Stanford women struggle to make shots but win anyway to reach Elite 8
CHICAGO — Even Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer grew concerned while the Cardinal kept missing its shots — over and over again.
Not Alanna Smith and company. They figured they would find a way at the end.
Smith and Stanford outlasted Missouri State for a 55-46 victory on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament, sending the cold-shooting Cardinal back to the Elite Eight for the third time in four years.
Stanford shot a season-low 25 percent (17 for 68) in its second-lowest scoring game. But Smith and Anna Wilson supplied just enough offense, and the Cardinal used its superior length to hold the 11th-seeded Lady Bears to 25.4 percent shooting (16 for 63), also a season low for the last double-digit seed left in March.
“I think the feeling on the team was we weren’t worried,” said Smith, who finished with 13 points. “We know that we can hit down those shots, and we weren’t today, so we had to go to something else.”
VanDerveer seemed to get a kick out of Smith’s confidence.
“I don’t know what game she was at,” VanDerveer cracked. “I mean, wow. We just — we tried a lot of different things. We tried a lot of different people, and we struggled.”
Next up for No. 2 seed Stanford (31-4) is defending national champion Notre Dame on Monday in the Chicago Region final. The Fighting Irish advanced with an 87-80 victory over Texas A&M.
“We know it will be a big challenge, but I have a lot of confidence in our team,” VanDerveer said. “We know we’ll have to play better.”
Danielle Gitzen had 14 points and eight rebounds for Missouri State, which had won seven in a row. Jasmine Franklin finished with 11 points and 10 boards.
It was Missouri State’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 since Jackie Stiles led the Missouri Valley Conference team to the Final Four in 2001.
Stiles, an assistant coach on Kellie Harper’s staff who remains the school’s career leading scorer with 3,393 points, could only watch this time around as the Lady Bears (25-10) struggled offensively. Alexa Willard, who averaged 18.5 points in Missouri State’s first two wins in the NCAA tourney, finished with two points on 1-for-11 shooting.
“Stanford is a great team, and they’re very long, and I think that it definitely was disruptive having their long arms and getting into passes,” Gitzen said, “but I think also we got good looks. We just couldn’t hit them at the end of the day.”
The Lady Bears closed to 38-35 on Gitzen’s jumper with 1:04 left in the third quarter. But the Cardinal responded with an 11-1 run.
Shannon Coffee started the key sequence with a 3-pointer, one of just three treys in 29 attempts on the day for Stanford. Wilson closed it out with two foul shots and a layup with 5:27 left.
Wilson, the younger sister of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, scored seven of her 11 points in the second half. Russell Wilson and his wife, singer Ciara, took in the action from a pair of seats behind the Stanford bench.
“My defense is kind of my thing, so if I can score some points, that’s nice, too,” Anna Wilson said. “So I think for me, I just wanna play as hard as I can and continue playing.”
Missouri State: Gitzen is the only senior on the Lady Bears’ roster, so they could be even better next season. But Harper, a Tennessee alum, could be in the mix for the opening at her alma mater.
“We weren’t going to come in here and back down,” Harper said. “Somebody was going to have to beat us. Stanford beat us. They had to work hard to do it.”
Stanford: Wilson led a solid effort by Stanford’s reserves. Coffee finished with seven points, and Lexie Hull had seven points and nine rebounds.
Stanford takes on the top-seeded Irish on Monday.