Top-seeded and No. 6 Stanford (28-4, 15-3 Pac-12) beat 9-seed Oregon (17-14, 7-11 Pac-12) 76-65 to advance to the semi-finals of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, Nev. Junior forward Cameron Brink led the way with her 30th career double-double and senior forward Fran Belibi was exceptional off the bench with double-digit rebounds as Stanford sailed past the Ducks with ease.
The Cardinal beat Oregon 62-54 in their one regular-season matchup when Brink exploded for a triple-double. But the Ducks made a big splash on the first day of the Pac-12 tournament as they came back to beat the Washington Huskies 52-50.
“We played with a lot of heart,” said Oregon head coach Kelly Graves. “I was happy until I realized we have to play Stanford today.”
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer — who entered the game with a 53-6 Pac-12 tournament record — opted to use junior guard Agnes Emma-Nnopu as a starter instead of sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen.
“We just go with who’s hot,” VanDerveer said. “A lot of people are playing well off the bench.”
In the first quarter, Brink put Stanford on the board early after rebounding a shot by senior guard Haley Jones. On the next drive, after a travel call against Oregon, freshman guard Talana Lepolo had an offensive board and passed it back out to Brink who was sent to the free-throw line. She converted both shots to add to Stanford’s quick start. Oregon followed with an extended possession which included a pair of offensive rebounds but ultimately the ball was lost and Stanford came away with it.
Senior guard Hannah Jump — one of the nation’s most feared shooters from deep — was fouled on her first triple attempt and made all three attempts. The Ducks finally got on the board after four and a half minutes and were then unlucky at the other end when Jones’ shot was blocked but the ball fell fortuitously back into her hands and she scored on the second attempt.
Oregon had committed four turnovers in the game’s opening minutes but reduced its deficit with its first 3-pointer of the afternoon and a pair of free throws after a foul called on Jones. Stanford proceeded to go 1-for-11 on their next field goal attempts, but the Ducks could not capitalize as they continued to miss 3-pointers. Stanford then stopped the bleeding when Jump hit her first three to restore confidence to the Cardinal players.
As the quarter wound down and fatigue set in, Jones drove the length of the court, and although her layup missed, freshman center Lauren Betts fought off two defenders to secure the rebound and draw the foul, from which she made both free throws. Stanford threatened to pull away as freshman guard Indya Nivar made a darting cut to the basket and was found with a smart bounce pass, but her layup was blocked emphatically by Oregon. The first quarter ended 16-9 to Stanford.
Oregon started the second quarter playing tight defense around the basket, but their shape left Brink with a wide-open shot from midrange, which she dispatched coolly. Belibi had a fine performance from the moment she entered the game, illustrating her hustle when she secured a rare Jones airball and reset the offense, culminating in another basket for Brink. The Cardinal had now scored 13 second-chance points before the halfway point of the second quarter, compared with just 4 for Oregon.
Stanford amassed a double-digit lead after consecutive baskets from behind the arc, the first after Lepolo was found in acres of space, and the second being Jump’s trademark split-second 3-point shot. Oregon’s leading scorer in Wednesday’s tournament victory over Washington, guard Endyia Rogers, scored her first basket, but Brink responded instantly to enter double digits on points.
Stanford’s smothering defense was on full display and forced the Ducks into a shot clock violation as part of a four-minute Oregon scoring drought. Offensively, Stanford was similarly relentless, out-rebounding Oregon 15-6. When the Ducks did finally score, Betts drew a foul while making the shot in retaliation. With seconds left in the half, Oregon made a deep shot to lessen the damage done by Stanford’s late surge. Nevertheless, the half ended with Stanford in control, leading 37-24.
“[Let’s] keep doing what we’re doing,” VanDerveer said. “A lot of different people are contributing.”
Emma-Nnopu reentered the game at the start of the third quarter after playing just five minutes in the opening half. She justified her inclusion by sinking a three to give Stanford instant momentum. A crucial moment then followed, as Brink picked up her third personal foul and was benched. But the loss of Brink was not felt immediately and after a patient buildup, Lepolo fed Emma-Nnopu, who scored another three.
Gradually, Oregon came back into the game as Stanford began to turn the ball over more and was less imposing without Brink. Despite 2 more points from Emma-Nnopu, Stanford fell victim to a 9-2 Oregon run in just 90 seconds and the lead was slashed to just 6 points, the Cardinal’s slimmest advantage since early in the first quarter. Nivar alleviated some pressure as she came away with the ball; she drove one on one and forced the foul, but missed both free throws.
Oregon had the momentum in the final 90 seconds but it continued to miss shots and its momentum stalled. A needless offensive foul compounded the Ducks’ misery as Stanford entered the bonus and Belibi made both. Stanford held Oregon defensively and ran the last play, from which Lepolo sunk another 3-pointer. Oregon — after narrowing the deficit to within touching distance — tailed off and Stanford reasserted itself to amass a 13-point lead. The third quarter ended 58-45 in Stanford’s favor.
In the fourth quarter, the Ducks came out shooting from range as they attempted to close the gap. This left holes in their defensive shape for Stanford’s playmakers to exploit, and Jones found Belibi with a long-range pass, which she proceeded to lay in the basket. Oregon sought to raise the intensity but Stanford did an assured job of slowing the game down on offense to see the game out. Tactically, Jones undertook a greater proportion of ball-handling as Lepolo’s 3-point shot had been so effective thus far.
Oregon guard Te-Hina Paopao then scored her career-best seventh triple to keep Oregon within 10 points. But as Oregon shot from deep, Stanford was happy to find looks under the basket, scoring 28 points from within the paint compared to Oregon’s 12. Soon after, Belibi’s wayward free throw was rebounded by Brink — her 10th of the day — as she had yet another double-double.
Oregon was running out of steam after its intense battle on Wednesday but continued to show flashes of exceptional transition offense as Rogers drove up the court and drew a foul after Brink’s effort was blocked. On the next possession, though, Brink was more successful, spinning and scoring to reach 22 points to lead her team; Brink was second only to Paopao in scoring, who managed 28 points in an incredible individual display.
With less than a minute left, Oregon was forced to foul the Cardinal and then shoot from distance. But the stoppages only delayed Stanford’s jubilant celebrations. The game ended 76-65 as Stanford won to advance to the Pac-12 semifinals.
On a night when Oregon limited Jones to 8 points, other members of the Cardinal bench had to step up, specifically Belibi and Betts.
“We went to the bench and people responded,” VanDerveer said. “Fran Belibi helped us a lot.”
“For me, it’s kinda about supporting my teammates and being the best teammate, leader and person I can be,” Belibi reflected on her performance.
Next up, Stanford will face fifth-seeded No. 19 UCLA (24-8, 11-7 Pac-12). The Bruins beat Arizona 73-59 in the first round of the tournament. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. PT from Las Vegas.