Michelle Smith: Stanford advances to 19th Pac-12 Tournament title game with another milestone victory for Tara VanDerveer
LAS VEGAS - Somebody had to tell Tara VanDerveer she had won her 1,000th game at Stanford. Because really, these milestones are getting so hard to track for the winningest coach in women’s basketball history.
The legendary Stanford head coach was far more occupied with her team’s 71-45 win over Colorado that advanced the program to its 15th Pac-12 Tournament title game at Michelob ULTRA Arena.
A double-intentional foul near the end of the first half, a dustup between Stanford’s Cameron Brink and Colorado’s Mya Hollingshed, sparked both Brink and the Cardinal, who outscored the Buffaloes 38-17 in the second half and paved the way for a 33rd straight win over a conference foe.
“We moved on from that point and I thought Cam played really, really well,” VanDerveer said, saying she doesn’t like “any non-basketball activity on the court.”
“I don’t think it sparked our team. I think our team was already sparking. But it might have been a little bit of a turning point.”
Stanford hasn’t lost a game to a Pac-12 opponent since January 22, 2021.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Haley Jones led the way for the Cardinal with 17 points, four rebounds, and three blocked shots. Brink added 14 points and 9 rebounds, with four steals. Sixth-year senior Anna Wilson not only set the pace on the defensive end, but scored nine straight points to close the third quarter and effectively put the game away as part of her season-high 12.
“I just wanted to be really aggressive offensively,” Wilson said. “It just happened to end that way at the end of the quarter and my team has a lot of confidence in me.”
Colorado (22-8) struggled offensively throughout the game, finishing with just 15 field goals and a 30.6 shooting percentage. Colorado lost starting guard Sila Finau to an ankle injury midway through the first half, impacting its depth on both sides of the ball.
“It changes a lot,” said Colorado coach JR Payne. “Sila is one of our most active defenders. She’s one of our most experienced players. And she is someone that plays a lot of minutes in multiple positions at the same position that we already have an injury at. So I definitely think it changed us.”
But it was the lack of consistent scoring and turnovers that helped push the game out of reach. Colorado committed 23, leading to 27 Stanford points.
“We had too many turnovers against a team that makes you pay for pretty much every mistake you make,” Payne said. “Stanford’s a great team, but I think we are also a great team…we just didn’t score the ball the way we needed to win today.”
Freshman Kindyll Wetta led the Buffaloes with 12 points. Jaylyn Sherrod added 10.
The Buffaloes are poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 and the first time under head coach JR Payne.
Payne is hoping for a strong seed for her team, which has been among the toughest outs in the conference all season. ESPN’s Bracketology currently lists the Buffaloes as a No. 8 seed.
“I think that we have proven we've won, we won seven of our last nine games in one of the best conferences in America,” Payne said. “We're one of the best defenses in the country. We rebound -- I think we should get a high seed, and I think that we've earned that, and I think the NCAA Tournament wants to see teams that are playing well at the end of the season.”
VanDerveer, whose team will play to defend its Tournament title on Sunday on the way to defending its NCAA title, runs her Pac-12 Tournament record to 52-6 and the only one she cares about is the next one.
“I hope I can get 1,001 on Sunday,” she said.