Michelle Smith: Lexie Hull saves best for last, scores 36 in final home game to lead Stanford to Sweet 16
STANFORD, Calif. - By the time Lexie Hull walked off the hardwood with four minutes to go on Sunday at Maples Pavilion, her work on this floor was done. She got her team to Spokane with a career night on the final night of her career on the Cardinal’s legendary home court.
She dove, she slid, she crashed and at one point she even flew a little while battling for a jump ball. And she had the hot hand.
Thirty-six points (including six 3-pointers), six rebounds, six steals and countless bruises later, Hull had led top-seeded Stanford to a 91-65 win over No. 8 seed Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and then left to a standing ovation from an raucous crowd expressing their appreciation for not only Sunday’s performance, but four years of hustle and heart.
The Cardinal moves on to the Sweet 16 for the 14th consecutive season, heading to the Hull twins’ hometown to face No. 4 seed Maryland in the regional semifinals on Friday
“I think it really boiled down to we had Lexie and they didn’t,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.
Lexie said she looked at her sister Lacie as they ran on to the floor before the game and said, “This is our last game at Maples and we wanted to give it everything we had and I think we did that.”
For Lexie and Lacie, advancing to the next round of the NCAA Tournament is about more than getting to play in front of family and friends, and getting to see their family dogs. Spokane is a stop - albeit a familiar one - in a longer journey. One that the Cardinal hopes ends with a second national title in Minneapolis in two weeks.
It was a 33-31 Stanford lead at halftime against a Kansas team playing in its first NCAA Tournament since 2013. The Jayhawks were playing well, matching Stanford’s offense and dishing out physical play. The Cardinal, meanwhile, had three players in foul trouble in Haley Jones, Lacie Hull and Anna Wilson.
But the Cardinal started fast coming out of the second half and never looked back behind Hull.
Hull scored 25 of her 36 points in the second half. Her final output was the most by a Stanford player in an NCAA Tournament game in 10 years, since Nneka Ogwumike scored 39 against South Carolina in the Sweet 16 in 2012.
“Tara made a point to us that we weren't playing our best, to put it nicely,” Lexie Hull said. “We knew we could play a lot better, and I think we didn't want to come back into the locker room on a loss and our season being over. I think that was the message for all of us was to get out there, lay everything out on the court and hopefully be able to play another day, practice another day together, and so that was the message. We don't want to go home.
“I think it’s just I really wanted it.”
VanDerveer has long raved about the work ethic and competitiveness of the Hull twins. She joked that she is still “hopeful” that they will decide to stay for one more season. And she acknowledged that Lexie, in particular, can get overshadowed by Jones and Cameron Brink.
“A lot of times there is a lot of attention for Cam or a lot of attention for Haley or Fran dunks, and Lexie and Lacie do a lot of the dirty work,” Vanderveer said. “They're on the floor for the ball. They're making plays, they're hustling. They're scrapping. They're super competitive. I'm really glad that for today the spotlight was on Lexie.”
The Cardinal bookended a successful weekend with Friday’s blowout win over Montana State and the Fran Belibi dunk featured across the country with Sunday’s win and the Lexie Hull Show.
Stanford has now won 22 games in a row, the longest active win streak in the nation. They have not lost since December 21 at South Carolina. Their next opponent, Maryland, is a familiar one. Stanford defeated the Terrapins, 86-68, back on November 27 in the Bahamas.
Yet on a day when a pair of No. 2 seeds fell, the Cardinal was very aware of the consequences if they didn’t play well. And an abrupt ending to the season was not the way to go out.
“It’s kind of scary honestly,” said Brink, who finished with a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds to go with four assists. “Everyone is so good and rankings don’t really matter at the end of the day. It’s who plays their best and whoever continues to play their best.”