Golden Start: Stanford women’s basketball dispatches Cal in Pac-12 Opener

Dec. 24, 2022, 8:17 a.m.

No. 2 Stanford (13-1, 1-0 Pac-12) began Pac-12 play with an impressive 90-69 win over California (9-3, 0-1 Pac-12) at Maples Pavilion.

Stanford had not lost its opening Pac-12 game since 1994, when it lost to Washington in the then-Pac-10 opener, and Friday’s ruthless performance ensured that their impressive streak endures. Senior guard Haley Jones had a double-double to lead the team and she was well supported by the Cardinal’s deep and talented bench.

The Pac-12 opener against Bay Area rival Cal drew a lively crowd, which was noticeably loud from the minute the lineups were announced. Stanford sought to feed off the energy with a quick start – sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen drew a shooting foul and converted both to open the game’s scoring, as she so often has done this season.

“It’s really fun when the fans are into the game, we love to see it,” said senior forward Ashten Prechtel. “Our energy always starts with our bench [and] to see that reflected in the crowd is really nice,” added senior forward Fran Belibi.

The Golden Bears brought a similar intensity at the game’s outset, setting a smart screen, winning an offensive rebound and scoring a 3-pointer. But Stanford’s offense appeared unrelenting in the opening minutes as they scored from each of their first four possessions – the highlight of which was a 3-pointer by junior forward Cameron Brink.

Both teams displayed grit and played with a high tempo in the opening quarter, fuelled by the crowd and the hopes of beginning the Pac-12 season with a win. Brink’s matchup with impressive Cal senior forward Evelien Schipholt was particularly intriguing as the two battled throughout the game for every ball in the paint, exchanging shots and rebounds in a thrilling contest.

Stanford edged ahead of Cal thanks to Jones’ eight consecutive points, before Iriafen’s conversion on a fast break forced Cal to call a timeout. Solid defense from both sides slowed the initial flood of scoring, but the Cardinal did not let up for long, as Iriafen forced another foul from under the basket and scored one of her free throws.

Stanford’s height advantage paid dividends as it continued to amass offensive rebounds, 16 to Cal’s eight. This allowed the Cardinal to exert near constant pressure on the Bears as the quarter progressed. Senior guard Hannah Jump took two defenders out of the game with a great bounce pass to Belibi, who had a simple finish. Then, freshman guard Talana Lepolo scored her first points of the day to give Stanford a 10-point cushion.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer’s substitutions paid dividends as Belibi blocked a 3-point attempt and junior guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu secured an offensive rebound, ensuring that Stanford retained the ball and forced Cal to defend once more.

Jones showed off her versatility by carrying the ball and then taking up a forward’s position in the key and fending off the defender to finish another layup, giving her 12 points in the quarter. While Cal tried to match the intensity of the Cardinal, Stanford utilized its substitutes to great effect and maintained its relentless approach to grow its lead to 28-15 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Stanford continued to dominate, forcing a travel by Cal before Jump – after an excellent cross-court passing sequence – converted her first 3-pointer of the day. It took nearly three and a half minutes before the Golden Bears scored their next basket, a 3-pointer after a rare offensive rebound.

After an injury to a Cal player, the game resumed and Stanford continued its great play from the bench when Prechtel blocked and recovered a layup attempt, before scoring at the other end. Then, freshman center Lauren Betts scored three consecutive baskets, prompting huge cheers from a Maples crowd eager to catch a glimpse of the imposing No. 1 recruit. Finally, sophomore guard Elena Bosgana drove to the basket, spun away from a defender and finished, before intercepting a pass at midcourt and scoring on the fast break to put Stanford up by 21.

“She’s a very special player and she’s very hard to guard,” VanDerveer said about Betts. “She is instant offense.”

Cal clawed its way back into the contest with an and-one in its last possession of the half before Jones’ deep try at the buzzer came agonizingly close, bouncing off the rim and out. The half ended 47-29 in Stanford’s favor.

The second half saw Stanford continue to play solid basketball as VanDerveer rotated effectively and the player’s refused to let up offensively, preventing Cal from finding a way back into the game. Jump – who went 0-5 on 3-point attempts on Tuesday against Creighton – started to heat up, scoring four in the second half. Cal’s Schipholt continued to be a hassle, but Prechtel’s great block denied her a basket.

Jones then delivered her seemingly weekly highlight reel play, driving from half-court to the basket and converting the layup despite getting fouled in the process. Minutes later, Jones rejected a shot attempt from Cal’s talented senior guard Leilani Mcintosh. The third quarter ended 68-48 after a back-and-forth run of scoring from both teams.

The fourth quarter started all for Stanford, as they outscored Cal 14-5 in the opening five minutes. Betts showed great strength in the paint and gained valuable minutes to prepare her for the rest of conference play. Noticeably, Stanford utilized its entire bench as freshman guard Lauren Green came on in the final minutes. Sophomore guard Jzaniya Harriel also played and carried the ball while Stanford rested its starters.

“We don’t have [our rotation] figured out yet,” said VanDerveer. “[So] this makes it happier for us, that everyone got a chance to get into the game.”

As time dwindled, Cal converted a few consolation baskets and the game ended in undramatic fashion, with a final score of 90-69. The players will now enjoy four days off, before regrouping in anticipation of their next matchup, against Arizona State (7-4, 0-0 Pac-12).

The Sun Devils come to Maples Pavilion on Saturday Dec 31, with tipoff set for 6 p.m. PT.

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