Tara VanDerveer’s assistants wanted to play man-to-man defense. The Stanford women’s basketball coach insisted on playing zone.
“They ganged up on me,” she said. “But I’m the coach.”
It was a good decision. Stanford’s 2-3 zone stymied Florida State on Monday night and carried the Cardinal to a 63-44 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The second-seeded Cardinal (31-3) won two games in Ames to advance to the regional they’ll host at Maples Pavilion starting Saturday. They’re in the Sweet 16 for the seventh year in a row.
Stanford’s opponent in the regional semifinal Saturday will be No. 11 Florida or No. 3 Penn State. Those teams meet in a second-round game in State College, Pa., on Tuesday.
Chiney Ogwumike had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Stanford broke open the game with a 30-2 run spanning the halves.
“In the first half I think they only scored five points against our zone,” VanDerveer said. “It was definitely the turning point for our team. It gained momentum. Our team was like, yeah, this is really working.”
The 10th-seeded Seminoles (21-12) struggled to score in both of their two tournament games, following a 55-44 win over Iowa State with their fewest points in four years.
Lili Thompson added 14 points and Bonnie Samuelson had 11 with three 3-pointers. The Cardinal had 17 assists on 22 field goals.
FSU’s Natasha Howard had nine points and seven rebounds, all in the second half.
The last time Stanford and Florida State met was in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles, a No. 10 seed then as well, won 68-61 on Stanford’s home court to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time.
There was no threat of an upset this time, even though Stanford trailed by eight points early.
“We didn’t fall apart being down,” VanDerveer said. “We were down 19 against USC and we came back and we won. I think that helped people’s confidence. Don’t panic. I told them keep playing, keep taking good shots. As long as we were taking good shots, rebounding the ball, the attitude of the team was so positive. They were playing hard for each other.”
Stanford showed a mix of man-to-man and zone to start, and the Seminoles made 5-of-6 shots, with a couple baskets coming off steals. The Cardinal went to a pure 2-3 zone after the first media timeout, and Florida State struggled. FSU missed 20 of 22 shots to end the half and was held scoreless for nearly 10 minutes. The Seminoles finished at a season-low 31 percent.
“I’m sorry it wasn’t a better game,” FSU coach Sue Semrau said. “I really felt like it was going to be a great game. We just couldn’t make our shots.”
Howard, the Seminoles’ All-America candidate who has a school-record 15 double-doubles this season, couldn’t get open. It took her 12 minutes to take her first shot, and she missed six in a row before scoring.
“Every game I play, that’s how it works,” Howard said of the extra attention she received. “Give Stanford credit. They played great defense on us.”
Ogwumike, the Cardinal’s national player of the year candidate, also started slowly. She had two touches and one shot on Stanford’s first eight possessions before she scored on Amber Orrange’s entry pass. Ogwumike scored three straight baskets, Samuelson made a 3-pointer and Ogwumike sank a free throw to tie it at 14.
Ogwumike’s three-point play and a couple more baskets by Thompson and Samuelson highlighted a 16-0 surge that ended with a jumper by FSU’s Cheetah Delgado.
The Cardinal rolled off the next 10 points to make it a 16-point game at half. They made nine straight shots over the halves before Samuelson missed a 3-pointer. By then it was 40-18.
Now it’s back to Maples Pavilion, where the Cardinal will continue their quest to reach the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years.
“Before the game, right before tipoff, as a team we gathered and yelled ‘Maples!’ because we love Maples so much,” Ogwumike said. “If there’s a game to play hard, it’s this game because we want to get back there so bad. That was our purpose, to get back to our fans, to get back to our school.”