March 25, 2024 

This time, Stanford survives NCAA Tournament second-round scare to advance out of Maples

35 games into the season and headed to the Sweet 16 in Portland, Stanford are still learning about themselves

STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford survived and it advanced. It “got the hell out of Maples”, as senior Cameron Brink succinctly put it, with a thrilling 87-81 overtime win over Iowa State in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.

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Eighteen lead changes. Twelve ties. Forty-five minutes of punch-counterpunch. Thirty-six points scored in a five-minute overtime period.

The kind of game, Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer says, teaches you a lot about your team.


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It’s hard to believe that 35 games into the season there is much more to learn, but with the opportunity to play in Portland in the Sweet 16, Stanford will continue their education.

It’s not out of line to say this is not a “great” Stanford team. VanDerveer has coached great Stanford teams. Teams with depth inside, strong guard play, no obvious weak spots. Despite a pair of All-Americans patrolling the paint, this is a team with some obvious gaps, some of which were on clear display at various points against the Cyclones.

Yet VanDerveer has taken very good teams to the Final Four before. And this is a very good Stanford team that has compensated for its weaknesses with cohesion, chemistry, experience and an ability to meet the big moment, and that’s what happened Sunday night in Maples.

But if beating Iowa State was so hard, if it took everything that the Cardinal could give offensively and defensively to get off their home court in a second-round game, what comes next?

Harder things, to be sure.


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Can Stanford meet those moments as well and build momentum that gets them to the Final Four?

“I think it’s been like that all season,” said fifth-year senior Hannah Jump, the local kid whose emotions about playing her final game at Maples Pavilion were all over her face in the moments immediately following the celebration. “When someone’s number is called they’ve stepped up and played big when we need them. It’s just staying ready, putting in the work in practice, everyone knowing what we are doing in the scouting report, and when your name is called, go in there.”

“I think last year (a second-round home loss to Ole Miss at home), that game really taught us to just take it one game at a time. You know, we came in today prepared. I think we just didn’t want to go home. We wanted to get out of here and go to Portland. That’s been our motto all week, to be honest. We fought hard. As much as I love Maples, I didn’t want my season to end here tonight.”

An emotional Hannah Jump, having just completed her final home game of her college career, does a postgame interview with Stanford's radio team after the Cardinal's 87-81 overtime win over Iowa State on March 24, 2024 at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. (Photo credit: Michelle Smith | The Next)
An emotional Hannah Jump, having just completed her final home game of her college career, does a postgame interview with Stanford’s radio team after the Cardinal’s 87-81 overtime win over Iowa State on March 24, 2024 at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. (Photo credit: Michelle Smith | The Next)

Last year’s Ole Miss loss abruptly ended Stanford’s season and offered different kinds of lessons for VanDerveer and the Cardinal, the kind that led to big offseason changes.

The departure of three players in the transfer portal, the return of assistant coach Tempie Brown, changes in team administration. And the biggest change of all, the end of the Pac-12 as we know it.
The lessons — and the questions — to take from Sunday night’s win may be more productive in the short-term for a Cardinal team that still has much hard work to do.

Too much Kiki?

Kiki Iriafen’s epic, record-breaking night, 41 points and 16 rebounds (not to mention four assists, three blocks and a 9-for-9 performance from the free-throw line) was absolutely necessary. The Cardinal have been a team for most of the season that relies on both Iriafen and Brink to carry the offensive load.

Hannah Jump was the only other double-figure scorer in the game, with 15 points, including three critical treys. But Jump’s production can be up-and-down depending on the opposing team’s defensive plan and her ability to get free. Simply put, other people need to shoot.

Junior forward Brooke Demetre maximized her nearly 19 minutes on the floor by hitting a pair of huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and in overtime, and dropped a pair of free-throws to nail down the win. She also offered critical defensive support on shooters.

Outside of Iriafen, Jump and Demetre, the rest of the Stanford offense offered up just 23 points.
“How can you have too much Kiki tonight?,” VanDerveer said. “I mean, she was in that zone. She’s been in that zone before.”

Stanford junior forward Kiki Iriafen squares up to the basket during her 41-point night in the Cardinal's 87-81 overtime win over Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 24, 2024 at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Stanford Athletics)
Stanford junior forward Kiki Iriafen squares up to the basket during her 41-point night in the Cardinal’s 87-81 overtime win over Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 24, 2024 at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Stanford Athletics)

Can Brink stay on the floor?

Brink struggled Sunday. She would play a little less than 23 minutes, going 4-for-9 for eight points with eight rebounds and five blocks. She fouled out with 2:11 to go in regulation and spent the final moments of her Maples career cheering from the bench.

Her presence inside was undeniably disruptive to Iowa State freshman center Audi Crooks, who also ultimately fouled out. But Brink has been off offensively. In the last five games, Brink has shot 31 of 77 from the floor (40.2 percent). Her career field-goal percentage is 52.8.

Iriafen has had to pick up the slack.


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Issues defending the perimeter, rebounding remain

Iowa State was 12-of-19 from beyond the arc, and it kept the pressure on Stanford throughout the game.

Nine of those threes came from Emily Ryan (6-for-9) and Addy Brown (3-for-4), and some of those dozen were contested shots that went in anyway, but perimeter defense has been a sore point for Stanford.
In 13 games this season, the Cardinal have given up at least eight 3-pointers. Four of their five losses are included in this group.

VanDerveer made defensive changes against Iowa State, deciding to put size on Ryan and Brown down the stretch, giving key defensive assignments to freshman forward Nunu Agara and even Iriafen. It worked late in the game, though both Cyclones hit big 3-pointers in the overtime.

The Cardinal were also outrebounded 42–36, but still pulled out a win — which hasn’t been the case most of this season. Heading into the game, they had been out-rebounded just twice all season, both losses to Gonzaga (31–29) and USC in the Pac-12 Tournament final (48–28).

VanDerveer acknowledged that when Iriafen is shooting and Brink is on the bench, the team’s rebounding suffers.


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Guts and grit

There is no question that Stanford’s raucous home crowd at Maples pushed the Cardinal through the tough moments, but this is an experienced group, for the most part. Six of the eight players who played double-digits minutes against Iowa State had been there before.

Stanford never looked rattled, despite the back-and-forth. And the contributions they got from Agara, point guard Talana Lepolo (who has been nursing a knee injury) and Jzaniya Harriel figured big in the final result. VanDerveer reduced her rotation this season to 12 players and nearly every play on the roster is ready to pitch in when called. That will be Stanford’s superpower for as long as they can make this run last.

“I’m so proud of this team for being in this position,” VanDerveer said. “We’re going to the regionals. Anything can happen. We know we can play a lot better … I think we can be really clicking on all cylinders, obviously keeping Cam out there and really running offense and not fouling. But this is why you do this.”

Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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