The Stanford Cardinal looked like their season may end in disappointing fashion through 24 minutes against Louisville on Tuesday in the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, but a terrific 2nd half rally turned their game and season around, as Stanford won 78-63 in the Elite Eight round.
Stanford had one of their worst halves of the season to start the game, trailing by 12 points at halftime, but they kept their heads and regrouped, and now they’ve reached the minimum expectation for their season in reaching the Final Four.
After Louisville took a 2-0 lead, Cameron Brink ran a give-and-go that led to a feed over the top, the freshman hitting the layup to tie the game, before Kiana Williams hit a long two the next possession to give them a 4-2 lead.
But it was back-and-forth, Louisville next running out to a 10-6 lead. Brink was the best part of the 1st quarter for Stanford, as she repeatedly crashed the rim and took feeds over the top to score and draw Louisville fouls. But she went back to the locker room, walking under her own power just before the end of the opening quarter.
Stanford looked tight in the 1st quarter and Louisville took advantage, up 21-13 through 12 minutes.
Fortunately Brink was back in the lineup to start the 2nd quarter, it appeared she may have been dealing with a hamstring issue.
Lexie Hull got active in the 2nd quarter, looking to provide a boost for the Cardinal with Kiana Williams sputtering in the early minutes. With Stanford struggling from 3-point range, Fran Belibi came off the bench and again battling down inside to help pull the Cardinal back into the game against the Cardinals.
But Louisville kept hitting their shots and everything was tough for Stanford, and the teams went into halftime with Louisville ahead 38-26, an uncharacteristic deficit for Stanford this season, indeed. Lexie Hull was the only Stanford player in any kind of offensive rhythm, with 11 points at the half which paced all scorers. Louisville’s Dana Evans led her team with 10 points at halftime.
The start of the 2nd half was more of the same, with Louisville may a tad less sharp on their shooting but nobody but Brink really doing anything offensively for Stanford.
Williams missed 11 straight shots, but found a good spot to get a basket in the 3rd quarter, as she looked to get into the game. From there she did start to find some traction, grabbing a defensive rebound and driving down for a layup a few possessions later. Haley Jones hit a couple timely baskets in the 3rd quarter to start chipping away at the deficit in earnest. Ashten Prechtel’s close-range shot from Jones’ assist capped off a 12-2 run for Stanford that made it a four-point game.
Coming out of a timeout, Stanford got a stop and Prechtel hit a 3-pointer, and Williams hit a floater in the paint to give Stanford a 46-45 lead with just over 2:00 left in the 3rd quarter.
From there, it was a seesaw battle with the teams trading leads to close out the quarter. Hailey Van Lith buried a shot in the dying seconds to give Louisville a 50-48 lead at the end of the quarter, but Stanford were truly back in the game with 12 minutes to play.
Prechtel hit another 3-pointer to open the 4th quarter, then Jones drove to the rim on the next possession to put Stanford up by three points. They finally found some daylight with Hull scoring on the next possession from close range to make it a five-point lead.
And then Stanford basically blew the game open in the 4th quarter, as they extended their lead to 12 points. Louisville didn’t lie down, pushing to keep their season alive and hitting some baskets down the stretch.
This was a game where the team effort really shined. Hull was fantastic in good times and bad, Jones was quietly strong, Brink did her part until it seemed she couldn’t go on from injury, Belibi crashed the boards, and Prechtel really jumpstarted the rally after a pretty quiet tournament so far. Williams endured a tough 1st half but she stayed the course and got on track in the 2nd half, and will get her hometown Final Four berth.
Stanford will face South Carolina in the Final Four round on Friday. Two more games to go, but the Cardinal will have to get past another tough opponent if they want to play two more games this season. It should be a great game.