Defending champion Stanford tops Texas 59-50 in Elite Eight

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SPOKANE, Wash. – Lexie Hull scored 20 points in front of her hometown crowd, Haley Jones added 18 points, including four key free throws in the closing moments, and defending national champion Stanford toppled No. 2 seed Texas on Sunday night for a return trip to the women’s Final Four.

The Cardinal (32-3) will play in the national semifinal for the 15th time in program history, facing either North Carolina State or Connecticut in Minneapolis.

The Spokane Regional final was tightly contested throughout and reinforced the resolve that Stanford was missing earlier in the season when it lost to Texas at home on the night it received its rings from the 2021 championship.

Stanford (32-3) was the tougher team this time around, especially in the second half.

Hull made a key 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter and had a three-point play that gave Stanford a 53-48 lead with 2:29 remaining. Texas never got closer than two in the final moments and Stanford spent the final seconds celebrating around Hull and her twin sister Lacie.

Hull made 7-of-14 shots on a night scoring was at a premium. Jones was just 4-of-11 shooting but made 10-of-11 free throws and Stanford was 18 of 22 at the foul line. Jones also grabbed 12 rebounds.

Cameron Brink added 10 points for Stanford, all in the third quarter, and the Cardinal extended the longest win streak in the country to 24 games.

Texas (29-7) lost in the Elite Eight for the second straight season; last year’s unexpected run as a No. 6 seed stopped with South Carolina. Joanne Allen-Taylor led Texas with 15 points before fouling out. Rori Harmon, the Big 12 freshman of the year, was limited to 14 points and Audrey Warren added 11 points off the bench. Texas’ second-longest win streak in the country snapped at 14 games.

Stanford’s return trip to the Final Four keeps alive the hope of being the first team other than Connecticut to repeat as national champions since Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. But the Cardinal had to get through the fourth quarter – both Sunday and in November.

Texas thrived in the fourth in the first meeting, trailing by five to start the quarter that day before outscoring the Cardinal by 10 for a 61-56 victory.

On Sunday, Texas also trailed by five to start the fourth and pulled within three on an Allen-Taylor jumper. It took Stanford nearly three minutes into the quarter before Lexie Hull hit an open 3-pointer from the wing – just the third 3 of the game of the Cardinal.

Jones pushed the lead to 50-43, but Warren’s jumper and three free throws cut it to 50-48 with 3:35 left.

That’s when Hull drove to the rim and scored while being fouled for what proved to be the decisive points. The Cardinal made 6 of 8 free throws in the final two minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Texas: The Longhorns were in the Elite Eight for the 11th time in program history, but have not been to the Final Four since 2003. Texas coach Vic Schaefer has coached in the Elite Eight in five straight tournaments but has lost his last three regional final games.

Stanford: The Cardinal have not lost since falling to South Carolina on Dec. 21. They may get a chance at seeing the Gamecocks again, but it would be in the national title game.

Stanford’s Belibi becomes third woman to dunk in NCAA game

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford’s Francesca Belibi became the third woman ever to dunk in the NCAA Tournament, slamming one down with one hand in the second quarter Friday night for the top-seeded, defending champion Cardinal in their first round game against 16th-seeded Montana State.

Belibi’s dunk marked the first by a woman in the tournament since Brittney Griner in 2013 and just the third overall along with Candace Parker’s feat in 2006. A 6-foot-1 junior who routinely dunks in warmups and practice, Belibi had a pair of slams last season – on Dec. 13, 2020, at rival California in Berkeley and again at week later at UCLA.

She blocked a shot at the 3-point line then drove the length of the floor and pounded it through the rim for her third career dunk, thrilling her teammates and earning a roaring standing ovation at the next timeout as she came off the floor.

Stanford began its title defense by holding the Bobcats scoreless in the opening 10 minutes for a 20-0 lead after the first. It marked the first time in the Cardinal’s storied history holding an opponent to no points in any period and just the second ever in the NCAA Tournament.

South Carolina did so against Texas in the 2021 tournament.

No. 2 Arizona outlasts Stanford 84-80 in Pac-12 quarters

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Arizona spent much of the season winning lopsided games with one of the nation’s best offenses.

The Wildcats faced a rare opposing offensive onslaught to open the Pac-12 Tournament by a hot-shooting Stanford team and a forward who couldn’t seem to miss.

Arizona found a way to win in a good starting point for what the Wildcats hope is a long postseason run.

Christian Koloko scored 24 points, Bennedict Mathurin added 20 and No. 2 Arizona held off Stanford 84-80 on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

“It was good to get tested today,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Obviously, Stanford gave us everything we wanted and then some. I love this time of year. I love coaching in these games. They mean a lot. You’ve got to win or go home.”

