Funky finish: Women’s basketball pulls out victory in the final minutes on Senior Day

Feb. 21, 2023, 9:22 a.m.

No. 3 Stanford women’s basketball (26-3, 14-2 Pac-12) weathered a third-quarter onslaught and fought back to overcome No. 17 UCLA (21-7, 10-6 Pac-12) 71-66 in a thriller at Maples Pavilion. On Senior Night, graduating senior guard Haley Jones led the team to victory with 10 fourth-quarter points on an emotional night in which the home crowd celebrated the ‘Funky Four’: forward Ashten Prechtel, forward Fran Belibi, guard Hannah Jump and Jones. 

The first quarter began with a pair of offensive lapses as junior forward Cameron Brink turned over the ball before sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen’s uncharacteristically timid pass was intercepted. After the Bruins delivered the first points of the night, freshman guard Talana Lepolo found Brink under the basket with a long pass down-court. Brink drew the foul and scored both — the first of her Stanford-record 15 made free throws — to tie the game. The Bruins were shooting poorly in their opening possessions and allowed Stanford the opportunity to amass a lead. 

As both teams struggled to click offensively amidst a slew of missed shots, head coach Tara VanDerveer made a triple substitution with freshman guard Indya Nivar, freshman center Lauren Betts and sophomore forward Brooke Demetre all checking in. Betts’ introduction brought a much-needed injection of physicality and energy which quickly yielded points for the Cardinal. The six-foot-seven former number one recruit was too strong for her opponent, outmuscling her and scoring from within the key. Although Betts was not as effective on the defensive end of the court, she adjusted on the next possession to prevent a score, before once more bullying her defender and scoring the basket while drawing a foul. 

“Lauren Betts came in,” VanDerveer said. “And played really well for us.”

Soon after, Demetre scored the Cardinal’s first 3-pointer of the game, prompting a large cheer from the home crowd. In the final minute of the quarter, Lepolo was left with too much space from deep and duly hit the triple. UCLA was unable to make their final possession count and Jones secured the ball with seven seconds left. She patiently dribbled out to the edge of the key, before driving in, checking, spinning and scoring as the clock expired. The first quarter ended 19-11 in Stanford’s favor. Mid-quarter adjustments, particularly the introduction of Betts, proved instrumental as Stanford began to develop a lead after a tight opening few minutes. 

Stanford exploded out of the blocks to start the second quarter, building its first double-digit lead and forcing a Bruins timeout in just 90 seconds. Jones scored two baskets before fellow senior Belibi emphatically blocked a shot. After the timeout, the Bruins sustained a long possession but missed four shots as it failed to cut into Stanford’s lead. Through five minutes of the quarter, UCLA was limited to just one field goal and six total points, owing to a combination of poor shooting and strong Cardinal defense. Offensively, Lepolo delivered with her second and third 3-pointers in quick succession, the latter of which was set up by a great screen set by Iriafen. The first half ended with Stanford up 39-26. 

In the second half, the Bruins put much more pressure on the Cardinal and utilized the deep shot to tremendous effect to erase its deficit. The third quarter started with an 8-0 UCLA run, as a stifling full-court press led to Lepolo’s pass getting away and allowing the Bruins to score from deep — stealing back momentum. 

Betts returned to the court and somehow found a way to shoot while surrounded by three defenders; she scored and was fouled for a three-point play. After that brief respite, the Bruins continued their resurgence, scoring five straight points and coming within one score of the Cardinal. But Brink then delivered a step-back floater to end the Cardinal’s scoring drought. In response, the Bruins saw a 3-point attempt fall in and out as they continued to bombard Stanford with long shots. 

A missed free throw by UCLA prompted raucous cheers, but seconds later, the crowd hushed as the Bruins snatched upon the rebound, recycled the ball and swished yet another deep shot to take a shock lead. This was followed by Betts restoring Stanford’s advantage with another strong lay-up. Each team then missed successive three-point attempts as play became a bit scrappy and hurried. Despite deafening chants of ‘DE-FENSE’ from the crowd, the Bruins scored, before Lepolo turned the ball over and watched gratefully as the fast break layup was missed. With 20 seconds left, UCLA had the final play of the quarter, but their intricate passing display was intercepted by Jump. Nivar lobbed an ambitious buzzer-beater too long, and the quarter ended with the Bruins holding a precarious 51-50 lead. 

“UCLA is a very talented team,” VanDerveer said. “They are an NCAA team. But whether it is UCLA, USC or Arizona – it does not matter. You have got to play for 40 minutes.” 

UCLA could not add to its lead at the fourth quarter’s outset, in spite of a prolonged possession. Brink drove the length of the court and made a layup as she was fouled and sent crashing to the ground – Stanford led by two points after her and-one. Fouls were the difference in the fourth quarter, as Brink alone drew four in the period, while Jones had a further three. UCLA continued to score, although only managed one three-pointer in the quarter, a sign that Stanford had finally found a way to nullify the Bruins’ primary method of attack. 

With Stanford holding just a three-point lead, Jones fell to the ground and limped onto the bench in discomfort. She was back in the game soon after, but not yet moving 100%. Both teams were now in the bonus, so an innocuous enough foul on Jones allowed Stanford to tie the game at 62. From there, VanDerveer deployed three forward players — Belibi, Iriafen and Brink — in an attempt to overpower the opposition. This created space for Jones to score a jumper, before the Bruins retook the lead on their next possession. 

The Cardinal’s fortune changed when Brink missed a second free throw, but a lane violation was called on the Bruins, allowing her to make it on her second attempt. From there, the Bruins’ guard mistakenly decided to shoot from deep; her airball fell harmlessly into the arms of Belibi. Jones then drove down the other end and made no such mistake, coolly laying it up to claim a three-point lead. 

With 30 seconds to tie the game, the Bruins contended with an imposing Cardinal defense and a crescendo of support from the home crowd, willing Jones and her teammates to victory in their final regular-season game at Maples. The Cardinal held firm, as Demetre blocked the shot and the Bruins were forced to foul. Lepolo scored both free throws and the Bruins came again, but this time Brink was there to reject the shot. The game ended 71-66 in Stanford’s favor as they closed out their home season with a win. 

After the game, there was an emotional ceremony to honor the ‘Funky Four’ who have captivated Stanford’s fans for the last four seasons. 

“I love every game we win,” Jones said. “Senior night makes it extra special. Closing it out with the “Funky Four,” I would not imagine it any other way.”

Next up, Stanford travels to No. 21 Colorado (21-6, 12-4 Pac-12). Tip-off is slated for 2:00 p.m. PT on Thursday. 

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