No. 7 Stanford holds off upset-minded Gonzaga 66-62
SPOKANE, Wash. — After a 61-56 loss against then-No. 25 Texas on Nov. 14, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer acknowledged what went wrong.
“I think it was a combination of getting us out of whack offensively in terms of passing and ability to run offense and, on top of that, we didn’t help ourselves down the stretch playing better defense.”
The Cardinal recovered from that loss by downing Portland 77-55 Tuesday, then besting the Gonzaga Bulldogs and escaping with a 66-62 win on Sunday afternoon at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Stanford had a sudden change to their line-up, with junior guard Haley Jones being ruled out right before the matchup for an undisclosed reason.
Jones averaged 13 points, six assists, and seven rebounds in the first three games of the 2021 season. There is no update on her status, according to Stanford. Junior forward Ashten Prechtel started in her place. Junior forward Fran Belibi also eased Jones’ absence.
“I think Ashten is capable of rebounding, and she helps run our offense,” VanDerveer said pregame. “She and [Cameron Brink] play well together, and I think we could do really well with those two in the game.”
In the opening quarter, Gonzaga controlled the game with well-paced ball movement as six different Bulldogs scored. With a solid presence in the paint, the Zags collected six offensive boards for eight second-chance points. Gonzaga led Stanford 23-13 in the first period.
“We knew against Stanford, if you don’t have a great start, the rest is not going to follow well,” senior forward Melody Kempton said. “Our whole game plan was to get that energy and come out with a bang, and if you start with that energy, it’s much easier to keep playing off that.”
The Cardinal tightened up their defense, clogging Gonzaga’s shooting lane and interrupting inside passes. While moving fluidly in the paint, Belibi’s presence created cleaner looks for her teammates. She led Stanford with ten points and three assists in the first half.
Kempton and freshman forward Yvonne Ejim were the only players who contributed to Gonzaga’s 12 second-quarter points. Stanford ended the first half with a 14-2 run, but Gonzaga still led 35-32 heading into the break.
Stanford’s control of the game’s tempo continued into the third quarter, taking their first lead of the contest after a three-pointer by junior guard Hannah Jump with 5:20 remaining in the third quarter. The Cardinal were more aggressive on defense, restricting Gonzaga’s ball movement.
“We hit our shots, and we got a lot of energy from that, which transformed over to our defense’s side and leaked into other people,” Jump said.
Stanford’s offense transitioned to the perimeter with Jump, opening opportunities for looks in the paint. The visitors went on a five-minute, 14-2 run during the quarter yet entered the final quarter with a slim 50-47 lead.
Stanford would eventually put the game away for the 66-62 win behind 14-point performances from Belibi and Jump. Sophomore forward Brink added 12 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Lexie Hull scored 11 points and corralled seven rebounds.
“We got down early, but we stayed together as a team. We grinded it out and got the dub, so that felt awesome,” Jump said.
Gonzaga’s Melody Kempton earned a game-high 16 points with five rebounds. Redshirt sophomore forward Eliza Hollingsworth came off the bench for 12 points and two rebounds. Sophomore forward Yvonne Ejim finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
“Having (Yvonne) on the defensive side getting those tips and steals and being able to switch, then on the offensive side, when she goes and faces up, I know she’s going to (score),” Kempton said about the Canadian forward. “It’s just that confidence and energy in your teammate of ‘I’m there for her, and she’s there for me, and I know she can do what she’s doing.'”
Gonzaga started the game shooting 57% from the field, but the efficiency dwindled. The Zags tallied a game-low 26% in the final quarter.
“We just didn’t shoot it well enough as a whole,” Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier said. “We’ve got to shoot the ball a little bit better throughout the game if we want to win against these good teams.”
Today’s game was not the first gritty contest between Stanford and Gonzaga. In the past five seasons, Gonzaga has beaten Stanford twice. Though Stanford took the last two meetings, Gonzaga defeated them on the road with a score of 68-63 on Nov. 18, 2016, at home and again on Dec. 2, 2018, with a 79-72 win.
“Me and Tara probably do this for the same reasons: see how tough your team is early on against a good team,” Fortier said. “She knows that we’re always going to be good, I know that their team is going to be good…we do it to see how ready we are and be prepared for conference, and yes, certainly, the NCAA tournament, which is always the goal.”
Even in the Sunday afternoon matchup, fans almost filled all of the McCarthy Athletic Center’s 6,000 seats.
“It’s amazing when 6,000 people have your back,” Hollingsworth said. “From the start, the atmosphere was unreal and hard to describe. It’s definitely a little bit terrifying, but they’re (here) supporting you, so it makes it all better.”
Gonzaga looks to add some wins to their record when they appear in the Rainbow Wahine Showcase in Honolulu. They will face Utah, Eastern Illinois, and Hawai’i during the Thanksgiving holidays.
Stanford travels to the Caribbean, where they will take on VanDerveer’s alma mater Indiana, South Florida, and No. 4 Maryland in the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship in Nassau beginning Nov. 25.