LOS ANGELES, CALIF.- It was nicknamed the David versus Goliath match-up: A No. 1 pitted against a No. 6 seed. One who coasted their way into the finals, the other fighting off elimination game by game. One who already had a place in the NCAA tournament and the other desperately needing a win to help their chances at an invite.
No. 1-ranked Stanford (28-4) and No. 6 University of Southern California (17-14) took to the court to battle it out for the right to be crowned Pac-10 champions. This was to be the last women's tourney game; only the Pac-10 needed a champion, and a champion the Pac-10 got.
Coming in, Stanford was 21-2 all-time in tournament play, winning the last 13 of 14 meetings with their fellow California opponent.
Both Stanford and USC got off to a steady start; neither side had the apparent advantage yet.
There was a good intensity to the defense, although there was missed shots to start the game off. While Stanford kept their defense strategy consistent, relying on their zone defense, USC was switching from man-to-man defense to some different zones.
USC could not seem to find their rhythm or their three-point shot, as the announcer kept repeating. Stanford was not so hot either; they were a measly 1-for-6 from the floor to start the game. But after a few minutes, they began to heat up.
The toughest West Coast team to make a comeback against went on a 14-2 run, with about 13 minutes to go. They were below their turnover average with only two so far.
Around six minutes left, USC was 4-for-4 from the floor but that was not enough. Stanford, 6-for-17 from the floor, was already up 21 to 8.
USC did start to finally emerge and play their game, but then suddenly fell into an offensive drought. While there were plenty of offensive fouls called, Stanford was comfortably in the driver's seat with no intent of letting up. USC, possibly tired from their continuous comebacks, just did not look like a team that needed this win to keep their post-season tournament hopes alive.
With about four minutes to go in the half, they slightly turned it up, going on a 7-0 run. For a short time, it appeared as if they had come to play, but a great play by Jillian Harmon [a score on one end, block on the other] helped to lift the Cardinals and shift the momentum back their way.
Simple errors plagued the USC offense and defense: From a shot clock violation to a bad defensive effort leading to an easy layup for Stanford.
The game did become closer nearing halftime, ending 33-24 in favor of Stanford.
The second half did not start so well for the Lady Trojans. Although they did get the first basket of the half, they had trouble rebounding against the bigs of the Stanford and their threes were not on target. On the other hand, Stanford could not hit their first shots, but they were getting second and third chances.
Harmon herself began to heat up: Hitting shots, getting assists, getting offensive rebounds, and helping to extend the lead with a 9-2 run.
During most, if not all, of the game, USC could not get into sync and produce offense. They committed silly errors, traveled, and committed numerous fouls. They lost the energy they had earlier in the tournament. One of their best players, Camille Lenior, could not find her game and help her team score.
All these flaws helped Stanford coast to their second straight Pac-10 title and Head Coach Tara VanDerveer's 611th victory.
The final score: 89-64.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike (STAN), Harmon (STAN), and Lenoir (USC) were named to the All-Tournament team. Kayla Peterson, who had a season-high 25 points and nine rebounds, was named MVP and Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
After the studying and the test taking, tonight and tomorrow, the only question on Stanford's mind will be simple: will they be blessed with a No. 1 seed in the tournament or be considered second best?
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