Still dancing: Stanford advances to Final Four

March 27, 2022, 11:59 p.m.

When the Texas Longhorns visited Maples Pavilion on Nov. 14 for an early season matchup, they spoiled Stanford’s ring ceremony.

The Cardinal had planned a celebration after the Texas game to commemorate their 2021 NCAA Championship. While the postgame festivities — which included the championship ring distribution, guest speakers and a video from Kiana Williams ’21 — brought back fond memories of Stanford’s championship run, the excitement was dampened following Texas’ 61-56 win.

On Sunday night, No. 1 seed Stanford (32-3, 16-0 Pac-12) got its revenge over No. 2 Texas (29-7, 13-5 Big 12) in the Elite Eight. After a hard-fought battle, Stanford won 59-50 to advance to the Final Four and end Texas’ season.

“We knew tonight was going to be super physical, and it definitely was,” said junior guard Haley Jones postgame.

In that November matchup, Stanford got its first taste of the Longhorns’ physicality. Throughout the contest, Stanford struggled to handle Texas’ full-court pressure. It was the Cardinal’s second game of the season, and at the time, they were still trying to fill the absence of primary ball handler and All-American point guard Williams.

By the time the two teams met again in the Elite Eight, the Cardinal had adjusted to a backcourt without Williams. Sixth year Anna Wilson and senior guard Lacie Hull stepped up to assume key ball handling responsibilities. 

“You can’t take a possession off. You can’t take an inbound pass off because they’re right there for 40 minutes,” said senior guard Lexie Hull of Texas’ smothering defense. “[Wilson and Lacie Hull] definitely worked really, really hard tonight,” she continued.

Even with Wilson and Lacie Hull working hard to bring the ball up the floor without turnovers, Texas’ pressure still caused Stanford issues in the first quarter. After Lexie Hull made a jumper at the 4:48 mark, Stanford would go over four minutes without another field goal. This stretch included an 8-0 Longhorns run during which they took the lead.

As time ran down in the quarter, Jones handled the ball in an isolation situation. She crossed over and faded to her right, firing off a contested jump shot as time expired. She connected, evening the score at 14 at the end of quarter.

Stanford suffered a blow early in the second period when sophomore forward Cameron Brink committed her second personal foul of the game. Brink, who dealt with foul trouble and ultimately fouled out in the Sweet 16 against Maryland, would not return until the third quarter.

The Cardinal struggled to gain much separation in the second, and after some gritty defense, they led 30-27 entering halftime. 

When Brink returned to action in the third quarter, she played as if she were making up for lost time. The 6-foot-4 forward dominated the period, scoring 10 points while collecting three rebounds, three blocks and a steal. 

After head coach Tara VanDerveer switched the team’s defensive scheme to a zone, Brink and Jones combined to stop Texas from getting a single shot near the basket during a five-possession stretch. This stretch — which included four blocks and a steal — helped Stanford take a 45-40 lead heading into the fourth.

The fourth period, like the first three, was a back and forth fist fight between the two teams. With under three minutes remaining, Stanford held a narrow 52-50 lead.

When the Cardinal needed it most, Lexie Hull stepped up again, as she has done all tournament. In front of a raucous crowd in her hometown of Spokane, Wash., the veteran guard finished through hard contact for a 3-point play.

Hull’s big shot gave the Cardinal a five-point lead, which they would protect for the rest of the game. After some last-minute free throw shooting, Stanford emerged with a 59-50 victory.

For the third straight game, Lexie Hull led Stanford in scoring, this time with 20 points. Jones scored 18 points, going 10-for-11 from the free throw line. Brink tallied 10 points, six rebounds and six blocks.

But it was the team’s defense — particularly on Texas guard Rori Harmon — that allowed them to advance to the Final Four. 

In their first game against Texas, the Cardinal allowed Harmon to score 21 points. On Sunday, she scored 14 but was held to 6-for-18 shooting from the field.

“I think Rori’s a really special player,” VanDerveer said. “I thought everyone worked really hard defensively,” she said later.

After such a grueling game, the Cardinal took some time to relax and enjoy themselves after the buzzer sounded. Coach VanDerveer kept her promise, and the Hull sisters cut down the nets in their hometown Spokane Arena during the regional championship celebration. Later, the entire team, including VanDerveer, performed a rendition of the electric slide for the crowd.

With its win, Stanford advances to its 15th Final Four in program history. Depending on the result of tomorrow night’s Elite Eight game, the Cardinal will either play No. 1 seed NC State (32-3, 17-1 ACC) or No. 2 UConn (28-5, 16-1 Big East) in Minneapolis on Friday.

Gavin McDonell is a former managing editor of the sports section. He is a junior from San Francisco, California who is studying Economics and Mathematics. His rooting interests include the San Francisco Giants, the Golden State Warriors, Max Homa and of course, the Stanford Cardinal. Contact him at gmcdonell 'at'

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