Stanford women make big opening statement in NCAA Tournament win

Stanford women’s basketball team coach Tara Vanderveer watches a game in 2020 from the sidelines. (Courtesy photo)

Stanford women’s basketball team coach Tara Vanderveer watches a game in 2020 from the sidelines. (Courtesy photo)

The Stanford women’s basketball team had already made some big headlines in the days preceding the Cardinal’s first NCAA Tournament game Sunday.

First, the team’s associate sports performance coach, Ali Kershner, went viral with a social media post pointing out the dramatic differences between workout facilities available to men’s and women’s teams in the neutral environments of the NCAA Tournament.

Then, legendary Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, via the team’s Twitter account, said Saturday the use of reportedly less reliable COVID-19 tests for the women’s tournament was the latest example of “blatant sexism” by the NCAA. The women have daily antigen tests, while men have daily PCR tests.

But if there was any concern the off-the-court activism was going to be a distraction for the Cardinal’s ultimate goal, they summarily dismissed that in Sunday’s first-round game. Stanford, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, crushed Utah Valley 87-44 in its Alamo Region opener at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

After winning their 15th straight game, the Cardinal (26-2) will face eighth-seeded Oklahoma State (19-8), which beat ninth-seeded Wake Forest 84-61, in Tuesday’s second round. Stanford’s win also capped a 16-0 day for higher-seeded teams, including all four No. 1s.

Senior guard Kiana Williams, playing in her hometown of San Antonio, led Stanford — which opened the game with an 11-1 run and were never threatened — with 20 points, including six 3-pointers. Williams, who played just 23 minutes overall, had 17 points in the first half. Junior guard Lacie Hull had 12 points, freshman forward Cameron Brink 10 points and five rebounds and sophomore guard Hannah Jump 10 points for the Cardinal. Senior Josie Williams had 18 points for the Wolverines (13-7), who were making their NCAA Tournament debut and trailed 29-9 after the first quarter and 53-20 at halftime.

With her parents in the stands, Williams became Stanford’s career 3-point leader when she made her second trey of the game with 4 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first quarter. She surpassed Candace Wiggins’ total of 295 (2004-08).

Stanford was scorching from 3-point range to begin the game. Behind Williams’ 4-of-5 performance, the Cardinal made 10 of their first 14 3-pointers, with six players connecting from long distance. Nine players scored in the first half for Stanford, which made 20 of 35 shots (57.1 percent) in the opening 20 minutes.

Utah Valley got into the NCAA Tournament under unique circumstances. Cal Baptist went undefeated through the regular season and won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title, but the Lancers are in their third season of transitioning to Division I and not yet eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Utah Valley finished second in the regular season to earn the automatic bid, according to standards set by the WAC.

In the second round, Stanford and Brink will have to contend with 6-4 Oklahoma State star Natasha Mack, who had 27 points and 15 rebounds in the win over Wake Forest (12-13). A senior, Mack is the nation’s top shot blocker with 111. She also has 18 double-doubles.

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