March 5, 2022
Inside Semifinal Friday at the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament
An altercation and a technical foul loomed large
LAS VEGAS — And then there were two! Day 3 of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament saw two excellent semifinal games and now we have just one game left to crown a champion. Here’s a look back at each game and all four teams’ performance:
Semifinal 1: No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 5 Colorado
Game summary: Behind a strong defensive effort and a balanced offensive attack, Stanford dominated on its way to another Pac-12 Tournament championship game. Our first semifinal started as a defensive grind as both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter. Stanford led 11-10 after one quarter, but Stanford’s offense exploded after an altercation between Cameron Brink and Colorado’s Mya Hollingshed. Hollingshed pushed Brink in the face after Brink stole the ball, and Brink retaliated by throwing the ball at Hollingshed. Both were given intentional fouls. After that incident, Stanford outscored Colorado 19-8 and took a 33-18 lead into the halftime locker room.
Colorado came out refocused and cut the Stanford lead to single digits twice in the third quarter. However, an Anna Wilson buzzer-beating three gave the Cardinal a 16-point lead heading into the final frame. Stanford dominated the fourth and will head to its sixth straight Pac-12 Tournament championship game.
My thoughts on Stanford’s performance: Stanford did what Stanford has done all season long. I know that is said about the Cardinal a lot, but that is why they are the No. 2 team in the country. They are so deep and have so many great players, which is why they are so hard to beat. Brink is the second-best post player in the country. She had a great game on Friday down low and, on top of that, hit a three. I think the altercation between Brink and Hollingshed worked in Stanford’s favor and energized the team in that moment.
Wilson is shooting the ball with a ton of confidence and seems to be having her best all-around season. Shots like her buzzer-beating three are something we haven’t seen from her before. Like I said after the quarterfinals, Haley Jones is the most versatile player in college basketball. She can also take over whenever she wants, and she did it again on Friday in the second half.
The victory was Tara VanDerveer’s 1,000th at Stanford, and in my opinion, she is the greatest women’s college basketball coach of all time. Wilson agreed:
“I’m just really grateful to be able to be coached by Tara and you know she’s [a] legend and she’s the greatest of all time. So I’m just really grateful for that. I’ve been here for 132 of those wins, and if I had more I would probably be here for more.”
My thoughts on Colorado’s performance: Colorado is a very good team that is going to be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. It just ran into a national title favorite in Stanford. Hollingshed continues to be a beast. She dominated the glass again and can score at every level. If you’ve read my previous pieces on the tournament, you’ll know I think Kindyll Wetta is going to be a star, and Friday didn’t change my mind. In fact, it led me to believe that more. She has an incredibly bright future, and she has a great skillset for being only a freshman.
The Buffaloes did some good things in the third quarter to cut into the deficit. Jaylyn Sherrod did a great job of drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line. Colorado’s biggest struggle was its turnovers, which it will need to clean up for the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking of March Madness, head coach JR Payne thinks that Colorado has shown that it deserves a high seed.
“I think that we have proven—we have won seven of our last nine games in one of the best conferences in America,” she said. “We’re deep, we’re one of the best defenses in the country, we rebound. I think we should get a high seed and I think that we’ve earned that.”
Semifinal 2: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 6 Utah
Game summary: Using furious third-quarter scoring and clutch free throws down the stretch, Utah upset Oregon on the way to its first Pac-12 championship game appearance. Utah came out fast, taking a 7-2 lead, but Oregon responded in a big way. The Ducks outscored Utah 23-7 over the final eight minutes of the first quarter to take a 25-14 lead into the second quarter. Utah responded by limiting Oregon to just 35% shooting and was able to trim the halftime deficit to 37-32.
Utah came out of the locker room with newfound energy. The Utes outscored Oregon 23-8 in the third, forcing the Ducks to miss their last 10 shots and grabbing a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Oregon started the fourth with a passion and used a 21-10 run to take a one-point lead with four minutes remaining. On the next Utah possession, Oregon’s Nyara Sabally fouled Kennady McQueen shooting a three. It was Sabally’s fifth foul, and a technical foul was called on Oregon head coach Kelly Graves. Utah made four of the five free throws to retake the lead, which it held the rest of the way.
My thoughts on Oregon’s performance: Oregon played like it has for a lot of the season: It has absolutely stellar stretches and then stretches of absolute quiet. On Friday, the Ducks got down 7-2 and responded with a 23-7 run. Then they were down 10 going into the fourth quarter and responded again. However, when Sabally picked up her fifth foul and Graves received his technical foul, it completely changed the game.
Oregon did some good things. The Ducks hit the offensive glass hard, including getting two rebounds off their own missed free throws. They forced turnovers in the first quarter, which allowed them to jump out to that big early lead. However, they just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch to get the win.
Sophomore guard Te-Hina Paopao said Oregon having a couple days off will help the Ducks reset mentally. “We have the next couple days off and I just think that mental health is an important thing,” she said. “These next couple days are going to help a lot. We’re probably going to stay away from basketball for a little, get our minds off it and when we come back together, we go to get right.”
My thoughts on Utah’s performance: Utah was so impressive. It got down big but didn’t flinch. Its two freshmen continue to play like seasoned veterans. Jenna Johnson continued where she left off on Thursday and helped the Utes cut into the deficit in the second quarter. Gianna Kneepkens—on her 19th birthday, mind you—scored a tournament-high 25 points and had the ball in her hands the entire fourth quarter. Kneepkens has no fear, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter.
This team relies heavily on 3-point shooting and hit nine, which is its magic number, on Friday. When the Utes make nine threes, they are 15-3.
Also, credit Utah’s defense. The Utes did a great job on Oregon in the third quarter and didn’t let the first-quarter deficit or Oregon’s run in the fourth derail them. This is head coach Lynne Roberts’ first-ever win over Oregon and the program’s first-ever Pac-12 Tournament championship game appearance. Utah has had so many first times this year, and Roberts credits the team’s fearlessness as a key factor.
“They’ve been that way all season. I try to empower them, but at every turn they’ve been fearless,” Roberts said. “This team plays pretty well when they’re loose and confident, and the locker room’s never that serious of a place. You know, it’s basketball at the end of the day, and they just kind of love to play and compete.”
Written by Matthew Walter
Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.