Stanford heads back to the Final Four after holding off Texas, 59-50

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Stanford Cardinal (32-3) punched a ticket to the Final Four for the second consecutive season behind a 59-50 victory against the No. 2 seed Texas Longhorns. The reigning national champions avenged their early-season loss against Texas (29-7), a 61-56 defeat last November.

“I want to congratulate our team because we battled,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think it showed how much people have improved.”

Tough, intense defensive sets knotted the game, with each team scoring just 14 points in the first quarter. Eventually, Stanford’s offense lifted the team to a slim 30-27 advantage over Texas by halftime. Cardinal senior guard Lexie Hull, who had 12 points at the break, credited her game success to the ball movement and her squad’s sturdy defensive performance.

“I think it came down to who was the grittier team tonight and who was willing to get on the floor and battle inside,” she said.

Unlike their Sweet Sixteen matchup against Maryland, where the Cardinal towered over their opponent, Stanford was evenly matched in the height department facing Texas.

“Dealing with a team like Texas, where they’re denying every position, and they have length, just as we have length at every position, I think it shows how deep we are and how many weapons we have,” junior guard Haley Jones said. “I may get hot one quarter. Cam had a great third, Lexie is carrying all game, and different people come in and hit big shots to make the right plays.”

Texas limited the Cardinal in transition and stymied fast breaks in the first half. Stanford switched its defense from man to zone in the second half, restricting the Longhorns’ ability to set offensive looks in the lane. Brink had a defensive breakout performance that included a one-person block party which kept Texas from fully controlling the game’s pacing. Still, Texas held on behind offensive production from freshman guard Rori Harmon. Heading into the last period, the Cardinal led by just five points, 45-40.

Free throws from Texas forward Lauren Ebo with three and a half minutes left in the game narrowed Stanford’s lead to two, 50-48. However, Lexie Hull helped Stanford begin to pull away for good with a three-point play (a layup and a free throw) with about two minutes to go. VanDerveer praised Hull’s effort saying she battled “the whole game.”

For the Longhorns, Joanne Allen-Taylor recorded the team-high of 15 points and two rebounds. Harmon, a focus of Stanford’s offensive scouting, recorded 14 points and seven rebounds. Guard Audrey Warren provided 11 points and two rebounds off the bench.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team, these young ladies, how hard they played today, as they have all year long,” Texas head coach Vic Schaefer said. “Certainly, disappointed that we lost, but I am not disappointed in them.”

Through tears, Allen-Taylor discussed the emotions behind playing her final game for Texas.

“I am who I am today because I put that jersey on for four years,” Allen-Taylor said. “I just want to say thank you because I’m so blessed. Even in defeat, I’m so blessed.”

Three players landed in double digits for Stanford. Jones recorded a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Hull scored a game-high 20 points and three rebounds. A Spokane native, along with her teammate and sister Lacie, she cut down the final remains of the nets and wore them in the press conference. VanDerveer promised the twins that, with a win, they would take home the nets.

“I remember looking out after the game, and pretty much every single section of the gym I knew somebody,” Hull said. “It was super special.”

Brink finished with ten points, six rebounds and tied her season-high for blocks with six. Fran Belibi pulled down 11 rebounds to go along with seven points.

“I’m proud of our team. I’m really happy for our team,” VanDerveer said of Stanford’s overall performance. “We’re going to Minneapolis, and we’re dancing!”

What’s Next for Stanford?

As the Cardinal begins preparations for a Final Four trip to Minnesota and hopes to repeat as national champs, they await the winner between No. 1 seed North Carolina State and No. 2 seed Connecticut Huskies in the Bridgeport region. That Elite Eight matchup will take place Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

Soaking in the moment, VanDerveer expressed her excitement to return as one of the four teams in the last stages of the tournament.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we’re going to the Final Four. I’m thrilled because of the team that I’m coaching,” she said. “We have great leadership, unselfishness. I think whoever we play, whether it’s Connecticut or NC State, we will be ready, and we will enjoy our experience there.”

Earlier in the day, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed South Carolina advanced to the Final Four out of the Greensboro Region with a dominant 80-50 win over No. 10 seed Creighton.

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