournament, Stanford may also get a higher seeding than previously projected.
Stanford finds out who they will play in the tournament during the NCAA Selection Show on Mar. 16 at 4 p.m. on ESPN.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.