For the first time in weeks, the Stanford women’s basketball team faced adversity. And like the Cardinal did when they faced other obstacles this season, they shook it off and moved on.
Erasing a 12-point halftime deficit with a big second half, top-ranked Stanford advanced to its 14th Final Four with a 78-63 victory over eighth-ranked Louisville in the Alamo Region championship game Tuesday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Stanford (29-2), winner of 18 straight and the NCAA Tournament’s No 1 overall seed, will play sixth-ranked South Carolina (26-1) in the national semifinals Friday at 3 p.m.. The Gamecocks, the No. 1 seed in the HemisFair Region, throttled Texas 62-34 earlier Tuesday. Top-ranked Connecticut (28-1) takes on Arizona (20-5) in the other national semifinal Friday at 6:30 p.m. Arizona, the No. 3 seed in the Mercado Region, is the only No. 1 seed not to make the Final Four.
Sophomore guard Lexie Hull was the steady force for Stanford, with 21 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Ashten Prechtel had 16 points, three rebounds and four assists, while senior guard Kiana Williams bounced back from a horrible first half to finish with 14 points, four rebounds, five assists and four steals. Senior guard Dana Evans led Louisville with 24 points.
It was an uncharacteristic game for Stanford, which will be seeking its third national title this weekend. The Cardinal have been unchallenged in three Pac-12 Conference Tournament games and three more in the NCAA Tournament.
A usually stingy defense that allowed open shots and an offense that misfired often allowed Louisville (26-4), seeded second, to take a 38-26 lead at halftime. But Stanford’s trouble started early. With both teams playing at a frenetic pace with the stakes high, Stanford — which had trailed just eight seconds in its previous three NCAA Tournament games, 2-0 vs. Missouri State in the Sweet 16 — wasn’t hitting its shots while Louisville was. Stanford found itself trailing by multiple possessions at 10-6 and 14-9. After Stanford made it 14-11, Louisville closed the first quarter on a 7-2 run for a 21-13 advantage.
Cold shooting continued to haunt Stanford in the second quarter. After going 6-of-17 in the opening 10 minutes, Stanford was an icy 4-of-19 in the second quarter, to end the first half at 27.8 percent. Meanwhile, Louisville was 16-of-31 shooting (51.6 percent) in the first half, including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers.
Williams, the key to Stanford’s balanced scoring attack and playing in her hometown and in front of family, was just 1-of-11 in the first half, including 0-of-3 from 3-point range.
Even with Louisville’s hot first half, Stanford still held its opponent to 40.8 percent shooting for the game (26-of-64). Stanford has not allowed an opponent to shoot better than 41.8 percent this season.
Stanford climbed back into the game with a 13-0 run, capped by a Williams runner in the lane for a 46-45 lead with 2:23 left in the third quarter.
Louisville clinged to a 50-48 edge going into the fourth quarter and it looked like there might be a dramatic finish. But that is when Stanford took control, scoring the first 10 points of the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the defense that clamped down in the third quarter continued into the final 10 minutes, featuring a 2-of-15 shooting stretch for Louisville.
Stanford continued to pull away and still has its dream of its first national championship since 1992 intact.