Renewing with Final Four play for the first time since 2014, Stanford women’s basketball brought the school chills during its playoff run, peaking with Erica McCall’s game-saving block with less than two seconds left on the clock against Notre Dame during the team’s final win of the season in the Elite Eight.
At the beginning of the 2016-2017 season, the Cardinal had set goals for themselves: win the Pac-12, get head coach Tara VanDerveer 1,000 career wins and go to the “Big Dance,” or NCAA tournament, once more. Despite a rocky start with former senior Karlie Samuelson suffering a wrist injury before the start of the season and former junior Kaylee Johnson missing a quarter of the season because of an injury, the team managed to accomplish those goals, and more.
On Feb. 3 against USC, the Cardinal completed the first of their season goals as they were able to make VanDerveer the second NCAA women’s coach with more than 1,000 career wins.
“I am so happy that I was able to be on the team that got her the 1,000th win,” Roberson says. “It’s crazy to think how many dubs that is.”
“Being able to do that as a senior was crazy. That’s a goal that we kind of set for each other, to get that for her, so it was nice being able to do that,” McCall says.
After hitting coach VanDerveer’s 1,000-win milestone, the Cardinal shifted focus to a Pac-12 championship during conference play. The Stanford squad ultimately fell short twice against Oregon State, both times by a mere three points. First falling at home in the school’s first double-overtime game, the Cardinal were also edged a second time by the Beavers, who rallied behind former senior Sydney Wiese to upset the Cardinal once again, this time in Corvallis.
Stanford was able to rebound and take its 12th conference championship during the Pac-12 tournament. Once again, the seniors proved to be the Cardinal backbone, combining for almost half of the Cardinal’s points, while the future leaders of the team also shone. Former sophomore Alana Smith and former junior Brittany McPhee stepped their games in the final half of the season, allowing the team to go even beyond their expectations.
In the title game, the Cardinal once again squared off against Oregon State but this time came away with the win. Smith’s 18 points helped the Cardinal climb back from a 13-point hole to defeat the Beavers 48-43.
“It’s super satisfying,” Erica McCall said. “It’s like tasting your favorite candy.”
The Cardinal have participated in The Big Dance for three straight decades, and last year was no exception. After overcoming a slow start against New Mexico State in the first round, the team cruised past Kansas State to reach its tenth consecutive Sweet 16.
In the Sweet 16 against Texas, monster performances by McCall and Samuelson uplifted the Cardinal, who overcame an eight-point deficit to beat the Longhorns. The Elite Eight game against Notre Dame had a similar flavor.
Down 47-31 during the third quarter, the Cardinal once again had their backs against the wall. This time, McPhee stepped up with a whooping 27 points, while Smith chipped in 15 points, including a go-ahead layup with 23 seconds left to cap-off the comeback. McCall stole the show moments later to seal the win, blocking Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale attempt at a game-winner.
Now, with McCall drafted 17th in the 2017 WNBA Draft by the Indiana Fever and Roberson and Samuelson electing to play pro ball overseas in Hungary and Italy, respectively, the team needs to once again re-adjust.
“We have high expectations for ourselves because of what we did last year,” said sophomore Mikaela Brewer this preseason. “But again it’s a new team, we don’t have our three superstar seniors from last year, and I think different people are going to step up and do big things.”
Contact Alexandre Bucquet at bucqueta ‘at’ stanford.edu