Senior guard Kiana Williams had 52 people in attendance for her in the Alamodome in her native San Antonio. If her coach left her in long enough, she would have scored a point for every one of them.
Williams played in front of her parents for just the fourth time all season. In 23 minutes, she scored 20 points with three assists. Coming into the game, she needed just two three-pointers to pass Candice Wiggins ’08 for the all-time Stanford record. She finished with six makes on eleven attempts to end the night at an even 300.
Behind Williams, No. 1 Stanford (26-2, 19-2 Pac-12) made an opening round statement against No. 16 Utah Valley (13-7, 10-4 WAC) with a wire-to-wire 87-44 win.
Time was on Williams’ mind all day. First, it was checking the clock every hour. As 2 p.m. crawled to 3 p.m., she was thankful she had basketball to watch to distract her from the waiting game. By five, her thoughts drifted to the fact that she would normally be warming up by that point.
Eventually, 9 p.m. CT rolled around, and Stanford won the tip. Williams sank a three on the second trip down the court, and Stanford soon led 11-1. By the end of the first quarter, Stanford held a 20-point lead with nine different players scoring.
“I was at home and I had 50 plus people in the stands, I couldn’t wait to get out here and play,” Williams said. “Once we got out there and the ball tipped I was just out there having fun with my best friends.”
Williams told her teammates, “I want you guys to stay here in my hometown as long as possible,” and on Sunday night everyone contributed to that goal.
“We’re talking about some really, really good three-point shooters here at Stanford, and for Kiana to hold that record is really special and I’m really happy for her,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I’m glad that she gets to set the record here in San Antonio in front of her family and friends.”
The record itself was never the focus for Williams. While happy to take an in-rhythm three and help her team, she has never gunned for the record this year. Of course, when opponents leave her open, fail to close or cannot stay with her on the dribble stepback, she will make them pay.
“Anytime you’re in the same sentence as Stanford greats, such as Chiney [Ogwumike ’14], Nneka [Ogwumike ’12], Candice Wiggins [’08], any of the past alumni that have worn Stanford across their chest, it’s a humbling and great feeling,” Williams said. “I’m happy I have the record, but I know it’s going to be broken — hopefully Hannah Jump, my teammate, can go get it.”
Jump, the sophomore guard, was one of six other Cardinal to make a three-pointer in the opening round victory. In total, Stanford cashed in on 15 threes to continue the hot shooting from the Pac-12 Tournament. Jump scored 10 as one of four Stanford players to reach double digits and of two to do so off the bench.
The starters by no means struggled. All five played efficient basketball; they just were not needed for as many minutes as usual. Stanford still won the rebound battle, had 24 assists on 33 made field goals, turned the ball over fewer than 10 times, played fast with 17 fastbreak points and hit every other benchmark VanDerveer sets for the team. The coach experimented with lineup combinations and rested players in an attempt to avoid injury.
Frustrated with some sloppy play in the fourth quarter, the Hall of Fame head coach put freshman guard Jana VanGytenbeek on the court with the four non-Williams starters. In that rotation, fifth year guard Anna Wilson appeared to have rolled her ankle, but VanDerveer did not seem worried postgame.
“I didn’t like it when she went down like that at all, but I think she’s fine,” VanDerveer said. “She says she’s fine, so a little ice and a good night’s sleep and I think she’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Wilson left with two made 3-pointers on as many attempts, three rebounds and three assists. Her relentless play has become the norm and could be summed up by one play taking a charge up 40-11. As the primary defender on Maria Carvalho, Wilson limited the Wolverines guard to six points on 2-of-15 from the field.
VanDerveer even spread her minutes among her bigs with a fine touch. Sophomore forward Haley Jones showed off an all-around game with six points, seven assists and three rebounds in 15 minutes. Freshman forward Cameron Brink made her tournament debut in the starting lineup for the 15th straight game and played 16 minutes, contributing 10 points and five rebounds. The sophomores, Fran Belibi and Ashten Prechtel, scored six and seven points in 17 and 16 minutes, respectively, and both had five rebounds. Senior forward Alyssa Jerome played 15 minutes and had another five rebounds.
The one knock on the group was Brink’s three fouls. VanDerveer said that her interior defenders need to stay out of the air and play position defense.
The main threat from Utah Valley, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance, came from center Josie Williams. Of Utah Valley’s 22 free throws, higher than its season-average 17.1, Williams shot 10 and made seven en route to an 18-point outing.
The big play will remain a factor in the Tuesday matchup with No. 8 Oklahoma State. Earlier on Sunday, forward Natasha Mack led Oklahoma State over Wake Forest 84-61 with 27 points and 15 rebounds and is the nation’s leader in blocks.
“She’s a great player, they’re a great team,” Williams said. “They’re in the tournament for a reason, so she’s going to be a handful down there. We’re going to enjoy this win and get to scouting tomorrow, prepping tomorrow for Tuesday’s game.
“Hopefully we can put together a great 40 minutes to advance to the Sweet 16,” she added.
“Mack put on a show today, she was fantastic,” VanDerveer said. “I missed some of the game because I had to go to testing but she scores, she rebounds, you’ve got to really be able to defend her. But she’s not the only thing they have. They’re a very talented team and we’re going to have to play very well, and play better defense and not foul like we did tonight.”
Before Stanford even played basketball this week, the team made headlines when a tweet from sports performance coach Ali Kershner highlighting the blatant inequities in the weight room facilities went viral.
Both Williams and VanDerveer shared the sentiment that Kershner made the right decision that spurred the larger conversation about sexism at the NCAA Tournament. At the same time, both player and coach said that making a statement on the court was the team’s focus.
“It’s extremely important,” Williams said. “We have a one seed by our name for a reason. We don’t necessarily want to prove other people right, we want to prove ourselves right. We know how good of a team we are and I think we showed that tonight.”
“I’m extremely proud that our strength and conditioning coach Ali spoke up and said what she said and she kind of got the train on the tracks and made some stuff happen,” Williams said. “It was very unfortunate and it was kind of hurting to see that we didn’t have the same effort put in. We don’t need the exact same weight room as the men but there could have been a little bit more effort.
Extremely thankful that they made changes as quickly as they did but at the end of the day we’re here to play basketball,” Williams continued. If we have to lift some books or something we’ll make stuff happen because we’ve lived out of a hotel for 10 weeks, and we’ve lifted without a full weight room so we know how to adjust.”
“Ali did the right thing posting the disparity on the weight room, and I think that did kind of get the ball rolling a little bit with looking at maybe some of the other things,” VanDerveer said. “I think it is a big challenge to run a tournament in COVID. It’s a big challenge, period, but to run in COVID makes it doubly hard…What I point out was the leadership making some decisions that are clearly one way for the men and one way for the women.”
And I was most upset with the testing, because obviously I’m not as young as our players,” VanDerveer added. “Our players have handled things extremely well, and what we’ve really tried to focus on is not get bent out of shape about the swag bag, or [if] they have addressed the weight room, but to just come out and really focus on playing and playing well. The best thing that we can do is just come here and take care of business. And that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”
On Saturday, VanDerveer sent a strong statement.