Michelle Smith WBB Notebook: No. 3 Stanford faces tough challenge taking on No. 1 Oregon in Pac-12 Championship
LAS VEGAS - Like Oregon, Stanford remembers what happened in the 2019 Pac-12 Tournament.
After getting beaten by 40 points at home during the regular-season — the worst Maples Pavilion loss for the Cardinal in the Tara VanDerveer era — the Cardinal came to Vegas and got its revenge, defeating the Ducks in the title game of the 2019 Pac-12 Tournament.
And No. 3 seed Stanford (27-5) knows that Oregon — who beat fourth-seeded Arizona in the first semifinal of the evening — will be quite motivated to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The Cardinal, led by Lexie Hull’s 28-point night, defeated UCLA 67-51 Saturday night, and will play in their 17th title game on a quest for their 14th tournament title against Oregon at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.
Oregon has two wins over Stanford this season by a combined margin of 50 points. Getting a win against perhaps the best team in the country at the moment is going to take a big effort on both ends of the floor.
“I don’t think it’s rocket science,” said VanDerveer, who has a 13-3 record in the final, and a 47-5 record overall in the Pac-12 Tournament. “Oregon is a tough matchup because they are so skilled and so good at every position.”
VanDerveer said she believes Oregon is the No. 1 team in the country.
“They don’t have any weaknesses,” VanDerveer said. “Our team is a lot younger, we are not as experienced and we are going to have to figure out something to do that we didn’t do the first two times against them. We need to figure out what will give our team a chance to be successful. No. 1 is taking care of the ball. No. 2 is taking good shots, and we are going to have to work extremely hard defensively.”
UCLA, the No. 2 seed, is eliminated in the semifinals for the fourth straight season.
But the Bruins will be a high NCAA seed and will be in a position to host the first two rounds at Pauley Pavilion.
Bruins head coach Cori Close said that Stanford was the tougher team on this evening. The Bruins scored a combined 16 points in the second and third quarters and their 51 points was a season-low.
“They out-executed us,” Close said. “I can handle losing, but it’s tough when you get out-toughed and out-executed.”
UCLA was suffocated by Stanford’s defense for much of the game. Despite forcing 21 turnovers and getting 20 offensive rebounds, the Bruins struggled to score, shooting 31.7 percent for the game.
UCLA had 21 points at halftime and went nearly six minutes without scoring in the third quarter as the deep Cardinal built a 20-point lead.
“Their consistency of purpose was a bigger factor than their depth,” said UCLA coach Cori Close. “They played to their identity in the second half more than we did.”
Michaela Onyenwere, Japreece Dean and Charisma Osborne each scored 14 points for UCLA.
Hull’s strong game was evident in the box score. The sophomore guard from Spokane shot 11 of 19 from the floor, with nine rebounds and five steals.
VanDerveer also credited the strong play of reserve guard Anna Wilson and freshman post Fran Belibi.
“Anna’s defense and her ability to run our team, she stepped up and had a great game,” VanDerveer said. “And Fran was big for us. We can probably do some things better. We could have rebounded better. But I’m really proud of our team.”
Cardinal point guard Kiana Williams, who finished with 12 points, called it an “ugly” win
But there are no style points for winning this time of year. And the aesthetics won’t matter on Sunday either.
By the time Sunday night is over Stanford will have faced three top 14 teams in three days – Oregon State, UCLA and Oregon.
“We are excited to play for a third time,” Lexie Hull said of Oregon. “We know it will be competitive, and we know we'll have to really lock in and follow our scouting report. Just give it everything we have. I mean, I look forward to tomorrow. I know that's what we're going to do is give 100% effort.”
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.