No. 1 Stanford (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) is showing that it can win in many, many ways. On the road in Pauley Pavilion — finishing up an extended road trip that began Dec. 2 and took the Cardinal to Las Vegas, Berkeley and Stockton before reaching Los Angeles — Stanford’s defense won out.
No. 10 UCLA (5-2, 3-2 Pac-12) had not been held below 63 points all season, but on Monday afternoon, the Bruins netted just 49 against Stanford’s vaunted defense. The Cardinal offense scraped together a season-low 61 to remain undefeated.
For the fifth time in its first seven games, Stanford held its opponent below 30% from the field — the Bruins made just 19-of-69 of their shots. Stanford has not lost the rebound battle this season and took care of business with a 51-37 advantage.
The win belongs firmly in the “gritty, not pretty” category.
“I liked our defense,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer.
VanDerveer then name-dropped fifth year guard Anna Wilson, sophomore forward Fran Belibi and sophomore guard Haley Jones for their defensive effort.
“I’m really happy with how our team played defense and how we boxed out and limited second chance points,” Belibi said. “I think the guards did a really fantastic job of keeping people contained and keeping people out of their comfort zone, and I think that really helped us posts.”
The defense stepped up when the offense faltered. Stanford committed a season-high 16 turnovers and a season-low 18 assists. In crunch time, Belibi and freshman forward Cameron Brink provided the lift.
Hanging on to a two-possession lead, junior guard Lexie Hull tipped a Bruin pass towards Belibi, who was off on the breakaway. Trailing behind the play, Wilson told Belibi “You’re good Fran.” Belibi rose up, and for the second time in eight days, dunked.
“I forgot she even dunked in that game,” VanDerveer said. “I wasn’t sure she was going to dunk on that one, but I’m glad she made it because we needed that basket.”
Belibi was not sure either. Stanford led just 45-40 with nine minutes remaining in the game and every bucket was badly needed.
“I definitely wasn’t thinking about time and score,” Belibi said. “If I had remembered how close the game was I probably would have just gotten ready for the layup just to make sure we got the points.”
Celebrating the dunk, Belibi put her finger to her lips. Like the dunk, the celebration was unplanned.
“It just kind of came out,” Belibi said. “It happened. I can’t take it back now, so we’re just gonna have to go with it. But I guess to the rest of the world: Stanford’s out here, and it’s not just for show.”
Brink was also urging Belibi on and went crazy following the play, having to remind herself to get back on defense.
“She brings so much energy for us, and that was a big momentum shift,” Brink said.
Against USC on Saturday, Brink fouled out after just 10 minutes in which she shot a perfect 5-for-5. Showing her improvement as she adjusts to the collegiate level and being “really mindful,” Brink did not foul for the entire second half against the Bruins, which allowed her to stay on the court and score eight fourth-quarter points.
“We talked about it at halftime,” VanDerveer said, “how important she is to our team and how it’s really important that she doesn’t foul.”
“We’re really confident in what she can bring to the table,” Belibi said. “I’m really proud of how she came out in the second half and really showed them who’s who.”
Brink’s day ended with 10 points and nine rebounds. Belibi finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Brink, Belibi and Jones all recorded three blocks.
On offense, however, Jones has had better days. The sophomore shot just 4-of-10 from the field, but Stanford needed every one of her 15 rebounds.
“She missed some shots that she’d ordinarily make,” VanDerveer said. “Haley is a great finisher, and we did not finish around the rim the way we need to.”
For the first time this season, VanDerveer shortened her rotation from 12 to 10 players. Still, it was too much for UCLA and head coach Cori Close, whose rotation has been cut two players short due to immigration policies and is just seven players deep.
Coming off a 27-point game to lead Stanford past USC, senior guard Kiana Williams suffered an injury to her left side during a collision in the game’s final minute with the outcome already decided. After the game, VanDerveer said that Williams is “fine” and added that she disagreed with the referees, who called an offensive foul on Williams on the play.
Stanford will travel back to a Northern California hotel for a five-day break. Due to COVID-19 protocol, the players will not be able to go home for the holidays. On Dec. 27, the team will head down to Arizona early in anticipation of a New Year’s Day game in Tucson.
“We just lean on each other,” Brink said. “We’re each other’s family right now.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.