By Joe Lami
For the first time ever the Stanford Cardinal will not be going to the Pac-12 Tournament championship game, as the USC Trojans defeated the Cardinal 72-68 in the semi-finals on Saturday night. Stanford the number one seed and the favorite to win the Pac-12 Championship, is now unsure of how their NCAA Tournament is going to look. If the Cardinal came out of the Pac-12 Tournament unscathed, they would have received an almost sure bid to a number one seed in their host west region.
The first half ended with the score tied at 32. Stanford dominated the paint in the first half, with 18 points. However, the Trojans led the first with points off of turnovers, bench points and 2nd chance points.
Coming out of the half, the Trojans jumped on the Cardinal early, going on a 14-4 run in the first 5:30. Stanford would be able to crawl back slowly, and would eventually take the lead back with 6:46 remaining. The Cardinal would push the lead to three, at 60-57 with 5:06 to go and be able to hold it for a couple of minutes. However, the Trojans would once again march back, much in part to Cassie Harberts’ ten straight points. This would get the USC lead to as high as seven before the Cardinal would find another bucket with 61 seconds to go.
The Cardinal pressed in the final minute to get the deficit as low as two, but the Trojans would be good enough at the foul line to be able to ice the game away and advance to the Pac-12 Championship game, where they will face the Oregon State Beavers.
Chiney Ogwumike led the way for the Cardinal with 30 points and 21 rebounds. The 30 points ties her with Stanford Alum, Candice Wiggins as the all-time Pac-12 scorer with 2,629. Unfortunately for Ogwumike, she scored career point 2,629 with over seven minutes remaining in the game, and couldn’t find another to break the record in game where every point mattered.
Stanford had an awful day from the field, finishing the game at just 32%. Lili Thompson finished with 13 points, going 4 of 11 shooting. Amber Orrange was the only other double digit scorer for the Cardinal, as she finished the night with 11 points and 3 of 11 shooting. Mikaela Ruef was held scoreless for the first time in recent memory, as the fifth year senior went 0 for 8 from the field, but she did bring down five rebounds. Taylor Greenfield was the only Stanford player to come off of the bench and contribute points, as she finished the game with five.
The Trojans didn’t shoot that much better, as they finished the game shooting just 39%. USC also saw three different players get into double digits. Alexyz Vaioletama led the way with 19 points. She also contributed 15 rebounds, with five of them coming on the offensive side of the glass. Guard, Ariya Cook, finished the game with 15 points. Game MVP, Cassie Harberts only had 13 points, but ten of them came at the most opportune time, as she scored ten straight with under three minutes to go to give the Trojan’s a lead good enough to win the game.
The win for the Trojans gets them that much closer into the NCAA tournament, as ESPN’s Charlie Creme has the ladies of USC on his first four teams out of the tournament. However, with this win it might just be enough to break the bubble and earn a bid. That is if they don’t receive the automatic bid on Sunday afternoon by winning the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon State, their opponent on Sunday is looked at as already in the NCAA Tournament according to Creme.
Number four-ranked Stanford has their record drop to 29-3, and now they are a little unsure on how they will be entering the NCAA Tournament. Some questions arise, is Stanford still a number one seed? Does Stanford still deserve to be in the west region, their host region? Only time will tell what the selection committee decides, but for now we sit back and prepare for another great day of Championship basketball on Sunday.