No. 4 Stanford conquered yet another challenge Sunday in an unimaginable season as they defeated No. 9 UCLA, 75-55, in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship.
The Cardinal dominated the Bruins wire to wire, limiting their scoring and outrebounding them in a matchup that was unlike their previous two games, which they split. Kiana Williams led three from Stanford in double figures with 26 points.
“We came out really aggressive,” coach Tara VanDerveer said. “This team demanded we play defense, and we stepped up.”
The win followed a regular-season crown to cap a year that saw the Cardinal on the road for more than two months, when COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from practicing at their school. They spent most of that time ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, but in January lost two straight games, and their rhythm for a little while.
Their second loss was to the Bruins – one that stuck with them and played a factor in the title game pairing. Williams said she and her team had watched a lot of film from that game, as one of their many preparations, and said revenge was a factor going into the third match up.
“I’m super proud of how we bounced back after that UCLA loss,” she said.
Stanford showcased their depth, as all 12 players saw the court and all but two made contributions. UCLA, in comparison, played just seven in a year where they have never had a full roster due to opt-outs, injuries and international players not allowed to enter the U.S.
Michaela Onyenwere led the Bruins with 30 points, and Charisma Osborne was the only other player in double figures, with 11.
Coach Cori Close said she was disappointed in her team’s effort.
“The lack of urgency, the lack of commitment to the game plan, and to rebounding – we didn’t do anything in the first half that we said we were going to do,” Close said. “That’s as disappointing of an opening effort that we’ve had.”
“Stanford put on a clinic as to what it takes to be at a Final Four level. The next time we play with that lack of urgency, no matter what round, I guarantee it’ll be our last. So we’ve got to fix this quick.”
Williams said she liked her team’s cohesion in the game.
“We have a lot of different weapons,” she said. “What I really like is no matter who’s out there, they’re playing really hard for each other and with each other.”
VanDerveer said the team is close-knit, and said they played with some toughness against UCLA that she needed to see. But even so, there is plenty of room for improvement.
“I’m always a worrier. It doesn’t matter what team it is – I’m always looking for things we could do better,” she said. “We have to look at things we can do better so we can be cutting down more nets.”
The entire NCAA Tournament will be played in San Antonio, which is Williams’ hometown. She said she is excited about that, and that the entire team is prepared to make a title run.
“We want to be the last team standing,” Williams said.
This year marked the first since 2014 that the Cardinal had won a regular-season title and the first since 2013 that they took home the conference tournament trophy. VanDerveer, who has more than 1,100 career wins and whose Stanford teams have dominated for decades, said she didn’t want this year’s title for herself.
“I wanted it for them,” she said. “I told them, ‘I’ve already got 13 nets – I wanted it for you guys.'”
She believes her team can go far.
“We have a young group and can get a lot better in the next month,” VanDerveer said.