STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Tara VanDerveer had spoken about how much she wants to see her special seniors play a little bit longer. She had acknowledged Stanford’s struggles being so great this season she wasn’t sure there would be an NCAA tournament berth at all.
Then, as usual this time of year when it matters most, her determined Cardinal came through on the big March stage once more — with a shining star freshman doing a little of everything.
Alanna Smith scored 20 points, freshman Kiana Williams made a sensational women’s NCAA Tournament debut, and No. 4 seed Stanford beat cold-shooting Gonzaga 82-68 in the first round of the Lexington Regional on Saturday.
“We really had to work hard to be sitting in this situation so we’re playing Monday night,” VanDerveer said.
Williams scored 21 points and made 5 of 8 3-pointers and calmly pushed the pace on offense as the Cardinal created opportunities in transition. Early in the third, she stole the ball from Gonzaga’s Emma Stach and drove it the length of the court for a layup.
Williams’ teammates told her “just keep playing my game.” That kept her from getting too nervous for the moment.
“Oh no, my teammates they have so much confidence in me it’s hard to think about what I’m doing,” she said.
Stanford (23-10) used a 9-0 run late in the third to pull away and overcame a tough shooting performance by Brittany McPhee, who had 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. She also contributed 11 rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals.
McPhee missed nine games earlier in the season with a foot injury and the Cardinal played perhaps the toughest schedule in VanDerveer’s 32 seasons on The Farm.
Stanford will face Florida Gulf Coast on Monday after the 12th-seeded Eagles (31-4) beat No. 5 seed Missouri 80-70 in Saturday’s first game — with not a single 6-footer on the roster.
“They put it right on their shirt, they shoot 3s,” VanDerveer said. “The thing I hope is Steve Kerr will take a couple of those shooters and have them play for the Warriors on Monday instead of against us.”
The Hall of Fame coach will face Eagles coach Karl Smesko after VanDerveer won her 900th career game against him at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in November 2013.
Jill Barta scored 21 points for the Zags (27-6), coming off their second consecutive West Coast Conference tournament title.
Stanford had plenty of motivation aside from protecting its home court and continuing a special season for seniors like McPhee and Kaylee Johnson, who had three blocked shots. Gonzaga won here at Maples Pavilion in the West Coast powers’ last meeting, on Nov. 18, 2016 — the Zags’ lone victory over nine games in the series.
“We lost last year to this team,” VanDerveer said. “I think our team took it very personally.”
Stanford used a 10-2 run midway through the second quarter to build a 32-20 lead and Gonzaga was overmatched the rest of the way. That allowed VanDerveer to rest her regulars down the stretch and give the backups some key tournament minutes.
“There were several stretches we would get a great offensive play and then wouldn’t get a stop,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.
Gonzaga: Gonzaga forced 18 turnovers. … The Zags are 2-3 in the NCAA tournament under fourth-year coach Fortier. That included a Sweet 16 run in 2015. … John Stockton’s daughter, Laura, had 14 points and four assists with her famous father in attendance.
Stanford: Smith had four of Stanford’s eight blocks. … DiJonai Carrington had 11 points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in 19 key minutes off the bench. … The Cardinal have a 35-4 NCAA record on their home court in Maples Pavilion with 15 straight wins. … The arena briefly went silent at the 9:31 mark of the first quarter when Marta Sniezek went down grabbing at her middle. She was OK but then took another hard hit from Stockton late. … Jennifer Azzi, VanDerveer’s first major recruit, sat behind the Stanford bench while Stanford football coach David Shaw was behind a baseline.
STANFORD CAN RELATE
When No. 1 Virginia went down to little-known University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the first round of the men’s tournament Friday night, VanDerveer could relate.
“As much as it hurt last night probably today when they woke up it was even worse,” she said Saturday.
It was 20 years ago when top-seeded Stanford lost to 16th-seeded Harvard, the only time a 16 seed had beaten a No. 1 previously before the Cavaliers fell and ruined brackets everywhere.
“Coach Bennett and his team should be exceedingly proud of their season. One game doesn’t define them. For me what was most painful was watching both Kristin (Folkl) and Vanessa (Nygaard) go down with ACL injuries. The experience really taught me to enjoy each day! If we are the only two coaches to ever experience the loss I am honored to be in his company!” VanDerveer said. “Coach Bennett is a class act. He will only get better. Pain is a great motivator!”
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