This Break in Sports: Women’s volleyball falls to Texas, men’s basketball defeats No. 4 Arizona

Jan. 6, 2024, 11:43 a.m.

Welcome to the winter break edition of “This Week in Sports.” We are Kenneth King and Charis Charitsis from The Daily’s sports section, and we will be walking you through the major games, events and stories from winter break.

Women’s volleyball

On Dec. 2, No. 2 Stanford (29-4, 19-1 Pac-12) took on No. 18 Arizona State (28-7, 14-6 Pac-12) at Maples Pavillion for a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s regional final. The Cardinal lost the first set 22-25 but bounced back, winning the next three sets 25-21, 25-20 and 25-21 — advancing to a regional final for the 17th time since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1998.

Fifth-year opposite Kendall Kipp led the team with a season-high 23 kills, 10 digs, four blocks and an ace for her sixth double-double of the 2023 campaign. Sophomore outside hitter Elia Rubin, who also carried the offense, tallied 19 kills, 15 digs, two blocks and an ace, and redshirt senior outside hitter Caitie Baird finished with a team- and season-high 17 digs to go with 10 kills, three blocks and three aces. Rubin’s and Baird’s double-doubles were, respectively,  their 13th and second this season. Redshirt senior middle blocker McKenna Vicini and junior middle blocker Sami Francis registered a match-high six blocks each.

Vicini, who reached 500 blocks in her career — surpassing the legendary Kerri Walsh ’99 — added two kills and Francis six. Senior libero Elena Oglivie posted 15 digs and three assists. Junior setter Kami Miner dished out 53 assists, five more than the entire Devils team and, in addition to her double-double performance, had 10 digs.

On Dec. 4, the Cardinal faced No. 5 Texas (26-4, 17-1 Pac-12 Big 12) in the regional final. The reigning NCAA champion Longhorns came well-prepared and won the first set 25-16 — but Stanford responded, winning the second 25-15. In the third set, Texas took an 8-4 lead, but the Cardinal came back to level the set at 9. The Longhorns then established a 3-point margin that they maintained throughout the middle of the set (11-14, 13-16, 14-17). A kill from Rubin narrowed the deficit to a single point (18-19).

This was a pivotal moment, as Stanford now had the momentum. But the surge was short-lived, and the team lost the next 5 points and, eventually, the set 20-25 as well. With their backs against the wall, the Cardinal failed to gain the advantage as the fourth set unfolded. The two teams were tied at 8-8 before Texas had a 6-2 run to jump in front 10-14. Stanford fought back and narrowed the gap to 16-17. The Longhorns then won the next 3 points (16-20), but the Cardinal again drew to within a point at 19-20. This back-and-forth battle continued as Texas built a 2-point lead (20-22). Once again, the Cardinal responded, finally tying the score at 22.

With Stanford on the cusp of evening the match, the team failed to forge a lead. Instead, Texas won the next 3 points, the set (20-25) and the match (1-3 sets). The loss to the lower-seeded Longhorns was disappointing for a Cardinal team that, for a second consecutive year, won the Pac-12 and reached the Elite Eight but could advance no further despite playing in their home arena. The team’s performance throughout the season proved that it was rightfully considered a title contender.

Against Texas, however, Stanford was plagued by uncharacteristic errors, many of which came when the Cardinal were on the verge of taking a lead. Its targeting of serves at Longhorn outside hitter Madisen Skinner were also unsuccessful, as Skinner’s receptions were used by her teammates to set her up for numerous kills. She finished with a match-high 24 kills and a .343 hitting average.

Rubin led Stanford with 17 kills on .333 hitting and nine digs and two aces, while Kipp tallied 16 kills, eight digs and a block. Oglivie was the only Cardinal with a double-double (career-high 12 assists and 11 digs). Miner finished with 38 assists, eight digs, two kills and two aces and Baird with 14 kills, four digs and two blocks. Kipp and Rubin were selected in the NCAA Stanford Regional All-Tournament Team.

The Longhorns would go on to win the national championship, defeating No. 1 seed Nebraska in three sets to capture their second straight title. 

Men’s basketball

After a two-week break during finals week, Stanford men’s basketball (5-5, 0-0 Pac-12) continued their non-conference slate, facing off against the Idaho Vandals (6-6, 0-0 Big Sky). The Cardinal jumped out to a 9-2 lead and never looked back, accumulating a 19-point lead by halftime. In the end, Stanford won by a score of 82-64 to regain a positive win-loss record. A week later, the Cardinal went on the road to Viejas Arena to take on 2023 national championship runner-up San Diego State.

