April 2, 2017

Hoping from home

Bird, followed by Brittany and Alanna, celebrates the team's first-half lead. (LM Otero/AP photo)

Alternately cheering, cajoling and groaning, several dozen fans of Stanford women’s basketball filled Dan Gordon’s brew pub in downtown Palo Alto as the team took on South Carolina in the semi-final of the Final Four in Dallas on March 31.

Their hopes ended as the 2-seeded Cardinal lost 62-53 to the 1-seeded Gamecocks. There wasn’t another comeback like the ones that had brought the team to this point.

Perhaps the biggest groan came with just under five minutes left in the second quarter when senior guard Karlie Samuelson suffered an ankle injury and had to be carried off the court. The TV broadcast showed her fall several times, sometimes in slow motion, to demonstrate just how much her ankle had twisted.

Karlie goes scoreless for game

The team was up 21-15 at that point and closed the half with a 29-20 lead. Karlie returned for a short time in the third quarter but left quickly. She played some more for a game total of 25 minutes, but she wasn’t moving as well as usual. The player whom head coach Tara VanDerveer called the team’s glue was held scoreless.

The crowd groaned some more about halfway through the third quarter when sophomore forward Alanna Smith had to leave with three fouls. Nevertheless, she later returned, playing a total of 26 minutes and contributing 14 points and 12 rebounds. Senior forward Erica “Bird” McCall had 14 points and 14 rebounds in her final game.

Still, shooting went cold in the second half, contributing to the loss.

Eerie similarity to 2010 in San Antonio

Karlie’s injury evoked memories of the 2010 Final Four when Stanford faced UConn for the championship on April 6 in San Antonio. The Cardinal led 20-12 at the half, but UConn rallied in the second half after senior center Jayne Appel aggravated an ankle injury.

After fresh tape and a pain shot, she returned but finished the game scoreless for the first time in her college career. UConn won 53-47.

UConn wasn’t so lucky this year as Mississippi State stunned the Huskies 66-64 in overtime, ending their record 111-game win streak. UConn hadn’t lost before that since Nov. 17, 2014, when Stanford won 88-86, also in overtime, at Maples Pavilion.

Most media reports are calling UConn’s loss this year the biggest upset in the history of women’s basketball.

In the meantime, the Stanford players and their fans can reflect on how much the team accomplished this year and how much fun they had along the way –- except for this final game.

For the players, it's also back to campus for the start of spring quarter April 3. The only exception is Bird, who is graduating in hopes of going to the WNBA. The draft is April 13 in New York.

Fans will have one more chance to see the team at the spring banquet April 9.

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