No. 4 Stanford women’s basketball (18-2, 6-1 Pac-12) bounced back from its first Pac-12 loss of the season with a hard-fought 74-62 win over No. 8 Utah (15-2, 5-2 Pac-12) at Maples Pavilion on Friday night.
In warmups, the Cardinal wore shirts with the powerful message, “Humans > Athletes” to signify the importance of recognizing that athletes are more than just the sport they play, following Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s horrifying on-field cardiac arrest in an NFL game on Jan 2.
“[The shirts] were really special to our team,” explained senior guard Haley Jones. “We are elite athletes, but it’s not who we are; we are humans first.”
Junior guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu started in place of sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen as head coach Tara VanDerveer deployed a smaller lineup at the outset. Iriafen, despite playing a huge role all season, was limited to one minute of playing time, with VanDerveer citing difficult matchups as the reason for her exclusion.
“Kiki had two quick fouls,” VanDerveer said. “Sometimes it’s just the feel of the game, of what you need.”
Stanford looked to start the game quickly in the hopes of putting Sunday’s timid display behind them. However, the Utes jumped out to a 10-2 lead and had the Cardinal temporarily reeling, as Iriafen surrendered two quick fouls and was replaced. Although senior guard Hannah Jump executed a timely 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five and bring the Maples crowd to its feet, the early moments of the game were marred by an injury to freshman guard Talana Lepolo. She fell awkwardly while defending under the basket and limped off to the locker room to undergo treatment. She returned to the bench but did not see any further action after being replaced by freshman guard Indya Nivar.
“She turned her ankle a little bit so hopefully she’ll be alright,” VanDerveer said after the game. “She was happy for Indya [Nivar].”
Stanford displayed its resiliency as it clawed its way back into the contest without its starting point guard. Jump found herself open at the edge of the key to score, before firing in another 3-pointer after two quick offensive rebounds by Jones. Junior forward Cameron Brink then gave Stanford its first lead of the night after she drew a foul and converted both free throws. While the brilliant trio of Jump, Jones and Brink were delivering early, Nivar — who played more than 20 minutes in replace of Lepolo — produced an assured display.
“Indya Nivar came in and did a fabulous job for our team, running the offense [and] playing great defense,” VanDerveer said.
The first quarter remained extremely tight as the Utes continued to chase Stanford’s lead. Jump, after a back-door feed by Jones, finished a layup to notch her twelfth point of the first quarter. On defense, Stanford looked much improved from the opening minutes as Jones and Brink each delivered huge blocks under the basket. But the Cardinal’s fifth foul of the quarter sent Utah to the line, where they converted both to leave Stanford’s lead at two as the first quarter ended 24-22.
In the second quarter, Stanford used its physicality and discipline to avoid fouling to grow its lead. Brink illustrated her willingness to engage in physical battles — wrestling the ball away from three players before drawing a shooting foul under the basket. Stanford entered the bonus within three minutes of the quarter, with some decisions drawing the ire of Utah head coach Lynne Roberts, who was seen gesticulating furiously to the officiating crew for several minutes. Stanford, though, remained composed as they were able to retain the ball and create scoring opportunities.
Perhaps owing to fatigue, Utah — defensively sound for so long — allowed Jones to waltz into the key and score an easy jumper, extending the Cardinal lead to nine and prompting the Utes to call a timeout and regroup. To their credit, Utah turned things around in the fouls department, entering the bonus themselves just a few minutes later and shooting 100% from the line in the first half, compared to Stanford’s 57%.
However, Brink continued to dominate and overtook Jump for the Stanford-high with 13 points. After sophomore guard Jzaniya Harriel scored a three, Brink swatted away a reverse layup attempt to prevent the Utes from putting together a scoring streak. The Cardinal ended the half up 41-32.
“Hell knows no fury like Tara [VanDerveer] after a loss,” Roberts joked after the game.
Utah stormed back and cut the lead to five, setting up a tense final 10 minutes. One highlight play for the Cardinal was a euro step by Nivar, which prompted a loud cheer from the home crowd. Jones also continued to punish the Utes, scoring an and-one after a smart move on the in-bound. A Utes 3-pointer cut Stanford’s lead to just 3 but Jones’ stellar night continued as she scored to leave the game in the balance at 55-50 after 3 quarters.
In the fourth, Utah seemed to run out of steam, as Stanford managed the game expertly. For long spells of the game — since early in the second quarter — Stanford’s 3-point shooting opportunities were nullified well by Utah. But as fatigue set in, Brink was left with a wide-open attempt, which she deposited in style, leading Maples to erupt as Stanford restored its 10-point lead.
The mood at the end of the game was slightly dampened as Brink fouled out. VanDerveer expressed some initial frustration before offering a high five in support of Brink, who otherwise had an incredible game with a 25-point double-double to complement her defensive specialty: 3 more highlight-reel blocks. She took her place on the bench and watched as Jones sealed the win with a reverse layup. The game ended 74-62 after the Utes made the buzzer-beater shot from deep.
Some skepticism arose following Stanford’s loss to USC on Sunday as to whether the Cardinal have title-winning credentials this season. But their response against a ranked foe was extremely impressive, especially considering that Lepolo and Iriafen — two staple starters — were essentially uninvolved.
“We felt like our backs were against the wall,” VanDerveer said. “Our team had something to prove to ourselves.”
The Cardinal have an extremely quick turnaround before their next game, so they will hope that Lepolo is not suffering from anything too serious. Meanwhile, Iriafen’s absence tonight could pay dividends as she will be fresh and ready to go for next game.
Next up at Maples Pavillion, Stanford faces No. 24 Colorado (15-3, 6-1 Pac-12) at 2 p.m. PT on Sunday.