Cardinal payback: Stanford avenges regular season loss to Oregon with conference tournament title

LAS VEGAS – With an embarrassing regular season loss at the hands of top-seeded Oregon (29-4) in the back of their minds, No. 2 seed Stanford (28-4) took down the conference leader in the final of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas Sunday night, 64-57. The game marked the ninth time that the tournament’s top two seeds met in the final game.

Stanford held the Ducks to a season-low 57 points in a win that saw the Cardinal follow a well-thought out scouting report devised by associate head coach Kate Paye.

The lower-seeded team got off to a hot start in the first quarter with senior forward Alanna Smith making a layup and a trey to begin the scoring action. Junior guard DiJonai Carrington added to the opening run with her own three-point shot. Senior guard Maite Cazorla got things started for the Ducks with a jumper at 7:59.

From the outset Stanford’s defensive prowess stymied the offensive output of the Ducks who only shot 23.5 percent (4-17) from the floor in the first ten minutes compared to 50 percent by Stanford (7-14).

In fact, defense was the key to Stanford pulling off a victory according to Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer.

“We won with our defense, and we came in as the top-ranked defensive team in the Pac-12, and people were really locked in defensively.”

The Cardinal outpaced the Ducks in points in the paint as well. Overall, Stanford earned 33 points in the paint compared to 18 by Oregon.

The Cardinal led 18-11 after the first quarter. The teams played a more even game in the second quarter as Oregon’s field goal percentage improved to 40 percent (6-15) while Stanford’s decreased to 38.9 (7-18). However, Stanford took more shots and outscored the Ducks 15-13 in the second period.

Carrington provided the bulk of Stanford’s offense in the first half with eight points in each quarter. She led all scorers heading into the break with 16 points. Oregon junior guard Sabrina Ionescu, the nation’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, was also in double figures at the half with 14 points plus seven rebounds.

At the break, the Cardinal led 33-24.

While Stanford began the third quarter on a 5-0 run, the Ducks retaliated quickly with a 9-3 offensive spurt that put them within one point of the Cardinal. After free throws from Ionescu, Oregon had their first lead of the game, 42-41. That score carried the Ducks into the final quarter.

The game evolved from Stanford dominating to a back and forth affair for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. After Carrington made a layup at 3:31 to give her team a 53-51 lead, the Cardinal never trailed again, closing out the championship with a 11-6 run.

Carrington led Stanford in scoring with 22 points plus nine rebounds. Smith, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, earned a double-double of 20 points plus 14 rebounds. She also blocked three shots.

Overall, Smith averaged 18.7 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per contest during the tournament as she earned a double-double in all three games Stanford played.

Sophomore guard Kiana Williams also scored in double figures for the Cardinal with 13 points plus five rebounds and six assists.

Ionescu paced Oregon with 27 points, 12 rebounds plus five assists. Junior forward Ruthy Hebard contributed 13 points plus five rebounds while sophomore forward Erin Boley added 10 points along with five rebounds.

The outcome of the title game was a far cry from what happened the last time the Ducks and the Cardinal met. On February 10, in the only regular-season meeting between the teams, Oregon earned an 88-48 win on Stanford’s court. It was the worst loss in VanDerveer’s career at Stanford. Her players kept that loss in mind as they prepared for the tournament title game.

“I think that was something that we had in our minds ever since we lost that game,” Smith said. “When you take a loss like that, you have no choice but to learn from it. So, we were happy that we got to play Oregon today, because we wanted another chance at them. I think just from the result and how we’re all feeling right now, it just shows how badly we wanted it.”

Keeping Ionescu in check with stifling defense was a key component to the win.

“I think we were just trying to keep someone fresh on her,” VanDerveer said.

Although Ionescu finished with big numbers, it took 26 shots for her to earn 27 points. The Cardinal used a rotation of players on Ionescu including freshman forward Lacie Hull and junior guard Anna Wilson who used her quickness and athleticism to wear Ionescu down and even make her look uncharacteristically fatigued last in the game.

“Actually Lacie picked up two quick fouls, and Anna just stepped in…and we’ve talked about it all year, just be ready,” VanDerveer said. “When you go in the game, do what you need to do. She, I think, showed a lot of just confidence, and she’s always at practice early, working on things. Just it worked out, and she really took advantage of her opportunity, and we’re really proud of her.”

Wilson played a season-high 27 minutes.

While Stanford earned an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament with Sunday’s win, Oregon, the regular-season champion, is also a shoo-in. The NCAA selection show is set for March 18. At least six teams from the conference are expected to make the field.

All Tournament Team

  • Kennedy Burke, UCLA
  • Dijonai Carrington, Stanford
  • Japreece Dean, UCLA
  • Ruthy Hebard, Oregon* (also 2018)
  • Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon* (also 2017 and 2018)

Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Alanna Smith (Stanford)

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