Spokane, Wash – The heroes are back in Final Four. Top seed Stanford beat Texas No. 2, 59-50, on Sunday to reach the 15th semifinals of the NCAA National Championships.
The Cardinals were encouraged by the Spokane Arena crowd in their stadium thanks to fans of Hull’s twins, Lexi and Lacey, who grew up in Spokane. Lexi Hull was the game’s top scorer with 20 points on 7 of 14 shots.
The match was strong, physical and fast since the tip was received, with every side blocking shots and looking strong. It was exactly the speed and style that the Longhorns sought, though Stanford still found ways to score. Lexi Hull in particular seemed to fuel the fans’ enthusiasm for her and her sister, as she scored 5 points in the first six minutes of the match and finished the first half with 12.
“You’re always happy to go to the Final Four, but sometimes you’re really happy,” said Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer. “I’m really happy. It’s a great group to be with, they care about each other, they’ll do anything. No matter who we play – whether it’s Connecticut State or NC State, we’ll be ready.”
Free throws were traded at the start of the match, as was difficult defensive play. At one point Lacey Hull blocked a shot to steal from one side, and then Alia Matharu of Texas took charge of the move on the other. The first quarter ended 14-14 after Haley Jones hit a powerful whistle, but Texans kept Stanford goalless for five minutes before that.
The Cardinal made just 39.3 percent of his shots from the ground in the first half, but he went into the locker room by 3 points – thanks in part to a poor free throw from Longhorns. Anytime the Texans lose patience and start playing hard, Stanford will make them pay either by making their free throws or by finding an open player along the baseline.
“We knew tonight was going to be super physical, and it definitely was,” said Lexi Hull. “It’s about who was smarter.”
It looked as if Stanford found some disconnect early in the third inning, when Longhorns rebel lead Lauren Ibow picked up her second and third foul in the first two minutes of the quarter, and Stanford forward Cameron Brink scored 5 consecutive points in the same period.
But the Texans kept getting their stops, even when they couldn’t consistently convert them to points, and tied the game again. Senior goalkeeper Audrey Warren contributed 3-point assists to keep the Longhorns in close range, and played an impressive defense over Haley Jones.
“This defense is very stressful,” Jones said. “I’m excited to go back and shower and sleep.”
Jones managed to return Stanford’s 5-point lead by the end of the third quarter, when she missed a 3-point shot and made all of her free throws. The Cardinal led by exactly 5 points in the final quarter of his first game against the Longhorns of the season – a defeat to the Texans at home in November for one of only three losses this season.
The tug of war continued into the fourth inning, but the Longhorns weren’t able to bounce back and repeat their early season upset. Texas came in by two points in the final minutes, but was still haunted by the missed free throws. The Longhorns finished 11 of 20 from the free throw line.
Stanford won its 24th straight game, the longest active streak in the first division. Cameron Brink excelled in the second half, closing the Texans home attack by six blocks.
“They’ve done enough things to beat us, and that’s what great teams do,” said Texas coach Vic Schaefer. “We had a bad fourth quarter scoring basketball, otherwise we just left everything on the floor.”
Jones finished with a double thanks to her consistency on the streak, shooting 10 of 11. Jones had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and was named the Spokane Regional Player of the Year.
In the end, Stanford dominated the low-goal match, and managed to avenge his loss. Texans have been eliminated in the quarter-finals for the second year in a row.
“We listen to his post-game talk, and we say, ‘But this is just first year,'” freshman Rory Harmon said, referring to the other young Texans. “I’m upset about this, but I’m ready for more.”
“Devoted travel trailblazer. Freelance beer scholar. Passionate analyst. Hardcore twitter fanatic.”