Stanford Holds Off North Carolina, 72-65
By Michelle Smith
SPOKANE, Wash. - It was, as Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said, a "survive and advance" kind of night.
The top-seeded Cardinal needed a late-game rally of seven straight points to secure a 72-65 win over No. 5 seed North Carolina and advance to their fourth straight NCAA Regional Final.
Stanford (32-2) will take on Gonzaga, a 76-69 winner over Louisville in the night's opening game at Spokane Arena. The game will be a rematch of a close regular-season contest between the two teams on the Bulldogs' home court in Spokane. Stanford won that game 84-78.
The game was tied at 65-65 with 2:18 remaining when the Cardinal made their move on a pair of baskets from freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike, including a dramatic put-back on an miss from sister Nneka with 39.7 seconds to go and Jeanette Pohlen hit three of four free throws. North Carolina (28-9) finished the game with three straight turnovers.
"They have a heck of a team," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team is riding a 26-game win streak into the Elite Eight. "I thought they played really well, they stepped up and made big plays and our team stayed in there and battled.
"We had a lot of people struggle tonight and some of that was us and some of that was them. They are a very talented team and we had to play really well and make some plays down the stretch."
Junior forward Nneka Ogwumike led Stanford with 19 points, 12 of those coming in the second half.
Chiney Ogwumike finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season. Senior Kayla Pedersen added 15 points and nine rebounds. Stanford committed just seven turnovers against a team that is knowing for forcing them.
"I'm really proud of how we took care of the ball the whole game," said Stanford senior guard Jeanette Pohlen. "We got the ball to some people who were making big plays and I was really proud of the amount of poise we had out there."
The Tar Heels were a difficult matchup for Stanford because of their size and athleticism.
"They were big and aggressive and scrappy," Pedersen said. "They were rebounding really hard, sending three or four people and making it really difficult. Even when we were boxing out, they are just a very aggressive team."
Stanford was out-rebounded for the first time since their Dec. 19 game against Tennessee.
North Carolina was led by senior guard Italee Lucas with 22 points. Two of the most successful programs in women's basketball history had met just once before this game in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
"We missed some shots and we made a few mistakes and that was the difference," said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell. "But Stanford's a great team and it was an honor to play them. I know several of the girls and I told them to go get a championship."
The Cardinal took a 39-35 lead to the locker room at halftime, the Cardinal closing with a strong offensive run after getting down 28-22 early on.
In all, the game featured 12 ties and nine lead changes. Stanford's largest lead was just seven points.