Brilliant Lepolo beats Bluejays: Women’s basketball wins final non-conference game

Dec. 21, 2022, 5:26 p.m.

No. 2 Stanford women’s basketball (12-1, 0-0 Pac-12) outlasted No. 21 Creighton (8-3, 2-1 Big East) 72-59 in a pulsating game at Maples Pavilion on Tuesday night. In just its third game against ranked opposition all season, the Cardinal looked to have an unassailable lead, but came under intense pressure in the fourth quarter, ultimately closing out the win in a strong display.

Impressive freshman guard Talana Lepolo — who had a season-high 17 points — opened the scoring with a 3-pointer. The Bluejays responded with a 3-pointer of their own and displayed solid defense afterwards, although sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen showed off her strength by scoring from under the basket while surrounded by defenders.

After a series of back-and-forth possessions, Stanford surged ahead courtesy of another Lepolo three, following a huge block by junior forward Cameron Brink. Lepolo had three 3-pointers in the opening five minutes of the contest.

“We all have the confidence in her to shoot it,” said senior guard Haley Jones. “I said ‘Shoot the damn ball!’…and she did,” remarked Jones in jest.

Despite amassing a 17-point lead thanks to a 10-0 run at the end of the quarter, Stanford only made one substitution in the opening period. But that one change reaped immediate reward, as sophomore guard Elena Bosgana ended the quarter in emphatic fashion with a 3-pointer in the dying seconds. The Cardinal led 27-10 after the first.

In the second quarter, Creighton demonstrated its top-25 credentials with more solid defense and quick shooting. Although the Bluejays were largely frustrated and confined to 3-point attempts, they stayed within striking distance of the Cardinal.

After that brief passage where Stanford looked second-best, Jones expertly found senior forward Fran Belibi with a thread of the needle pass through traffic to extend Stanford’s lead to 15. Stanford committed its fourth team foul as the half drew to a close, so head coach Tara VanDerveer restored many of her starters in the hopes of tightening the defense. Then, Iriafen drew two shooting fouls in quick succession before Stanford itself entered the bonus and grew its lead from the line. The half ended with Stanford up 44-30.

The second half started just as the first did, with Lepolo sinking a 3-pointer.

“I’m glad Talana packed her three-baller tonight.” VanDerveer said. “That was really exciting to see her knock down that shot.”

Jones continued her strong display, deftly spinning to evade her marker before scoring from just inside the 3-point line. Jones finished the night with a team-high 24 basket involvements, 16 points and eight assists.

Creighton rallied and scored with a swift passing move after Iriafen was substituted for her third personal foul. Lepolo then saw a wide open 3-point attempt roll around the rim but fall out, as Stanford seemingly entered a brief rut. But Jones once more provided some magic with a great assist for Jump, who darted to the basket and converted a lay-up.

Then, with the shot clock dropping below five seconds, Lepolo came up with her own highlight play, fizzing a ball into Jones, who finished with a behind-the-back reverse layup, sending a roar around Maples.

“The pass that Talana had to Haley was fantastic,” VanDerveer said. “Those two played really well together.”

After a dominant quarter in which the Bluejays were held to just eight points, Stanford led 58-38.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Iriafen scored from under the basket as the shot clock was expiring, triggering another cheer from the lively winter crowd. As the Cardinal’s lead grew, they showed off the talent of their underclassmen, with freshman center Lauren Betts getting into the game and producing a good assist for sophomore forward Brooke Demetre.

However, Creighton clawed its way back into the game, as eight unanswered points cut the deficit to 11. Stanford restored its starters to the court in the hopes of settling the nerves and Iriafen quickly drew a foul and converted both free throws to break the three and a half minute scoring drought. 

Brink then effectively ended the contest with another crucial block, an offensive rebound, and a layup in quick succession. Brink had a double-double for the third consecutive game, contributing sixteen rebounds to go with her 14 points.

The game ended in uncontroversial fashion as the Cardinal survived a late comeback attempt, prevailing 72-59. The win concluded the Cardinal’s non-conference games, in which they were nearly perfect, losing just one — to No. 1 South Carolina. The team can now look ahead to the upcoming Pac-12 season, which commences on Friday, when Stanford hosts California (9-2, 0-0 Pac-12).

Tip off is set for 12 p.m. PT at Maples Pavilion.

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