The top-seeded Wildcats (29-3) had a hard time shaking the Cardinal in a win late in the regular season and faced a similar issue to open the tournament.

Ninth-seeded Stanford (16-16) beat Arizona State on a buzzer-beater to open the show in Las Vegas on Wednesday and hit Arizona with a flurry of 3-pointers in the encore.

The Cardinal went 11 for 20 behind the arc and Spencer Jones hit shots from everywhere while scoring 28 points. Stanford shot 54% against the Pac-12’s best defensive team in an atmosphere that felt like McKale Center north.

“We executed our game plan really well down the stretch, gave ourselves opportunities,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said.

Arizona was the team that cashed in.

Koloko put Arizona up 82-77 on a two-handed dunk, but Harrison Ingram (16 points) cut the lead to two on a corner 3 with 13 seconds left. The Cardinal quickly fouled Pelle Larsson and he made two free throws with 8.5 seconds left to send the Wildcats into the semifinals Friday.

“We have a young team, so we need to have those kind of games to get ready for what’s next for us,” said Koloko, who had nine rebounds and four assists.

Arizona took an unexpected road to Las Vegas, winning a Pac-12 regular-season title not even their coach expected.

Using principles he helped forge 22 years as Mark Few’s assistant at Gonzaga, Lloyd turned the Wildcats into a fast and furious pack.

Arizona’s offensive possessions are the shortest in Division I – just over 14 seconds – and the Wildcats were third nationally in scoring at 84.7 points per game.

The Cardinal managed to drop an anchor on Arizona’s aerials for a bit in the teams’ second meeting this season – they were blown out in the first – before the Wildcats pulled away for an 81-69 win.

Stanford nearly shot for shot with the Wildcats in the third go-round. Jones hit Arizona with an array of midrange jumpers to score 13 points and the Cardinal went 6 of 8 from 3 in the first half.

“I just had to be as aggressive as I possibly could be,” said Jones, who finished 12 of 18 from the floor and 4 of 7 from 3.

Arizona had success getting the ball into the post and Mathurin seemed to have an answer each time the Cardinal tried to go on a run, scoring 14 points to give Arizona a 40-37 lead.

Stanford kept dropping in shots to start the second half. Jones opened with a pair of 3s and the Cardinal hit six of their seven shots, three of those 3s.

Arizona kept pace, trading baskets with Stanford in a back-and-forth second half, neither team able to gain much separation.

The Wildcats threatened to pull away twice, stretching the lead to five. Stanford stopped the momentum and quieted the crowd both times by continuing to drain shots, setting up the tight finish that Arizona eked out for a win.

BIG PICTURE

Stanford showed a lot of grit and in what may be its season finale with an incredible shooting performance. It still wasn’t enough against one of the nation’s best teams.

Arizona was put to the test by the tournament’s ninth seed and passed. The Wildcats seem to find a way to win even with everything doesn’t go right.

KRIISA INJURED

Arizona lost point guard Kerr Kriisa to a sprained right ankle with 32 seconds left.

The Estonian guard landed on a Stanford player’s foot while making a pass. Kriisa was in a great deal of pain and could not put any weight on his right leg as he was helped to the locker room.

Lloyd was unsure of his availability the rest of the tournament.

UP NEXT

Stanford: Won’t be going to the NCAA Tournament, but could get an invite to another postseason tournament.

Arizona: Will face the Oregon-Colorado winner Friday in the semifinals.

No. 2 Arizona pulls away late for 81-69 win over Stanford

Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona had to rebound from the mental rush of winning the Pac-12 regular-season title against Southern California two nights earlier. The physical toll of long travel delays was an even tougher challenge, causing a sluggish start against a hungry opponent.

The Wildcats fought their way through it to remain undefeated at home in their first season under coach Tommy Lloyd.

Bennedict Mathurin scored 24 points, Christian Koloko added 21 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 2 Arizona overcame a slow start to beat Stanford 81-69 on Thursday night.

“That USC game seems a month ago to me, but it was less than 48 hours,” Lloyd said. “I’m proud of the way they bounced back.”

The Wildcats (27-3, 17-2 Pac-12) clinched their first Pac-12 title in four years against No. 16 Southern California on Tuesday, then waited through a slog of plane issues that led them to getting home after 4 a.m. on Wednesday.

The short turnaround seemed to take its toll early against Stanford. The Wildcats struggled getting shots to fall, allowed the Cardinal pick them apart defensively and fell into a nine-point hole.

Arizona appeared to get a jolt of caffeine just before halftime to track the Cardinal down, kept it rolling to start the second half and pulled away to continue its roll into next week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

“We were hot since the start of the season and I think it surprised some people,” said Arizona’s Pelle Larsson, who had six points. “Now it’s March and this is what we play for.”

