Stanford prevails over Arizona State in Pac-12 Tournament semifinal thriller

Eric Evans Photography

SEATTLE This whole underdog role seems to suit the Stanford women's basketball team just fine.

For the first time in as long as coach Tara VanDerveer can remember, the third-seed Cardinal wasn't necessarily expected to win Saturday night. Stanford's berth in the NCAA tournament was already secure. In Arizona State, it was playing a team it lost to twice during the regular season. It was the first time in 39 tournament games Stanford wore its cardinal-colored "road" uniforms. The Cardinal didn't have an advantage in the paint. The matchups weren't necessarily in its favor. 

No matter. 

Senior guard Amber Orrange dropped 18 points, senior wing Taylor Greenfield added a season-high 17 and the Cardinal (23-9) prevailed in a thrilling 59-56 win over the second-seed Sun Devils (27-5) in the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament semifinals at KeyArena. 

Down the stretch, Greenfield made a key bucket in the lane, pulled down a critical offensive rebound on forward Kaylee Johnson's missed free throw and, after being fouled, split two free throws of her own to put the Sun Devils in a positon where they needed a desperation three-point shot at the buzzer from guard Elisha Davis to force overtime. It didn't catch rim.

With the win, Stanford avoided losing to the same team three times in one season for the first time since it dropped three to Tennessee in 1990-91. 

Greenfield averaged just 3.7 points per game during the regular season. Saturday, she eclipsed that total in the first half a little more than a minute after coming in off the bench.

"I don't want to limit myself to being just a tournament player, but I get so excited for tournaments," Greenfield said. "I was praying that we would get to play ASU again in general they're a fun team to play but because we lost to them twice everyone was excited, but I was ready. I was so pumped for this game."

The Cardinal appeared in control with 11:08 left, leading 48-35, before the ninth-ranked Sun Devils engineered a 16-4 run. Davis, who finished with six points, capped it with a three-pointer from the left corner to make it 52-51 with four minutes remaining. Stanford's Bonnie Samuelson answered with a deep three, but Davis hit another, cutting the Cardinal lead back to one.

The Sun Devils took a 56-55 advantage when guard Katie Hempen knocked in a pair of free throws with 2:19 left.

"They just took it to the basket," VanDerveer said of ASU's spurt. "I just thought that they made some shots. We had a couple charges, we had a couple turnovers. But just some plays that we needed to be a little bit sharper down the stretch. Credit them for making some plays, but credit us for staying with things."

ASU hadn't been in rhythm since it attacked the paint repeatedly in the opening minutes, highlighted when 6-4 center Quinn Dornstauder converted an and-one to make it 12-6. 

A few minutes later, Stanford cut the Sun Devils' lead to 14-13 when guard Lili Thompson knocked down a three-pointer. Stanford retook the lead, 18-16, with 8:13 left in the first half on a three from Orrange. The senior All-Pac-12 selection continued to impress with an array of moves and a silky left-handed jumper. She finished the first half with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting and gave the Cardinal momentum heading into the locker room when she stole it from Hempen and converted on the other end for a lay-up with 10 seconds left to make it 29-25.

[Related: 2015 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket, videos, news and more]

The Sun Devils were in foul trouble throughout the first half, with guard Elisha Davis picking up three fouls and forward Kelsey Moos recording two. They combined to play just 18 minutes during that span. Stanford, meanwhile, was aggressive against the Sun Devils' pressure defense  and it worked, as the Cardinal shot 13-of-25 from the field (52 percent) and knocked in 3-of-8 three-pointers (37.5 percent). Stanford finished shooting 46.8 percent. 

Greenfield said Stanford emphasized attacking the rim to counter ASU's pressure. Despite being out-rebounded 37-30, the Cardinal finished with a 30-24 advantage in points in the paint. Oh, and Stanford knocked down 8-of-15 from beyond-the-arc (53.3 percent). The eight threes were the most ASU has allowed this season.

"I would say the biggeset thing was just our mindset. It totally changed," said Greenfield of the difference between Saturday and Stanford's two regular season losses to ASU. "We've got to draw contact, and that really helped our momentum in general when we're getting lay-ups."

Nothing came easy for the Sun Devils. Forward Sophie Brunner led ASU with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Dornstauder chipped in 13 points on a night ASU couldn't find the cylinder often enough. Coach Charlie Turner Thorne's squad shot a season-low 31.6 percent (18-of-57).

"You can only put so much pressure on your defense," Turner Thorne said.

Stanford plays the winner of Colorado-Cal in Sunday's Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament final, to be played at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN.

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