Stanford does it again, tops Cal in the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament finals
SEATTLE – At some point, the California women's basketball team will break through against rival Stanford in the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament.
It just won't be this year.
Stanford senior guard Taylor Greenfield scored a career-high 20 points and the Cardinal shot an efficient 44 percent from the field Sunday night en route to a 61-60 win over the Golden Bears in the conference tournament's championship game. The victory gives Stanford the Pac-12's automatic bid for the NCAA women's tournament.
The victory propelled the 19th-ranked Cardinal (24-9) to 7-0 against Cal (23-9) in the tournament's history, including 3-0 in title games. Barring a matchup against its Bay Area foes in the NCAA tournament, it also gave the third-seed Cardinal a win in the season series after the teams split and finished tied for third in conference play.
The final score made it seem closer than it was.
Cal trailed by four when sophomore guard Mercedes Jefflo, who finished with 16 points, buried a three-pointer from the top of the key moments before the final horn sounded, closing the deficit to one.
A few minutes later, confetti fell and Greenfield was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. She is the first non-starter to win the award in the tournament's 14-year history.
"I hate to say I imagined it, but I knew it was possible," Greenfield said of winning the award. "That's not what I was looking for, but if that's what it took, I'll take it."
Or, as Stanford forward Kaylee Johnson put it:
"Well, we've kind of coined the nickname 'Tournament Taylor,' so I guess she's just living up to that," she said. "But I think (coach Tara VanDerveer) is always emphasizing how sometimes different people need to step up in different games, and I think Taylor really showed that this weekend."
It marked the Cardinal's 11th time winning the tournament, as it improved to an incredible 37-3 during that stretch.
Stanford played throughout the weekend like a team that wanted to prove it should have finished better than its 13-5 mark in Pac-12 play.
"Our theme this year has kind of been to crash some parties, and I think that's exactly what we did here," Greenfield said.
This after four-seed Cal had to play almost the entirety of Sunday's first half without senior guard Brittany Boyd, who was named to the All-Pac-12 Tournament team along with forward Reshanda Gray.
[Related: Pac-12 championship postgame notes]
Moments prior to the first media timeout, an elbow gashed Boyd below her right eye. She was tended to on the bench as blood gushed from her face. She didn't return until there was 2:22 left in the first half, complete with a white bandage on her cheek.
She never got going, finishing with seven points after entering Sunday averaging 19 points, 10 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.5 steals during Cal's first two games in Seattle.
Yet Cal carried a 25-23 lead into the break thanks to nine points during the first 20 minutes from sophomore forward Courtney Range and nine from Jefflo. The Golden Bears actually led 22-14 with 5:18 left in the first half before Stanford went on a 9-3 run.
The momentum carried over.
Stanford opened the second half with five quick points when Greenfield hit a three and Johnson, who finished with 12 rebounds, followed with a layup to make it 28-25. The Cardinal outscored Cal 38-35 in the second half.
As with many rivalry games, it wasn't a thing of beauty. Both teams were physical and, at times, sloppy. Stanford committed 16 turnovers and forced Cal into 17.
"We didn't necessarily play a pretty game, but a gritty game," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.
The Golden Bears were led by Range, who finished with a team-high 17 points and nine rebounds.
Despite losing, the Golden Bears are still a lock for the NCAA tournament. It's just a matter of whether they will be one of the 16 teams that get to host an NCAA sub-regional on campus. When asked about the possibility, coach Lindsay Gottlieb didn't withhold her opinion.
"I don't think we've done anything this weekend any less worthy of hosting," she said. "I think if the committee is watching these games, and we just lost the final with our best all-around player gushing blood and playing not as much, I think they'd say that team's a host. That's my feeling. That being said, if they send us somewhere, we'll get on a plane and we will be a tough team to knock out in somebody else's gym, too."