Top-seeded No. 2 Stanford (27-3, 16-0 Pac-12) beat fifth-seed Colorado (22-8, 9-7 Pac-12) in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals by a score of 71-45. This win marks head coach Tara Vanderveer’s 1000th win at Stanford.
“I wasn’t thinking about it at all,” Vanderveer said in reference to her milestone. “But some little birdie brought that up in the locker room to me. It’s a lot of games. And I love where I work. And I’m really – I love coaching this team.”
To start the game, the first quarter brought an even scoring affair. Both teams started with fairly inconsistent shooting. After its first basket, Stanford struggled during the middle of the quarter, going on a scoring drought for three minutes. The Cardinal ended the cold spell with a Hull-to-Hull assist and 3-pointer, where senior point guard Lexie Hull made the first triple of the game off a pass from her twin, senior guard Lacie Hull.
After this score, the Cardinal were matched for almost every score. Only 30 seconds passed between sophomore forward Cameron Brink’s layup and an answer from the Buffaloes. After Brink hit her second shot from in the paint, Colorado proceeded to make another similar shot just 17 seconds later. With a score from junior forward Francesca Belibi to close the quarter, Stanford was on top 11-10.
Although riddled by cold shooting in the first period, the Cardinal caught fire in the second quarter. After a three-pointer by sixth-year guard Anna Wilson, tempers flared when Brink accidentally elbowed Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed. Hollingshed took exception to this and proceeded to palm Brink in the face. Brink responded by throwing the basketball at her, resulting in the refs assessing technical fouls to both.
Despite the technical foul, which isn’t typically well-received by a head coach, the hall of fame coach on Stanford’s sideline felt otherwise. “It may have been a little bit of a turning point,” Vanderveer said.
The First-Team All-Pac 12 selection involved felt the same way: “I just thought it was a heated moment,” Brink said. “But…we use it as fuel.”
Stanford proceeded to go on a three-minute run of dominance where they outscored Colorado 12-6, capped off by a 3-pointer by Brink. During the run, the defense was stellar, causing multiple turnovers off blocks, steals and exceptional pressure. In response, Colorado head coach JR Payne was forced to call a timeout
This break was effective in slowing down Stanford, but not for long; with 35 seconds left, junior forward Ashten Prechtel knocked down a shot from deep beyond the arc. Following this and a team-effort defensive stop, junior guard Haley Jones drew a foul and made both of her shots from the charity stripe. After the free throws, the half ended with Stanford on top 33-18.
The first half was defined by Brink’s play. Brink, recently named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, scored 14 points in the first two periods, nearly tripling the next highest Cardinal scorer. In addition to her scoring output, she accrued five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Partly thanks to Brink’s performance, Colorado shot just 8-of-29 from the field in comparison to Stanford’s 12-of-25 effort.
After a dominant second-quarter performance, Stanford started the third quarter ice-cold. For the first five minutes of the second half, the Cardinal were outscored 10-4, a run in which they missed multiple shots and committed many fouls. This stretch was finally broken with a 3-pointer from Jones. The triple sparked an 11-5 Stanford run that concluded with a Wilson 3-pointer to end the quarter, leaving the Cardinal on top, 53-37.
Stanford’s defense was on full display in the fourth quarter, only allowing eight points and outrebounding Colorado 15-11. Offensively, Jones matched the Buffaloes’ scoring output, putting up eight points herself. After a layup by Lacie Hull extended the Cardinal lead to 24 points, Vanderveer took her starters out of the game to rest for the Pac-12 Championship game. When the final buzzer rang, Stanford finished on top 71-45.
Jones paced the team with 17 points, as well as four rebounds and three assists — a performance that adds to her case for National Player of the Year. Following Jones, Brink and Wilson amassed 14 and 12 points, respectively. Brink also led the team with nine rebounds.
“Cam was unstoppable inside,” Vanderveer said. “She’s really playing well. She is so strong on the block. She can face up and hit the three. Runs the floor, really working hard defensively.”
Riding a 19-game win streak, the entire team has a positive outlook on the future games.
“What I like about our team is not the ‘what we don’t have,’ the glass half empty, but what is so full,” Vanderveer said. “And what’s full is the fact that they’re very unselfish and they’re not about their own thing. They are about each other.”
To conclude the tournament, Stanford will play sixth-seeded Utah (22-10, 13-7 Pac-12) in the Pac-12 Championship final.
Tip-off is slated for 3 p.m. PT in Las Vegas.