Top-seed Stanford wants revenge against Texas in Elite 8 on Sunday
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — More than four months ago, Stanford was presented with its 2021 national championship rings and a group of Longhorns spoiled the party.
Texas beat the Cardinal 61-56, announcing that even with a remodeled team, last year’s run to the Elite Eight wasn’t a fluke.
Texas coach Vic Schaefer said his team had a “toughness factor going in there and playing on their home floor, playing the defending national champions.”
“I think that gave our kids some confidence early on,” he said, adding, “Quite frankly, it probably created some expectation for this group that might not have been real fair at the time just because of our youth.”
That loss lingered for Stanford (31-3) to the point that Haley Jones said the Cardinal were “a little bit excited” when the NCAA Tournament brackets were released and Texas was the No. 2 seed in their region.
The two teams face off Sunday night in the Spokane Region final with a trip to the Final Four at stake.
“I think it adds an extra chip on the shoulder to go into the game,” Jones said. “The entire tournament, you have to take it game by game. You can look ahead, but you’ve got to play game by game, focus on whoever is next. Since it’s Texas, we now kind of get to dive fully into it, into that kind of revenge mode, chip-on-the-shoulder mode, just come out and try to throw that first punch tomorrow.”
The Cardinal come into the regional final riding a 23-game win streak, the longest active in the nation. Stanford is also making its 11th appearance in the Elite Eight since 2008 and hasn’t lost in the NCAAs since the 2019 regional final against Notre Dame.
After dispatching No. 4 seed Maryland on Friday night, the Cardinal quickly turned back to the video of that Nov. 14 loss to Texas. It wasn’t an enjoyable watch.
“Honestly, I hesitate to say this, but I don’t think we could have played worse against them,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We didn’t do the things we needed to do. We will have to play a lot better tomorrow to be successful.”
The Longhorns (29-6) are in the regional final for the second straight season after last year’s unexpected run to the Elite Eight as a No. 6 seed before losing to South Carolina. This year, Texas knocked off Ohio State in the regional semifinals and has the second-longest active win streak with 14 straight victories since a three-game losing streak around midseason.
A second win over Stanford this season would send the Longhorns to the Final Four for the first time since 2003.
“I think we just really locked into our mistakes,” Texas guard Joanne Allen-Taylor said about the turnaround. “We were in close games and we were turning over the ball so much. What if we take care of these small mistakes? What can happen if we capitalize on what we’re messing up so much on? We can be a really good team. That’s just what propelled us to what we are right now.”
Big 12 freshman of the year Rori Harmon was instrumental in the early-season win, scoring 21 points in her second collegiate game. It was her second-highest point total of the season, topped only by her 30 points in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals against Iowa State.
Texas also thrives in challenging environments with wins this season at Stanford, Texas A&M and Iowa State. Consider that when you consider that the regional final fanbase is likely to be heavily Cardinal because Stanford’s Lacie and Lexie Hull are Spokane natives.
“Seriously, we love it. We love that hostile environment,” Texas’ Lauren Ebo said. “It motivates us even more to play harder, play better, really come together and play together as a team.”