2014 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament semifinals: USC topples No. 1 seed Stanford
SEATTLE – Tournaments are where heroes are forged and memories are made. Cassie Harberts won’t soon forget tonight, leading the USC Trojans to the upset of the tournament, 72-68 over No. 1 seed Stanford.
"I've been working towards this for four years," said Harberts. "I've never seen a team that's given so much heart and never gave up. Even when they made a run, we knew we were going to come back and win the game."
The Trojans will play the winner of the the Oregon State - Washington State game in the 2014 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament championship game Sunday at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN.
"We matchup well with both teams," said USC coach Cynthia Cooper, looking forward to tomorrow night's title game. "Right now, we really want to enjoy this moment."
After watching the Cardinal storm back from a second-half deficit, the USC senior captain put the team on her back, scoring 10 points in less than two minutes late in the second half to turn a three-point Stanford lead into a seven-point Trojan advantage.
The run started with 3:03 left in the game. Harberts collected a pass and converted an and-one. A mid-range jumper followed, then another, and an and-one. Suddenly the champs were on the ropes.
USC weathered a desperate Cardinal comeback bid and made sure that Stanford would not win an eighth straight Pac-12 Championship. Chiney Ogwumike missed a deep three in the final seconds as Stanford’s last efforts fell just short.
Harberts finished the game with 13 points, starting her school record 131st game. Ogwumike poured in 30 and snatched 21 boards. She tied the Pac-12’s all-time scoring record despite the loss.
USC spread the scoring around. Ariya Crook got things started, scoring 13 in the first half. Alexyz Vaioletama scored 14 in the second half and Harberts put the finishing touches on the signature win with her 10 point burst.
This year will be the first that won't see Stanford playing in the Conference title game. They had appeared in every one until this season.
"I think we played hard tonight," said Ogwumike. "But coach told us before the game that playing hard sometimes is not enough."
For Stanford, the win might not sting as much seeing that they are all but locked in to an NCAA Tournament appearance. Now their task is to fix whatever went wrong tonight.
[Related video: Cassie Harberts, her parents get emotional after Trojans' upset win]
"The most important thing for me at this time of the season is to be healthy. So losing a game is not the worst thing," said Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, with an eye towards the big dance in two weeks. "We can do a lot of work in two weeks and improve. That is what we've got to do."
Harberts, Vaioletama and Crook were hitting their shots when it mattered but the difference tonight was a stout USC defense. They held Stanford to its lowest shooting percentage of the season, 31.9 percent.
"I think that sometimes your strength is your weakness," said VanDerveer. "We go inside to Chiney but we have to have other people stepping up."
"Ogwumike had 30 and 21," said coach Cooper. "And I guarantee you she hasn't worked that hard all year long to get those numbers."
Lili Thompson and Amber Orrange were the only other Cards in double-digits but they had to work hard for it too, shooting a combined 7-22 from the field.
After a quick start to the game the pace slowed down as both teams went toe-to-toe and dug in defensively.
The first half ended with both teams bombing away. Thompson and Taylor Greenfield three-pointers put the No. 1 seed up 30-24.
[Related video: USC players, coaches celebrate after upsetting Stanford]
That’s when USC’s star guard Ariya Crook decided to reassert herself. She buried a step-back, corner three to beat the shot clock then drew the Trojans even at 30-30 after another three-pointer with 2:01 left before the half. She added a tricky up-and-under layup on the left side of the rim for style points with 34 seconds left to end the first-half scoring.
It was 32 all at the break with both teams shooting under 37 percent. Hardly anything was separating the squads. The stars were guiding their teams. Ogwumike put up 13 points and nine rebounds in the first 20 minutes and Crook was carrying the Trojans.
It would be USC’s other leader, Harberts who would finish what Crook, Vaioletama and the other Trojans started.
The second half was a little slower, but no less dramatic. USC was standing tall and bringing it to the Pac-12 champs, staying stout on defense and hitting big shots. They showed their mettle as a complete team.
"Seeing how much my team has grown over the course of the season," said Harberts, "We just relied on a lot of people and a lot of people stepped up tonight."
It's never easy dethroning the champs, though. After USC pulled in front by 10 on a Jordan Adams shot-clock beating layup with 14:30 left in the game Ogwumike scored seven straight for the Cardinal. Then Orrange brought the Stanford bench to its feet with a three pointer.
That comfortable 10-point lead was suddenly down to four with 9:48 to play and the momentum clearly on the Stanford side of the court.
[Related video: USC's Cynthia Cooper after taking down the Cardinal]
It wasn’t the Cardinal legend Chiney Ogwumike that gave Stanford its first lead of the second half. It was freshman Lili Thompson’s contested layup with 6:48 remaining that put Stanford on top 58-57.
They would push the lead to 60-57 but from there USC closed the game on a 15-8 run, including Harberts' legacy-cementing run to nab a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
"They kept believing in me and I just did what was in my nature," said Harberts. "I just kept working hard and waiting for something to happen and it did."