Stanford (15-14, 8-11) got blown out at home in the first meeting with Arizona and was coming off one of its worst offensive performances of the season against rival California. The Cardinal were much sharper the second go-round against the Wildcats, hitting two more field goals in a torrid-shooting first half (12) than they did the entire game against Cal.

Stanford had some breakdowns just before halftime to allow Arizona to keep it close, then struggled with the Wildcats’ defensive pressure in the second half and lost for the sixth time in seven games.

Spencer Jones scored 22 points and Michael O’Connell, who averages seven, gave Stanford a big lift with 16 points – all in the first half.

“The pressure bothered us some. We had some open looks that didn’t go in that maybe went in in the first half,” Stanford coach Jerod Haase said.

Arizona played one of its best games of the season against USC, rolling to a 91-71 victory to clinch the Pac-12 crown. The Wildcats weren’t nearly as sharp early against Stanford, struggling to get shots to fall while coughing up careless turnovers.

Arizona also struggled defensively against a Stanford team that scored 39 points and shot 24% – 4 for 18 from 3 – in a 14-point loss to Cal in its last game. The Cardinal shot 15 of 28 in the first half against Arizona, including 7 of 10 from 3. O’Connell hit all four of his 3-pointers before the break.

“We did a better job handling pressure and had a better game plan this game,” Haase said. “Obviously, when the ball goes in everything looks better.”

Arizona kept itself within reach by scoring 16 points off Stanford’s 11 turnovers, then hit its final six shots to pull to 39-37 at halftime.

The Wildcats got it rolling at both ends in the second half, defense leading to breakouts and early-offense opportunities. Mathurin had two breakaway dunks during an individual 8-0 run that put Arizona up 67-58, and the Wildcats kept stretching the lead from there.

Stanford continued to struggle with turnovers in the second half and wasn’t able to keep up its torrid shooting. The Cardinal shot 2 of 9 from 3 in the second half and finished with 17 turnovers that led to 23 Arizona points.

BIG PICTURE

Stanford had a good defensive plan and moved the ball well to get open looks in the first half. The Cardinal weren’t as sharp in the second, bothered by Arizona’s defensive pressure, and missed several open shots.

Arizona needed some time to find a flow at both ends of the floor. Once the Wildcats did, they stretched the lead and prevented any type of run by the Cardinal.

HI-LOW NO

Arizona has hammered teams all season with its hi-low offense, often between Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis.

Stanford took away the Wildcats’ hi-low most of the night, often by rotating a player behind Arizona’s low-post option.

“We had a lot of support, tried to get help in there,” Haase said. “We played screens a little bit differently, put ourselves in some mismatch situations and our guys really fought and competed.”

UP NEXT

Stanford: Plays at Arizona State on Saturday.

Arizona: Hosts California on Saturday.

No. 2 Stanford women top Oregon St. 57-44 in Pac-12 quarters

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Haley Jones scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead No. 2 Stanford to a 57-44 victory over Oregon State on Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.

Stanford (26-3), which was 16-0 in conference play during the regular season, won its 18th straight game this season and has won 32 consecutive games against Pac-12 opponents, including postseason play.

The Cardinal, 51-6 all-time at the Pac-12 Tournament, improved to 19-1 all-time in the quarterfinals. Stanford, which swept the regular-season series by 23 and 24 points, is 6-0 against Oregon State in the event.

After scoring just two points in the first half, on 1 of 8 (12.5%) shooting, Jones erupted to score 12 of her game-high tally in the third quarter on 5-of-7 shooting to help Tara VanDerveer’s squad pull away.

“Tara said at halftime that the shots I was taking (in) the first half were good shots, so I just kind of had to have confidence in that,” Jones said. “And my teammates instilled a lot of confidence in me that those are shots that are makeable and within the flow of the offense. I think things just started getting going in the third quarter.”

Anna Wilson scored 11 points, and Cameron Brink added 10 points and six rebounds to boost Stanford.

Oregon State (14-13) was led by Ellie Mack and Emily Codding, who each had 13 points. Talia von Oelhoffen added 10.

The Beavers shot just 29.6% from the field. Stanford, which has held 57 of its last 62 opponents to 41.8% shooting or worse, improved to 45-1 when holding its opponent to less than 40% shooting.

The Cardinal finished the game shooting a rather bleak 23 of 61 (37.7%) from the floor, but was 8 for 18 (44.4%) from 3-point range.

Stanford opened the game by dominating the first quarter, taking a 16-2 lead thanks to a hot hand from beyond the arc. Though the Cardinal shot just 37.5% (6 of 16) from the floor, they were 4 of 7 (57.1%) from 3-point range. Oregon State, meanwhile, went 1 of 10 from the field in the opening period.

