Dallas, TX -- At halftime of Friday’s first semifinal, South Carolina was shooting 25.8 percent on the night and trailing 29-20 against Stanford. The Gamecocks wrapped up a 6-point bomb of a second quarter and were probably anticipating head coach Dawn Staley to breathe literal fire in the locker-room at halftime.
Those statistics are strange for a national semifinal game. But do you know what’s stranger?
South Carolina won.
But it wasn’t all South Carolina’s doing. In the first half, the Gamecocks simply could not hit shots. Stanford was outplaying them with poise and precision. Exactly what a Tara VanDerveer-led team does… in their sleep.
Then, in a matter of a ten-minute intermission, the two teams flipped roles.
“The biggest adjustment was speeding up the game,” Staley said. “We couldn’t play at that pace, shoot the ball the way we were shooting the ball. We had to figure out a way in which to create some easy buckets in transition.”
Stanford senior forward Karlie Samuelson left the game in the second quarter after a grisly-looking ankle injury, which could have in part fueled the Cardinal lag. She returned later in the second half but would never be 100 percent, and wouldn’t make a single shot on the night.
“She’s really been the glue to our team the whole year,” VanDerveer said. “She talks; she makes big shots. If someone had told me before the game she wouldn’t score, I’d say, ‘We’re in trouble.’”
In losing Samuelson, Stanford lost their best perimeter shooter and the force that dropped five treys to propel the Cardinal ahead of Notre Dame to take the Lexington region.
Pair losing Stanford’s x-factor with the inspired play of South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Wilson racked up 19 total rebounds en route to a 13 point performance complete with 3 blocks and 2 steals. That’s the same number of rebounds Wilson’s Gamecocks totaled in the first half.
Most of Wilson’s 13 points came off of second chance shots—instances where Stanford was simply outmuscled by a new second-half beast or bested on the free throw line.
“The problem was we gave up second shots,” VanDerveer said. “They got too many O boards and they put them back or they called fouls on the O boards.
“I don’t think we’ve ever all year been 21-5 at the free-throw line.”
South Carolina deserves a whole lot of credit in this turnaround win—especially because it was the first time Staley beat VanDerveer, her former mentor.
Still, Stanford went from shooting over 50 percent from the field in the second quarter to shooting a dismal 19 percent in the third.
The Cardinal looked lost without Samuelson, and by the time Erica McCall let go of the last thread of her touch, Stanford had already given up.
Except for Alanna Smith, who scored Stanford’s last eight points after the four-minute mark.
All in all, I don’t blame Stanford for this loss—I give South Carolina, and Dawn Staley, credit for this win.