Confetti falls for the Cardinal women at Pac-12 Tournament
SEATTLE – On Saturday night, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said that with this team of hers, she feels like she just throws spaghetti against the wall. If it sticks, then go with it.
On Sunday afternoon, in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game, the Cardinal threw its best, most sustained defensive effort of the season at regular-season champion Oregon State and boy, did it ever stick.
Overcoming an early 13-point deficit, Stanford kept grinding, worked for every score, got stop after stop and then celebrated a 12th Pac-12 Tournament title with a 48-43 win over the Beavers in a game that could best be described as a chess match between two teams who had already played a pair of nail biters this season.
Oregon State sealed a third-straight conference title at Stanford’s expense more than a week ago, defeating the Cardinal at Gil Coliseum.
The Cardinal returned the favor in Seattle and then cut down the nets as its reward.
“This is super satisfying,” said senior forward Erica McCall, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “Those two losses to Oregon State hurt really bad. We were super focused this week, and being able to come out, and even the way we won makes it that much more satisfying. It’s like tasting your favorite candy…Sour Patch Kids.”
This taut battle took place in front of a crowd of more than 6,800, boosting the Pac-12 Tournament’s record attendance total over four days. The 2017 Pac-12 Tournament in Seattle will be remembered as the best-attended in its 16-year history. A total of 36,777 fans attended over four days, smashing the previous record of 27,613. The top three single-session attendance marks in the history of the Tournament occurred in this tournament, including the single-day best 9,686 that showed up on Friday night.
On Sunday, fans in the arena and on national television saw the two best teams in the conference play to the wire.
Stanford, which had not been beaten by a team three times in the same season since Tennessee did it in 199-91, faced down an 18-5 deficit in the first quarter and then held Oregon State to just seven field goals over the final three quarters.
The Cardinal tied the game for the first time with 3:38 to go in the third quarter on a baseline drive by guard Marta Snizek, pushed its lead to 44-38 on a pair of free-throws by Karlie Samuelson with 4:23 to go in the game, and then hung on tight for the win, forcing a key turnover on Oregon State’s last-chance possession.
The Beavers failed to score in the final 3:25 of the game, went 1-of-12 in the final quarter and shot 32 percent overall in the game.
“We got after it,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “Our defense, I thought, was outstanding. We stayed in the rebounding game. It was just a heavyweight battle. We started out, we kind of got the bloody nose first, but that motivated people to keep playing hard and make some plays.”
The Cardinal (28-5) held All-American candidate Sydney Wiese to 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
It was reserve forward Alanna Smith who bailed Stanford out offensively when things looked so shaky. Smith came off the bench to score 18 points. Smith was 6-of-14 from the floor and went 5-of-6 from the line.
“Nothing surprised me about (the game),” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck. “I thought we were kind of hitting the wall. They did a good job and we had a tougher time inside than I was expecting. We just didn’t knock down some shots that we needed to.”
The Beavers played this weekend without injured reserve guard Katie McWilliams. Rueck said McWilliams’ absence hampered his team’s depth with three games over three days.
“Katie's become one of our best guard defenders, and against this team, you need that. You need that size, and that length, and that experience,” Rueck said. “She's been in all the wars, you know. She hit three threes against UConn last year in the Final Four, so she's seen it all. Not having her all week hurt our rotation. It burned people out a little bit. We felt that tonight, no doubt.”
Oregon State (29-4) finished the season as regular-season champions, but without a tournament title and likely a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Beavers, who were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 when the season began, vowed to learn the lessons from this loss and taken them forward into their NCAA run, a run they are hoping ends with a second consecutive trip to the Final Four.
“Of course this hurts, it stings,” Wiese said. “We want to be out there right now celebrating, but there is still a lot of basketball left to be played and there are a lot of lessons that we can take from this game and the whole weekend. So I think we gather ourselves, we galvanize our group and come back together. We realize that there's still a lot of battles left out there. So we're going to do what we can to make sure that we play as much basketball as we can.”
Stanford hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2014, when McCall, Samuelson and Roberson were freshmen, largely watching other people lead the team from the bench.
For the team that’s been supplanted as the Pac-12’s best over the past three years – at least during the regular season – the Cardinal players are hungry to return.
“We wanted a championship this year,” said Stanford senior Karlie Samuelson. “So we really wanted this tournament. We knew we could do it, and I'm really happy that we did, because we really want to be champions.”
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.