Women’s basketball claims second straight Pac-12 Tournament title

March 7, 2022, 12:29 a.m.

On Sunday afternoon, No. 2 Stanford women’s basketball (28-3, 16-0 Pac-12) defeated Utah (20-11, 8-7 Pac-12) 73-48 in Las Vegas to clinch its 15th Pac-12 Tournament title in program history. Behind big performances from All-Pac 12 selections senior guard Lexie Hull, junior guard Haley Jones and sophomore forward Cameron Brink, the Cardinal became Pac-12 Tournament champions for the second year in a row and extended their win streak to 20, the longest active streak in the nation.

Although the Cardinal were in the same spot last year, their fight for a Pac-12 Tournament championship looked different this time around. While last year’s bout was played in a nearly empty Michelob Ultra Arena due to COVID-19 protocols, this year’s game brought a crowd that created a true title-game environment.

Nonetheless, the defending national champions came prepared to play. Jones, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, got things started by hitting the first shot of the game. Utah guard Dru Gylten responded with a 3-pointer, but Brink scored three straight layups to sway momentum in Stanford’s favor.

After an exchange of baskets, the Cardinal began to get hot. Jones, who entered the day with only six 3-pointers under her belt on less than a 20% clip this season, hit two 3-pointers in as many minutes during a 13-3 run for Stanford. Sixth-year guard Anna Wilson concluded the scoring flurry with a coast-to-coast finish to extend the team’s early lead to 21-9.

In the second quarter, Jones sunk her third straight 3-point attempt. The Utes, however, would not go down without a fight. With Brink, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, on the bench for the remainder of the quarter after picking up her second foul early in the period, the Utah offense came alive.

An 8-0 run cut the Cardinal lead to just three, and consistent scoring from the Utes closing out the half enabled them to enter the break down just two, trailing 32-30.

Utah’s 6-for-8 shooting performance in the quarter, which included four 3-pointers, made it seem as if the Cardinal’s aspirations of repeating were in serious jeopardy.

“At halftime, things didn’t look good,” head coach Tara VanDerveer said.

But the break proved pivotal for the Cardinal, who used the time to regroup and prepare for the second half. “The team got together and talked about it and just said, ‘Hey, if we want to be the Pac-12 champions, we’ve got to play better,’” VanDerveer said.

After their visit to the locker room, the Cardinal looked like an entirely different team. Stanford’s offensive attack in the second half was shouldered by Brink and Hull, who scored 8 and 5 points in the third quarter, respectively.

While the team’s stars found their footing on the offensive end after a slow second quarter, it was the Cardinal’s defense — anchored by Pac-12 All-Defensive team selections Brink, Wilson and Hull — that made the difference.

Stanford held the Utes scoreless for four and a half minutes to extend their previously narrow lead to 11. Utah guard Brynna Maxwell scored her team’s final 9 points in the quarter, but it wasn’t enough to catch the Cardinal. Entering the final frame, Stanford led 52-43.

Even after a stellar defensive third quarter, the Cardinal’s defensive intensity ramped up in the final period. The Utes opened the quarter with a layup from forward Jenna Johnson to close the gap to 7 points, but their next field goal wouldn’t come until the 1:40 mark. By this time, Stanford led by 27 points.

Utter domination is the only way to describe the way Stanford finished the game. The Cardinal held Utah to just 2-of-15 shooting in the final period.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Cardinal were on top 73-48, clinching their second straight Pac-12 Tournament title. Stanford has not repeated as tournament champions since 2013.

Following the victory, Jones was named the Pac-12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player. She finished the day with a game-high 19 points. Brink, who played just five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and 18 minutes in the entire game, scored 16 points in her limited time on the court. Her performance granted her a position on the All-Tournament team. Wilson, the team’s lead perimeter defender who helped force 12 Utah turnovers, also earned a spot on the All-Tournament team.

With the Pac-12 Tournament behind them, the Cardinal now turn their attention to NCAAs — another tournament in which they hope to repeat as champions.

“I think we know what it takes to get there,” Jones said. “But we’re going to have to work twice as hard because everybody’s coming after us.”

The Cardinal are awaiting NCAA seeding on March 13. The first round of the tournament begins on March 18.

Zach Zafran was the Vol. 262 managing editor for the sports section. Now a senior staff writer, he has previous experience reporting and writing with SFGATE. You can find Zach around campus wearing swim trunks no matter the weather. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachZafran and contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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