LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tara VanDerveer and her Stanford Cardinal are back in a familiar place: the Pac-12 Tournament title game.
Alanna Smith had 21 points and 12 rebounds to help seventh-ranked Stanford beat Washington 72-61 on Saturday night in the semifinals, ending the Huskies’ improbable postseason run.
The second-seeded Cardinal (27-4) will face top-seeded Oregon on Sunday night for the championship in a rematch of last season’s title game. Stanford has been in 16 of the 18 title games, winning 12 of them.
“I remember the two we weren’t in,” VanDerveer said. “We are really appreciative of being in the championship game. It says a lot about our program. I think the tournament has been a great thing for our conference and women’s basketball. It gets us ready for the NCAA Tournament.”
Stanford (27-4) looked to be cruising to an easy win, but just as they had done in the first two games of the tournament, the Huskies rallied from a double-digit first-half deficit. Washington trailed by 17 with 5:03 left in the second quarter before going on a 15-3 run to get within six at 37-31 with 6 seconds left in the half. DiJonai Carrington helped Stanford steal the momentum back, making a shot from beyond half-court just before the buzzer to restore a nine-point lead.
“She practices them every day and doesn’t leave the court until she hits one,” VanDerveer said. “That might be her longest.”
Carrington knew it was a huge shot.
“They were for sure making a run, it was a six-point game at that point,” Carrington said. “Anyone hits a big half-court shot or big 3 we all get excited. … It gave us a lot of momentum to go into halftime and gave us a little more of a cushion.”
Carrington then hit a more conventional 3-pointer to start the second half and Washington (11-21) could get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
Washington pulled off the only upsets of the tournament, becoming just the second 11-seed to advance to the semis by knocking off Utah and No. 11 Oregon State. The Huskies, who won just two conference games in the regular season, needed a late 3-pointer to beat the Beavers. They just didn’t have enough left in the tank to top the Cardinal.
“I looked at Jenna (Moser) before the game and said no matter what the outcome is today we can be proud,” said Washington senior Hannah Johnson, fighting back tears. “We won two games we weren’t supposed to. If you asked me at the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t have thought so. I think it’s hard it’s over, but I’m really proud of my team and how it ended.”
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Amber Melgoza scored 32 points to lead the Huskies.
The Pac-12 recognized associate commissioner Chris Dawson, who is retiring at the end of the year. She has spent over 40 years with the conference. She was chair of the women’s basketball selection committee and also was honored as the 2015 Administrator of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. The conference gave Dawson a ball signed by all of the conference’s coaches as well as a piece of art to “commemorate the glass ceiling she has broken to better women’s sports and her commitment to the thousands of student-athletes she has influenced.”
Australia national team coach Sandy Brondello, who also coaches the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, was in the crowd. She coached Smith at the world championships last fall when Australia won the silver medal. The Stanford senior had 10 points in the title game against the U.S.
STOPPING MISSY: Washington guard Missy Peterson had made 11 of her 14 3-point attempts in the tournament, including the game-winner against Oregon State before going 0-for-6 from behind the arc against Stanford.
Washington: heads into the offseason.
Stanford: faces Oregon on Sunday night for the conference tournament title.
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