Skip to main content

2021 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament

March 3-7 | Las Vegas, NV
Michelob ULTRA Arena

Michelle Smith's Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Championship Recap: Champion Cardinal

Mar 7, 2021
 
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Arizona, G, Aari McDonald
Oregon State, G, Aleah Goodman
UCLA, F, Michaela Onyenwere
Stanford, F, Cameron Brink
Stanford, G, Lexie Hull

MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER
Stanford, G, Kiana Williams

The metaphor that Stanford uses to apply to its team is that of an “orchestra”. A collection of skilled musicians, combining their talents to produce something better than the sum of any solo.
 
Fitting. Could the Cardinal have played the 2021 Pac-12 Tournament any more beautifully?
 
“We just want to keep it going,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer in the postgame celebration. “We have a deep team, we have a close team and we play for each other.”
 
Stanford (25-2) will go into the NCAA Tournament on the short list of national title favorites after winning its 14th Pac-12 Tournament title in 20 years, defeating third-seeded UCLA, 75-55 at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas to close the league’s 20th postseason tournament.
Deep, long, stellar on both ends of the floor, the Cardinal showcased it all in a dominant win over a Bruins team that has been ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation for most of this season and had already handed them one of their two losses this season.
 
The Cardinal bookended their first regular-season title since 2014 with a tournament championship behind the will and skill of senior Kiana Williams, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. 
 
VanDerveer has called herself the conductor of this orchestra of talent and said that Williams is the first chair. And everyone else on the roster needs to be ready for their moment in the spotlight. But Williams grabbed that spotlight and held on tight on Sunday night with 16 first-half points and a fourth-quarter flourish after UCLA (16-5) pulled within 10 points early in the fourth quarter. Williams finished the game with 26 points, including six 3-pointers and three assists.
 
Junior Lexie Hull complemented Williams with 24 points and six rebounds. Sophomore Haley Jones added 10 points and 13 rebounds.
 
“March is a time for winning and big players make big plays,” Williams said. “But like Tara told us after the game, ‘This can’t be our best game.’”
 
Williams will be heading back to her hometown of San Antonio to lead her team into the NCAA Tournament. Who could be more ready for a three-week, “bubbled-up” stay in Texas than the team that spent 73 straight days on the road already this season?
 
“We have talked about that. We lived out of a suitcase for nine week, so we can do it for four more weeks. I think we have an advantage in that area,” Williams said.
 
Both Williams and VanDerveer talked about the need for Stanford to show its “toughness” in this game. 
 
“I think we are probably more of a finesse team, we move the ball well, but sometimes you have to get in a grind-it-out game,” VanDerveer said. “We wanted to be ready for that. We have shown toughness, but we can show more. This game demanded it.”
 
The Cardinal, who notched their 50th Pac-12 Tournament win in 20 years, shot 54 percent from the 3-point arc in the first half and held the Bruins to 27.3 percent shooting to build a 43-20 lead. 
 
UCLA’s job was to slow Stanford’s transition game and beat the Cardinal on the boards.
 
They struggled to do either while relying on the offense of star Michaela Onyenwere to carry them. Onyenwere finished with 30 points on a night when she needed more offensive help, but saw three key players - Onyenwere, Charisma Osborne and Lauryn Miller - sidelined with injuries for stretches of the game. The rest of the UCLA lineup contributed just seven field goals.
 
In a game in which rebounding was going to be key, Stanford finished with a 41-30 advantage. And the Cardinal outscored the Bruins in the paint 26-12.
 
UCLA coach Cori Close said she was disappointed in the way her team played, particularly in the first half, but confident that they will take the lessons from this loss and use them in the coming weeks.
 
“Of course I’m a competitor and I want to win, so we are disappointed, but I’m much more disappointed in how we played so far below our process and our commitment,” Close said. “We didn’t do anything in the first half we said we needed to do and that’s what really stings.”
 
Close said the injuries that pulled her key players off the court at various points was not a factor.
 
“To be honest, I thought we were awful before any of them went out,” Close said. “We said transition defense, getting out on their 3-point shooters and rebounding were going to be huge and we didn’t do any of those things.
 
“This teaches us what we can become, but time’s running out and we’ve got to choose quick.”
 
Stanford and UCLA are both NCAA Tournament-bound and likely grateful to take advantage of the rest before the first round of tournament games begins in Texas on March 20-21.
 
Barring a surprise, the Cardinal will find itself as one of the top two overall seeds. UCLA will also have a high seed after its run to its sixth championship game. The Pac-12 looks to send as many as six teams into the tournament field - Stanford, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State as we reach the final chapter of this unprecedented season.
 
Or perhaps we should call it a coda.