VICTORIA, British Columbia (AP) — Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer’s willingness to give youth a chance paid off Saturday night.
Again relying on a predominantly young lineup, No. 3 Stanford won the Greater Victoria Invitational tournament championship with a 67-62 victory over No. 10 Mississippi State.
“We have a very young team,” VanDerveer said. “People really stepped up and it was very exciting.”
The Cardinal (8-0) took control in the third quarter and then held on after losses earlier in the day by top-ranked Oregon and No. 2 Baylor.
“(The tournament) taught the young players a lot,” VanDerveer said. “I think this (win) will help our team’s confidence. (Mississippi State) are a great program and they play a very physical, aggressive brand of basketball that’s hard to play against.”
Freshman Haley Jones led the Cardinal with 13 points while Kiana Williams added 12.
Jones, a Santa Cruz, California native who logged 36 minutes, is seeing plenty of action in her first season on a likely NCAA title contender. But she contended the entire team’s chemistry, not its youth, has been the key to its success.
“It’s really exciting just for me, being a freshman out there,” she said. “I’m just learning so much from my teammates. What our freshman class is doing for this team right now, the impact that we’re trying to make, we could not do it without our upperclassmen.”
Both VanDerveer and Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said the contest was their team’s toughest of the season.
“That’s the No. 3 team in the country. We just took them down to the wire and had a chance to win,” Schaefer said. “We made them play down there.”
Rickea Jackson had 15 points for Mississippi State (8-1) and Jessika Carter added 12.
“We didn’t come out in the second half ready to play,” Schaefer said, following a lengthy postgame meeting. “They did and they popped us.”
Both teams showed jitters early. The first basket was not scored until Stanford converted after more than a minute and a half. Both squads then found a rhythm of sorts and a tight battle ensued with the lead changing hands a number of times before the first quarter ended in a 17-all tie.
The teams continued to trade the lead in the second quarter, with neither squad managing to go ahead by more than four points. Jackson’s layup cut Stanford’s lead to 35-33 edge at the half.
The Cardinal lost Williams to an apparent knee injury with 3:24 left in the game as she fell hard to the floor. Williams favored her right knee as, unable to put weight on it. She was helped off the court and later came back and sat on the bench with ice taped to her knee.
“When she went out, that really was a test for our team to have other people — Anna Wilson, Jenna Brown, Haley Jones — step up,” said VanDerveer.
The Bulldogs pulled within three in the final minute on Jamya Mingo-Young’s free throws. But they could not get closer despite forcing some turnovers in the closing moments. Mingo-Young had a chance to tie the game on a 3-pointer before Lexie Hull clinched the win with two free throws.
Walking free of the ice pack after the game, Williams suggested the injury was not as bad as it looked.
“I’m fine,” she said. “It was just a scary injury. I’m so happy that we got the win and pulled it out.”
Stanford: The Cardinal got through arguably their toughest test of the season and may have a chance to reach No. 1 after losses by the two teams ahead of them.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs showed that they can battle back when necessary.
Mississippi State has appeared in the NCAA championship game in two of the past three years, losing to Notre Dame in 2018 and South Carolina in 2017.
Stanford reached the Final Four in 2017 and has 12 Final Four appearances under coach VanDerveer. The Cardinal won NCAA crowns in 1990 and 1992.
Stanford forward Alyssa Jerome, a Toronto native, stood out in her homeland. Her fast-break layup early in the third quarter snapped a tie and started a 12-2 run. The Cardinal never trailed the rest of the way.
Stanford could move up after both No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Baylor lost Saturday. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs might have helped themselves by battling back and keeping the score close.
Stanford: The Cardinal will get a long break for exams before taking on Ohio State at home in mid-December.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs will try to get back on the winning track at home Dec. 9 against West Virginia after getting a week off.
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