Michelle Smith Feature: Stanford's Kiana Williams eyes Final Four
Kiana Williams watched Stanford’s unlikely run to the Final Four last season and she said it “gave me chills.”
She knew she was on her way to The Farm as one of the Cardinal’s top recruits. And she knew she wanted to be part of a moment just like that.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t we do it again?’”
It’s a fair question and one that the freshman guard from San Antonio, is going to get an opportunity to answer. Stanford earned its 31st consecutive NCAA Tournament berth on Monday, and, as a No. 4 seed, will be opening up the NCAA Tournament at Maples Pavilion on Saturday against 13th-seeded Gonzaga.
“It was so exciting seeing our name come up,” Williams said. “This is the best time of year. I love tournament time. There’s a sense of urgency that’s the best.”
Williams has been playing with that sense all year. As a freshman who was quickly inserted into the Cardinal starting lineup, she’s been relentless and fearless. She’s become a go-to scorer, averaging 10.1 points a game over the season, but has picked up the pace over the final few weeks of the season. Williams put up a career-high 26 on Feb. 15 against Cal and earned All-Pac-12 Tournament honors by averaging 17.7 points a game in her conference tournament debut. She leads Stanford in 3-point shooting by a wide-margin with 64 3-pointers on the season thus far.
“My biggest goal is staying consistent,” Williams said. “Coach Tara (VanDerveer) is always telling me to stay level-headed, that the basketball season is a roller-coaster ride and I need to be consistent, whether things are going my way or not.”
VanDerveer has joked for a few weeks now that Williams isn’t a freshman, she’s a ballplayer. The Hall of Fame coach has put a lot of faith in her tough-minded young guard.
VanDerveer said that she has seen Williams’ confidence grow to match her natural poise.
“She’s not been fazed by anything, not big games, not the Pac-12 Tournament, not the NCAA Tournament,” VanDerveer said. “She’s the same every day. We want her to be a scorer. The more she looks for her shot, the more she looks to score, the better for us.”
Williams, who came to Stanford as a point guard and moved to shooting guard in the Cardinal lineup, said she was overwhelmed by the speed of the game at the start of the season. But no more.
“I got used to it faster than I thought I would,” Williams said. “One of the biggest things Tara has preached to me is to take it at people, be the aggressor, set the tone.”
The same tone she’s watched players like Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell and Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu set for their teams.
“I feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence,” Williams said. “Those players, that’s where you want to be at. I watch them, I watch film of them and I just keep working at it.”
Williams said Stanford’s loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament title game was a wake-up call.
“I think, in the long run, it’s going to benefit us,” Williams said. “They zoned us, and when people zone us in the tournament, we will be able to use that to get better.
“We know the stakes are high, people are going to be playing hard and the pressure is going to be on,” Williams said. “But I’m excited. I’ve been dreaming of this moment since I was a kid.”
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. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.
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