LAS VEGAS (AP) — Red and white confetti littered the basketball court inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center on Sunday night, Erica Banks’ hit song “Buss It” blared through the sound system, and Stanford’s women’s basketball players broke from posing for a celebratory picture to perform the popular Tik Tok dance.
It seemed only fitting, after Kiana Williams scored 26 points to lead No. 4 Stanford to the Pac 12 Tournament championship with a 75-55 win over No. 9 UCLA.
“When the confetti came down it was time to celebrate, time to dance,” Williams said. “We have business to take care of (in the NCAA Tournament) in San Antonio, my hometown. We want to be the last team standing.”
Stanford, which has made the Pac-12 championship game 18 times in 20 total tournaments, improved to 14-4 in the finals while winning its third title in five years.
Lexie Hull added 24 points while Haley Jones finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds for Stanford (25-2).
“We really came out aggressive,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We got a lot of different contributions. It’s a total team effort.”
Michaela Onyenwere led UCLA (16-5) with 30 points. Charisma Osborne finished with 11 points and five rebounds for the Bruins.
The game was a renewal of one of the more storied rivalries in Pac 12 postseason history, as Stanford has played UCLA more than any other team in the Pac-12 Tournament. The Cardinal improved to 11-1 against the Bruins in the event – including four wins in championship meetings.
Stanford controlled things in the first half, with a balanced attack led by Williams and Hull. The Cardinal used runs of 12-5 in the first quarter and 11-3 to start the second quarter to eventually take a 23-point lead into halftime.
Onyenwere was UCLA’s only bright spot in the first half, scoring 13 points. She was 5-for-11 from the floor while the rest of the team was 2-of-15 (.133).
“I’m much more disappointed that we played so below our process and commitment to what we said we were going to do, and the lack of urgency, commitment to the game plan, rebounding,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “I mean, we just didn’t do anything in the first half that we said we were going to do. And that is the one that really stings.”
UCLA began to claw its way back into the game after Williams’ 3-pointer gave Stanford its biggest lead at 26 with 9:19 left in the third quarter and got within 12 after a 20-6 run. But Stanford regained its composure, built a 16-point lead midway through the fourth quarter behind a nine-point spurt from Hull, and never looked back to seal the win. Stanford shot 80% in the fourth quarter.
“Today we showed some toughness against a very, very good team,” VanDerveer said.
UCLA: The struggle to find offense, and defend the Cardinal, must have left Close with a difficult decision on how to use starter Natalie Chou. The senior guard was a defensive stopper in the team’s first two games, came in with a team second-best 35 steals, and was the Bruins’ third-leading scorer with 10.3 points per game. Chou, who averaged a little more than 30 minutes per game, played 10 minutes in the first half and finished with 26.
Stanford: Williams was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after finishing with 49 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in three games. Williams, who can opt-in for another senior season, was 12 of 18 from 3-point range and is now one 3-pointer shy of Candice Williams’ career record of 295.
Hull and teammate Cameron Brink, Onyenwere, Arizona’s Aari McDonald and Oregon State’s Aleah Goodman were named to the all-tournament team.
ACE IN THE PLACE
Las Vegas Aces owner Mark Davis, who also owns the Las Vegas Raiders, took his seat for the title game inside Mandalay Bay’s arena about 45 minutes before tipoff. The Aces, whom Davis purchased in January, play their home games inside the venue.
“I’m here to scout,” Davis said with a wide smile.
In what appeared to be sheer coincidence, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson arrived at Mandalay Bay around the same time as Davis. Just as he did for the 2020 Pac 12 Tournament in the same arena, Wilson was in attendance for the championship game to support his younger sister, Anna, a starting guard for Stanford. Wilson, who sat socially distanced and situated above and behind the Cardinal bench, played the role of exuberant fan, cheering from his feet and at times taking phone pics and/or videos of his sister, who finished with two points, four rebounds, three assists, and one steal in 31 minutes.
Both teams await their NCAA seeds.
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.
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