Spokane Regional: Stanford and Texas “Elite” again, move past Sweet 16 to battle for a Final Four spot

SPOKANE, Wash. — In the Spokane Region of the NCAA tournament, the No. 2-seeded Texas Longhorns defeated the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes 66-63 to advance. In the second matchup of the evening, the top-seeded Stanford Cardinal defeated the No. 4 Maryland Terrapins 72-66. Texas and Stanford play in the Elite Eight on Sunday, March 27 at 6 p.m. PT for a spot in the Final Four. NCAA President Mark Emmert was in Spokane to watch the contests.

Texas “Elite” For the Second-Straight Season

In the first game, Ohio State jumped out to a warm offensive start, leading 20-16 behind senior guard Taylor Mikesell’s performance. On defense, the Buckeyes slowed dynamic Texas guard Rori Harmon’s usual electric performance on offense, attacking her with double teams and looks to affect her ability to pass. By the second quarter, Harmon had two fouls.

“When [Harmon] went out I thought that hurt them a little bit, quite frankly,” Ohio State’s head coach Kevin McGuff said. “She sets the tone for them defensively, playing 94 feet, and certainly bothered us with that. I thought we handled it well early but then we got worn down and sloppy and had some turnovers that really hurt.”

While Ohio State’s defense focused on Harmon, it opened up opportunities for Longhorn senior guard Joanne Allen-Taylor as she scored 13 points in the first half. The Longhorns held a slim 32-30 lead at halftime.

“Today I had to get some buckets for our team when we needed them and that’s what I had to do,” Allen-Taylor said. “Thank God it went through the hoop, you know.”

The strict defensive performance from Texas kept them in front of the Buckeyes. The Longhorns had a ten-point margin with 5:51 left in the game, but Ohio State started a scoring surge behind guards Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon.

“I’m proud of our fight, proud of the toughness we showed down the stretch, and we came up short against a great, great Texas team,” McGuff said.

The contest came down to the wire, but a shut-down, defensive performance from Harmon sealed Texas’ ticket to advance to the Elite Eight. Schaefer called the victory a “gutty win” for his team after defeating the Big Ten champions. The win marked the 29th win over the season for the Longhorns and their 14th in a row.

“I couldn’t be more proud of them, happy for them, but it took everyone in the room,” Schaefer said. “We made some plays today and beat a heck of a basketball team.”

Two Longhorns landed in double-digit scoring. Allen-Taylor finished with a team-high of 18 points and three assists. Starting forward Lauren Ebo collected nine points and eight rebounds. Her presence disrupted Ohio State’s effectiveness in the paint.

“Even if I’m getting double-teamed or whatever the case may be, my goal is to open things up for the team and whether that’s scoring or rebounding or setting a good screen to get others open, I just always want to do what I can do to help us win,” Ebo said of her performance.

Texas limited Ohio State on the perimeter as well as they shot almost five three-pointers less than their season average. The Buckeyes went 4-of-12 beyond the arc.

For Ohio State, Mikesell notched the game-high 19 points with three rebounds. Sheldon recorded 17 points and six rebounds while senior guard Braxtin Miller finished the game with 12 points and four rebounds. The Buckeyes finished their season with a 25-7 record).

Looking ahead to the matchup against Stanford on Sunday, Schaefer spoke on Allen-Taylor’s senior leadership throughout the season and how it will power the Longhorns in their next quest

“She is unselfish and just an ultimate— the ultimate competitor,” Schaefer said. “Never gets down, never hands her head, never had a negative juice in her body. That’s not common in today’s world much less in today’s athletics, but that’s Joanne Allen-Taylor.”

Reigning Champs Stanford Overpower Maryland

In game two of the regional, the Stanford Cardinal took over early as they rolled to a 72-66 win over the Maryland Terrapins. It was the second meeting of the season between the two teams who played against each other back in November during the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship in Nassau, Bahamas. Stanford won that round, 86-67.

Cardinal junior guard Haley Jones got off to a hot start, scoring eight points and going 2-for-3 from three-point range early in the first quarter. Stanford’s offense thrived in transition as Maryland struggled to identify defensive opportunities.

“I got hot, Cam [Brink] got hot, Lexie [Hull] got hot, and whoever it is, I think we did a really good job at feeding that hot hand,” Jones said.

The Terps ended the first quarter shooting a dismal 19% (3-16) compared to 71% (10-14) by their opponent as Stanford jumped out to a dominant 22-10 lead.

“I think they punched us first,” Maryland senior guard Chloe Bibby said. “I thought we were ready, but obviously they came out and they punched us first toward the end of that quarter…we just couldn’t put the ball in the hole and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”

While Maryland struggled to shoot, Stanford’s hot offense lasted throughout the game. With the average height of 6’1” between forward Cameron Brink and twin guards Lacie and Lexie Hull, the Stanford trio found each other in transition through seamless ball movement. Stanford’s depth on the bench is a highlight of their success during the tournament. Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer rotated ten players compared to eight by Maryland.

“Our team has bought into ‘This is my role and I’m going to do it and I’m supportive of my teammates,’” VanDerveer said. “It’s really special. They’re about we, instead of me.”

For Maryland, sophomore guard Angel Reese led the team with nine points and four rebounds at the halftime mark. By then, Stanford’s lead ballooned to 39-23 as Brink led all scorers with 13 points plus seven rebounds. Stanford’s offensive clinic continued throughout the third quarter, opening a comfortable 59-36 lead.

Maryland outscored Stanford 30-13 in the final quarter and closed the margin to nine with less than two minutes left, but Stanford’s success from the first three quarters lifted them in the late rally.

Reese ended the game with Maryland’s team-high of 25 points and nine rebounds. She was also 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. She discussed the battle with Stanford’s tall guards and how that affected the overall pace and flow of her game.

“I played them in November and played Cameron Brink since high school, so I knew about her athleticism coming out at the beginning,” Reese said. “I had to do the shot faking, try to move her on that, and do as best I could to help my team.”

In the win, Lexie Hull finished with a team-high of 19 points and nine rebounds for Stanford. Jones notched a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds. A Spokane native, Hull recalled her experience of having a hometown crowd during the win.

“I don’t know about you guys but it felt like we had a lot of people cheering for us tonight, and that feels good anywhere you are,” Hull said. “We felt the love from Stanford and Spokane’s community and are excited to get back here on Sunday.”

As the height difference affected Maryland’s offensive flow, Stanford outrebounded Maryland 50-32. Stanford guard Anna Wilson’s stellar defensive performance held Terrapin starting guard Benzan, who didn’t play against the Cardinal in November, to a scoreless game.

“For Katie Benzan not to score a point, that’s lockdown defense,” VanDerveer said of Wilson’s performance. “We didn’t play against her last time. Anna did a fabulous job.”

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