Stanford women’s basketball (29-3, 16-0 Pac-12) opened NCAA Tournament play with a 78-37 victory over Montana State (22-13, 14-6 Big Sky) Friday night. The No. 1-seeded Cardinal held the No. 16-seeded Bobcats scoreless in the first quarter and used their physical advantage to dominate on both ends of the court.
Because the first two rounds of the Women’s March Madness Tournament are played at the home site of the top 16 seeds, Stanford benefitted from playing in front of a raucous Maples Pavilion crowd full of supporters that were unable to watch the team’s championship run last year because of COVID-19 protocols.
Behind this support, the Cardinal jumped out to a 23-0 lead thanks to stifling defense that forced the Bobcats to a 0-for-21 start from the field.
“We wanted to establish ourselves at the defensive end,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “I think it’s really important for our team to come out and put the hammer down early, and we did.”
Montana State finally got themselves on the board with 9:15 remaining in the second quarter after a layup from forward Taylor Janssen, but Stanford’s senior guard Lexie Hull responded with a layup just seconds later.
It appeared as though the Bobcats were finding their footing, knocking down three straight shot attempts after a layup from their leading scorer guard Darian White and another bucket from Janssen. But any sort of momentum they held left the building when Stanford scored three straight baskets.
The third bucket of the run came after junior forward Fran Belibi blocked a 3-point attempt, took the ball down the court herself and threw down a thunderous drunk with a defender at her side. The entire stadium, Stanford fans and Montana State fans alike, went into pandemonium following the high-flying junior’s third dunk of her career and her first in a game at Maples Pavilion.
“I’ve dunked at Maples multiple times in warmups,” Belibi said. “But to be able to do it in a game and to have all those fans with us and to hear the crowd…just to hear how loud it was in there, that was definitely a highlight.”
Janssen scored again for Montana State on the ensuing possession, but the energy in the arena remained palpable for the remainder of the half. A pair of scores from the Bobcats paired with continued scoring from sophomore forward Cameron Brink and junior guards Haley Jones and Hannah Jump left the score at 41-12 entering halftime, in favor of the Cardinal.
In the third quarter, Stanford extended its lead behind a well-rounded offense attack. Eight different Cardinal players put points on the board, including Jump, who hit two straight attempts from behind the arc. She finished the day with five 3-pointers and a game-high 15-point performance.
With the Cardinal holding a 63-21 lead entering the final period, VanDerveer rested her starters, enabling members of the bench to get some run. Freshman forward Kiki Iriafen paced the team in scoring for the quarter with six points and three rebounds.
Stanford ultimately took down the Big Sky champions 78-37, holding White, a unanimous First Team All-Big Sky selection, to just six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
In addition to Jump, Hull, Brink and Belibi all cracked double-digit scoring. Belibi and Brink, who was named an AP Third Team All-American this week, pulled down 13 and 11 rebounds, respectively. Stanford out-rebounded Montana State 56-33 for the game, a wide margin that can be largely attributed to the number of missed shots that the Bobcats put up.
Up next in the second round, the Cardinal will face off against No. 8 seed Kansas (21-9, 11-7 Big 12) on Sunday. The Jayhawks opened their tournament play with a 77-58 win over No. 9 seed Georgia Tech (21-11, 11-7 ACC).
“I think it’s going to be a very challenging game for us,” VanDerveer said. “They’ve got inside game, outside game, they shoot the three ball…They don’t get discouraged. They keep playing hard. So we’ll be challenged.”
Tip-off versus Kansas is slated for 6 p.m. PT on Sunday in Maples Pavilion.