March 23, 2016

Way too close for comfort

Tara issues instructions during a timeout. (Stanford Athletics)
When Tara VanDerveer reflects on her first 1,000 games as head coach of the Stanford women’s basketball team, one that will undoubtedly stand out for her is her 1,000th, the March 21 victory over South Dakota State.

That’s when the fourth-seeded Cardinal eked out a 66-65 win in Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament, thereby advancing to the Sweet 16 in the Lexington, Ky., Regional. It will be the team's ninth straight appearance in the Sweet 16.

It took a mighty effort in just under 5 minutes to erase an 8-point deficit against the gritty 12th-seeded Jackrabbits, and it wasn’t until the last 1 second that victory was assured.

Lili, Bird help to clinch the win

The final heroics came from junior guard Lili Thompson and junior forward Erica “Bird” McCall. Lili made a driving layup to tie the game 65-65 with 8.2 seconds left. She was fouled in the process and made the free throw to put the Cardinal ahead to stay.

Lili, Karlie and Bri celebrate in the locker room. (Stanford Athletics)
SD State got off one last shot, but Bird blocked it, setting off a joyful celebration by the team and a huge sigh of relief by the fans.

It wasn’t a pretty game by any means. Poor free-throw shooting, 10 of 22, or 45.5 percent, nearly sabotaged the team, costing it 12 points. SD State was more successful at the line, making 7 of 13, or 53.8 percent.

SD State also dominated Stanford in areas where the Cardinal usually prevail, such as points in the paint, 28-24.

Both teams had six 3-pointers. Stanford’s came from junior Karlie Samuelson with three, and from Bird, Lili and junior guard Briana Roberson with one each. Bri’s 3 came at the 40.9 mark, a crucial contribution to the team’s come-from-behind win.

Bench adds only 5 points

Lili, Bird, Karlie and Bri were in the starting lineup along with sophomore forward Kaylee Johnson. Four bench players got into the game, but they contributed only 5 points -- also unusual for this team. Everyone was available except for freshman forward/center Shannon Coffee, still in a boot.

Instead the starters did most of the heavy lifting, with Lili playing all 40 minutes and scoring 19 points to go with five assists, one rebound, one block and two steals. Playing 32 minutes after spending some time on the bench in foul trouble, Bird led the team with 20 points, 12 rebounds and that all-important block.

Karlie played 38 minutes and added 9 points, three rebounds, four assists, one block and two steals.

Loudly cheering, SD State fans filled the stands behind their bench. Sitting behind the Stanford bench, among others, were the players’ families and two members of last year’s squad -- Bonnie Samuelson and Taylor Greenfield -- along with Mikaela Ruef, ’14.

Some random facts from Stanford Athletics

This was Stanford’s 14th straight NCAA win at home since losing to Florida State 68-61 at Maples in the second round on March 19, 2007.

It was Tara’s 1,203rd career game overall and her 979th victory, just 21 wins away from joining Tennessee’s legendary Pat Summitt as the only NCAA women's coaches with 1,000 career wins.

The Cardinal improved to 34-4 in NCAA games at home. The 65 NCAA women's games played at Maples are second most at any venue behind Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena (66).

Next up for the Cardinal is Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. Friday. It will be televised on ESPN.

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