LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Stanford put itself in an early hole and could never dig its way out
Thanks to that sluggish start, the Cardinal’s season is finished.
Washington scored the game’s first 12 points and led all the way Sunday as the seventh-seeded Huskies beat No. 4 seed Stanford 85-76 in the NCAA Lexington Regional women’s basketball final.
“We just for some reason did not come out with the intensity and aggressiveness that we needed to,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. But I’m really proud of our team. We had a great season.”
Stanford (27-8) got to 78-73 on Lili Thompson’s 3-pointer with 1:07 left. An offensive foul on Kelsey Plum allowed Stanford to get the ball back, but Thompson missed a 3-pointer with a minute remaining.
Washington went 7 of 8 on free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.
Chantel Osahor, selected the regional’s most valuable player, matched a career high with 24 points and had 18 rebounds. Plum, who began the day as the third-leading scorer in Division I, had 26 points and eight assists.
Their efforts made Washington the first team seeded seventh or lower to reach a Final Four since Minnesota got there in 2004. Washington (26-10) is in the Final Four for the first time and will face Syracuse (29-7) in an NCAA semifinal April 3 in Indianapolis.
“I don’t think it’s really hit us,” Osahor said as she wore a piece of the Rupp Arena net tied to her Final Four hat. “I mean, we’re in the Final Four. That’s a huge accomplishment. I think we’ve got to look back and appreciate it and soak it in because it’s an opportunity a lot of people don’t get.”
Thompson scored 19 points for Stanford (27-8), which was seeking its 13th Final Four appearance overall and seventh in the last nine seasons. Erica McCall added 17 points — all in the second half — and 15 rebounds.
This marked the first regional final between two Pac-12 schools since Stanford beat Southern California 82-62 on its way to winning the national championship in 1992, when the conference was still known as the Pac-10.
This was the third meeting of the season between these two conference foes. Stanford won 69-53 at home on Jan. 29. Washington beat the Cardinal 73-65 on March 4 in the Pac-12 Tournament at Seattle.
Washington wasted no time taking control Sunday. The Huskies led 22-7 at the end of the first quarter.
“I think that they came out with more energy than us,” Thompson said. “I think that those first few possessions they really put their heads down, they were aggressive and they kind of just came out and threw the first punch.”
Osahor, who had shot a combined 3 of 13 and had averaged just 4.5 points in Washington’s two previous games with Stanford, was a model of efficiency Sunday.
Osahor’s physical presence early in the game also helped Washington hold McCall scoreless in the first half.
“Osahor was really the difference,” VanDerveer said.
Stanford cut Washington’s lead to 67-63 with 7:19 left after Karlie Samuelson, Thompson, Marta Sniezek and McCall hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions.
The Cardinal had the ball with a chance to cut further into the lead when Plum made a steal and drove to the basket. Although Plum missed her layup, Talia Walton delivered a putback that made it 69-63 with 6:23 remaining.
Stanford made one more charge in the closing minutes, but Plum wouldn’t allow Washington to fold. She scored 19 points in the second half to help Washington finally get to the Final Four.
“Kelsey Plum is an All-American, flat-out, period,” VanDerveer said. “There is no player that we played on any other team all year that was harder to guard than her.”
Washington: In its only two previous regional final appearances, Washington had fallen 76-50 to Auburn in 1990 and 104-87 to Missouri State (then known as Southwest Missouri State) in 2001.
Stanford: Samuelson shot 4 of 7 from 3-point range before fouling out. She shot 14 of 23 on 3-pointers for the entire tournament.
Plum, Walton, Thompson and McCall joined Osahor on the all-regional team.
Plum’s 26-point performance actually slightly lowered her season average. She averages 26.2 points per game. ... Stanford shot 14 of 33 from 3-point range. Stanford matched a season high for 3-point attempts.
Washington will face Syracuse in an NCAA semifinal April 3 in Indianapolis.