For the first time in the 13-year history of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball tournament, the championship game will not include Stanford.
Benefiting from a 10-0 run in less than two minutes late in the second half — all 10 scored by two-time All-Pac-12 forward Cassie Harbets — fifth-seeded USC blunted a late Stanford rally and stunned the top-seeded Cardinal 72-68 Saturday night in a tournament semifinal at KeyArena.
USC (21-12) led 67-60 after the decisive run and advances to Sunday’s conference championship game at 6 p.m. It will be the first time a USC women’s team has played for the conference crown. Stanford (29-3) had previously played in every title game since the women’s tournament was established in 2002, winning 10 of them, including the last seven.
“I’m really proud of how we rebounded, how we battled and how we finished this game,” said USC coach Cynthia Cooper.
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Though Stanford’s four-time All-Pac-12 forward Chiney Ogwumike had big numbers (30 points, 21 rebounds), Cooper pointed to Ogwumike’s primary defender, junior forward Alexyz Vaioletama(a team-high 19 points and 15 rebounds), as a key factor in the surprise outcome.
“We talked about being physical with Ogwumike and all of their post players before they received the ball,” Cooper said, “nnot allowing them to get deep position, then making them make offensive moves as opposed to grabbing that ball, turning around and laying it up.
“I thought Alexyz did a fantastic job,” Cooper added. “So Ogwumike had 30 and 21. I guarantee you she hasn’t worked that hard all year long to get those numbers. She’s a phenomenal player, so you can’t shut her down. But you can make her life tough.”
Typifying that, with 12 minutes to play Vaioletama outmuscled Ogwumike for a rebound and a put-back shot that gave USC both momentum and a 48-38 lead.
Stanford, ranked No. 4, went six minutes without a field goal before the final minute, yet narrowed its deficit to 67-66 with 30 seconds left.
But the Cardinal could not get key late shots to fall. Fitting, since Stanford shot just 31.9 percent from the field (23 of 72), missing 10 of its first 12 shots in the first half, 12 of its first 13 in the second.
“We did not shoot the ball well,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “The last month or so, we’ve been stagnant offensively, and we need to really fix that.”