“The first quarter was awesome,” VanDerveer said. “I thought people were really locked in defensively. And it helps our defense when our offense scores. … I was glad that our team just didn’t really relax and think the game was over because it’s a 40-minute game.”

As the Beavers showed in the second quarter.

After Lexie Hull’s 3-pointer to start the second pushed Stanford’s lead to 17, the Beavers found their rhythm on offense and used a 13-3 spurt to get within seven at 22-15. Wilson ended Stanford’s 0-for-7 drought with five quick points before von Oelhoffen’s half-court drain at the buzzer left the Cardinal with a 27-18 halftime lead.

“For our team, I loved the heart, I loved the fight,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “Obviously it was a tough first quarter scoring the ball. The difference was they made shots, we missed shots. I thought that was the only difference early. Then it was battling back from that point. And I thought our team showed their character today.”

FOR KATIE

The Cardinal players donned Stanford soccer shirts over their jerseys for warmups to honor former goalkeeper Katie Meyer, who was found dead in a campus residence, per school officials. Meyer, 22, was a team captain who made two key saves in a penalty shootout to help Stanford win the national championship in 2019.

KEEP IT LOW

The Cardinal are on a 51-0 run when holding opponents to less than 70 points.

“I thought it was a little bit like a heavyweight fight,” VanDerveer said. “These are two teams that know each other really well. They’re very talented. And I think we just had to step up defensively, which we did.”

BIG BROTHER RUSS

As he has every year during the postseason tournament, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took his seat near the Stanford bench and sprung to his feet when his sister, Anna, drained the game’s first bucket from 3-point range.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon State: The Beavers, who ranked 11th in the Pac 12 with a minus-5.69 turnover margin, committed 10 turnovers before Stanford surrendered its first at the 6:07 mark of the fourth quarter. The Beavers committed 12 turnovers while Stanford set a conference tournament record for fewest turnovers in a game with three.

Stanford: With Colorado scoring an upset of No. 14 Arizona in Thursday’s first game, the Cardinal avoid the revenge-minded Wildcats, whom Stanford beat in the lone meeting during the regular season and in last season’s national championship. The Cardinal swept Colorado this season.

UP NEXT

Oregon State: With a NET ranking of 52, the Beavers hope their postseason continues in the WNIT.

Stanford: Plays in Friday’s semifinal against Colorado.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Mulkey, LSU in top 10

SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Kim Mulkey has LSU back in the top 10 for the first time in 13 years as the Tigers moved up three places to No. 8 in the Associated Press women’s basketball poll on Monday.

Mulkey, who won three national titles in 21 seasons as Baylor’s coach, has guided LSU to 23 victories in her first season in Baton Rouge. The Tigers are second in the Southeastern Conference behind South Carolina, the unanimous No. 1 team in this week’s poll.

LSU last was in the top 10 on Dec. 14, 2009 and hasn’t won this many games since finishing the 2011-12 season with 23 victories. The Tigers beat then-No. 17 Florida on Sunday in front of 13,620 fans, the fourth-largest women’s basketball crowd in school history.

The Gamecocks continued their run atop the poll after beating then-No. 12 Tennessee on Sunday to clinch at least a share of the SEC title.

South Carolina was followed by No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 North Carolina State. North Carolina jumped six places in the poll to No. 18 with its victory over Louisville, which dropped a spot to No. 4.

Baylor moved up to fifth. Michigan was sixth and UConn was No. 7. Iowa State was one spot behind LSU, and Indiana rounded out the top 10. The Hoosiers fell five spots after losing twice.

RISING IRISH

Notre Dame moved up five spots to No. 14 – its best ranking since the final poll of its national title-winning 2018-2019 season. The Irish have games left against Clemson and Louisville. Notre Dame also caught a break as its game at Virginia on Tuesday was ruled a forfeit win for the Irish by the Atlantic Coast Conference. The game was originally scheduled for Jan. 25 but postponed because of COVID-19 issues. It’s the second forfeit for Virginia in the last two weeks.

NOT QUITE ENOUGH

Kansas (19-5) remained just outside the Top 25. The Jayhawks have a difficult remaining schedule with Big 12 games against No. 8 Iowa State, No. 5 Baylor, No. 11 Texas and No. 20 Oklahoma. Kansas hasn’t been ranked since 2013.

GAME OF THE WEEK

No. 6 Michigan at No. 21 Iowa, Sunday. The last time the teams met, Caitlin Clark scored 46 points in a losing effort for the Hawkeyes. Michigan would clinch its first Big Ten regular-season crown if it can beat rival Michigan State on Thursday and get past Iowa again.