After a strong first half performance, especially from junior center Maxime Raynaud, Stanford found themselves down just 2 at halftime. However, with star Jaedon Ledee in the game after early foul trouble, San Diego State (SDSU) went on a 15-3 run at the beginning of the second half to extend their lead to 14. Due to a poor shooting performance, Stanford was unable to make up the double-digit deficit, eventually falling to SDSU 74-60. The Cardinal end the non-conference slate with an even 5-5 record, but have racked up zero Quadrant one or Quadrant two wins in the NCAA’s NET rankings.

A week later, the team had a heartbreaking loss to conference foe Arizona State (8-5, 2-0 Pac-12) on Dec. 29. After leading by 10 with 5:03 remaining, Stanford collapsed down the stretch offensively, missing critical free throws and turning the ball over. But despite the tough loss, the Cardinal came back to upset the Arizona Wildcats (10-3, 1-1 Pac-12) two days later. Stanford made a school-record 16 threes in the game while shooting over 60% beyond the arc. Freshman guard Kanaan Carlyle had a career-high 28 points on 7-for-13 shooting, while fifth-year forward Spencer Jones had 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. The Cardinal eventually pulled away from Arizona in the second half, and won by a score of 100-82. 

On Wednesday, the team went down to take to Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins in Pauley Pavilion. After falling down 18-8 in the first half, the Cardinal tightened up their defense to cut the deficit to four by halftime. In the second half, the offense was able to score just enough points, while the defense forced UCLA into taking contested jump shots. The result was that Stanford was able to escape Pauley Pavilion with a 59-53 win, its second in conference play. Kanaan Carlyle led the Cardinal in scoring with 17, but no other Cardinal player scored in double-digits. Next, Stanford will face USC at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Saturday at 3 p.m PT.

Women’s basketball

After an 18-point loss to Gonzaga (13-2, 0-0 WCC) earlier this month, Stanford (10-1, 0-0 Pac-12) bounced back with wins against Portland (6-8, 0-0 WCC) and the University of California, Davis (4-6, Big West). Against Portland, senior forward Cameron Brink led the way with 23 points and 15 rebounds, while Kiki Iriafen tallied 13 points and 7 rebounds.

After accumulating a 19-point lead during the first quarter, Stanford was able to pace themselves the rest of the game, eventually winning by 30 points. When the Cardinal faced the U.C. Davis Aggies five days later, the duo of Brink and Iriafen once again led Stanford to victory. Brink had 21 points and 4 rebounds, while Iriafen had another double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. After the third quarter, Stanford led UC Davis by 47 points. The Aggies eventually fell to the Cardinal by a score of 92-52. 

In their first conference game of the year, Stanford took down the Cal Golden Bears (10-3, 0-1 Pac-12) on Dec. 29 in dominant fashion 78-51. Sophomore guard Talana Lepolo had a career-high 20 points and knocked down six threes. Junior forward Kiki Iriafen had another double-double, with 16 points and ten rebounds. Two days later, the team dispatched Morgan State (5-10, 0-0 MEAC) 98-38. Senior center Cameron Brink had 18 points and six blocked shots, while freshman forward Nunu Agara tallied 14 points and eight rebounds.

Later, the team maintained their perfect historical record against Washington State with a 74-65 win. Brink, Iriafen, Lepolo and junior forward Brook Demetre all scored in double-digits for the Cardinal, who had a big third quarter to help pull away from the Cougars. Up next, the Cardinal will take on Washington on Jan. 7. 

Wrestling

No. 16 Stanford Wrestling (5-1, 0-0 Pac-12 championships) went 3-0 at the Fighting Camel Duals on Dec. 19, defeating the Purdue Boilermakers (4-3, 0-0 Big Ten), the No. 28 Campbell Fighting Camels (3-3, 0-0 Southern) and the North Dakota State Bison (1-6, 0-1 Big 12). Senior Nick Stemmet and junior Daniel Cardenas went 3-0 on the day, helping lead the Cardinal to win all three matches.

Campbell gave Stanford the closest match of the day, but Daniel Cardenas’s defeat of Hagen Heistand gave Stanford 5 critical team points needed to come away with a 19-17 victory. Meanwhile, against North Dakota State, a win by forfeit for redshirt freshman Wyatt Richter and a fall win for senior Jason Miranda helped Stanford blow by the Bison. 

At the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn. from Jan. 1 to Jan. 2, Stanford wrestling placed first atop the team standings. Stanford had three wrestlers advance to the finals in their weight classes: Jason Miranda (141), Nico Provo (125) and Daniel Cardenas (157). While all three fell to their opponents in the final, the team accumulated enough points in the previous rounds to remain at the top of the standings. Up next, the team will take on Missouri (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) on Jan. 10 at 6 p.m PT.

Charis is a recent alum (Ph.D.’23). If CS is his hobby, sports is his passion. Firm believer that the coach is the most important position in every team sport. A member of the sports section but not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination.

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