Stanford celebrates senior day by routing No. 17 ASU
No. 7 Stanford defeated No. 17 Arizona State 71-50 Sunday afternoon, turning a competitive game into a rout with a 19-4 run to start the third quarter.
The Cardinal (23-4, 13-3 Pac-12) made sure there was little to worry about on senior day, giving the coaches time to make sure that there were standing ovations for the seniors who are able to play -- Alanna Smith and Shannon Coffee. Marta Sniezek has missed the entire season with an injury and the point guard who started most of the past three seasons -- including a run to the Final Four two years ago -- was honored with her classmates in a post-game ceremony.
It was Stanford's fourth straight win and the Cardinal are locked into a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament and are favored to receive a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would mean hosting two more games at Maples Pavilion.
Games like the one Sunday featured examples of toughness by the Cardinal that will serve them well in March Madness. The Sun Devils play a physical style that creates traffic jams in the paint and they try to get away with as much grabbing as possible. If hand checking scored points Charli Turner-Thorne's club would crack 100 every game.
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer remarked after the win Friday night over Arizona -- a game that the Cardinal were fortunate to win -- that the team was much grittier than at the start of the season. Sunday the Cardinal didn't wait to adjust to ASU's defensive intensity, instead matching and even exceeding it from the start.
The Sun Devils play a half-court style with a lot of late shot-clock action and after a 14-14 first quarter it appeared the game was headed to a contest decided in the low 50s. But Stanford's ball movement on offense was improved from Friday and the Cardinal won the rebounding battle, a combination that allowed them to start to pull away.
Smith was on the bench in the second quarter when Stanford built a 10-point lead. Kiana Williams made two threes sandwiched between baskets by Maya Dodson and Lexie Hull. Williams led the team with 15 points (6-of-11 FG) and Hull scored 11 and grabbed four rebounds. Dodson scored eight points and made her first four shots.
Then Stanford blitzed ASU in the third quarter -- stifling them on defense and hitting 8-of-9 FG in that 10-minute period.
Smith found moments to shine and scored 14. She also blocked two shots, a reminder to the Cardinal fans in attendance that she'll go down in the record books as one of the best shot blockers in program history.
Smith fought through anxiety and a difficult first two years at Stanford to become one of the best bigs to play for VanDerveer. She's tough physically and perhaps even more so now mentally because of her experiences.
In the postgame senior ceremony Nadia Fingall shared an anecdote that before each game she challenges Smith with the same question: "Who are you?" Smith responds, "I'm a bad (woman)."
That attitude has helped her carry the team when Fingall was lost for the season because of a torn ACL in her left knee and when Dodson was out with a foot injury.
But this wasn't a game where Smith needed to save the day like the last two. It was a better group scoring effort than most of the past month for the Cardinal. It was overall one of the better performances during that time, along with the rout of then No. 7 Oregon State Feb. 8.
During a seven game stretch in which Stanford lost three the offense fell into a funk. But Sunday the Cardinal shot 61.9% FG and 33.3% 3FG. They doubled up ASU on points in the paint: 32-16.
Stanford has won five games against ranked opponents (twice against ASU) and all four losses have been to teams that were ranked in the top-15 at some point this season.
Tara VanDerveer Opening Statement
"I thought our team worked really hard defensively and Arizona State has a really outstanding team. We were able to think come out and get things running offensively. (SID) John (Cantalupi) just informed me that our field goal percentage was the highest against a ranked team in 20 years, which is good.
"The key coming in is we wanted to keep them off the o-boards. The fact that they only got nine was a good thing. We had different people scoring for us -- four different people in double figures. Lexie (Hull) really helped us out. A lot of different people helping us. We want to continue to improve."
Alanna, how emotional was this event for you?
Smith: "Very. I think these games you never really know until you're actually in the position as a senior how it emotional it can be and how special it is. Having my teammates and my family here as well made it even more special. I'm really grateful to be here and have the opportunity to play my last home game as a senior."
Lexie, you're obviously a long way from being a senior, but what did you take away from what you saw today with the seniors and from playing with Alanna?
Hull: "I think in general playing with Alanna and the rest of the seniors has been so special and I am so appreciative of them for welcoming us freshmen in this year. They teach us something every day. It's an amazing to be able to play with them, especially Alanna. She has taught me so much. Her will to win is very impressive and fun to be around."
Alanna, you dad told a story after the game about how tough a competitor you are that you got upset about a board game: "Yeah, it was when I was very little. I was like five years old and I was losing and I couldn't handle it. I was crying, just sobbing. It was a family friend who was like, 'What's wrong with her?' I was like, 'I'm just a really bad loser.' (Laughing) I was like that my whole childhood. I played tennis for a little bit and I couldn't handle it by myself because when I lossed I would just break down. I need a team around me to support me. I think I've improved. I don't like losing, but I can keep it in more now."
It was tied at 14 at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter you got the lead and in the third quarter you opened it up. What did you do to get that momentum?
VanDeveer: "People played really hard defensively. We worked and we were able to get contributions from a lot of different people. Alyssa (Jerome) started us out and played really well. Then Maya (Dodson) came in and gave us some really valuable minutes. Lexie came in and did some great things for us -- hit a three and made her free throws, rebounding. We kept them off the glass. To out-rebound them is a really good thing."
VanDerveer on Kiana Williams' play: "Obviously Kiana is playing major minutes for us. She made some good shots going 6-for-11. She had some nice assists. There were some decisions that she'd do over if she had to do it again. I wasn't excited about the pass to Alanna (on a lob in the fourth quarter) because Alanna could come down on somebody when she's too far under the basket. I think maybe even a backdoor pass that she had to Lexie or Lacie, they were too much in the paint. We had to pitch out a little bit more. Kiana is our floor leader and she's doing a great job."
Alanna, did you feel pressure to play perfectly today? What was going through your mind when you sat with two fouls?
Smith: "I don't think anything was going through my mind and that was the problem. I needed to be focusing a little bit more and know what plays to make. Be a little bit smarter. Tara has said that to me before and I can do it. I just need to focus more. I think one of the really good things about this team is we don't like to put pressure on anybody. I didn't feel the pressure this game to try to have a perfect game. Even though I was in foul trouble that wasn't a problem for us. Lexie played really well today. Alyssa, Kiana, Di (DiJonai Carrington), Maya, everyone who came in made really great contributions and that's awesome. We don't have to rely on person. Tara says this all the time, 'We're not a one-trick pony.' We have other tricks up our sleeve."
Can you put Alanna's career in perspective even with a few more games to go?
VanDerveer: "What I'm most proud of is, No. 1, how much Alanna has improved. Her skill set and her toughness, she is a warrior out there. She plays through contact and knocks down her threes. Also, I love her leadership. I think she really her younger players under her wing. She helps people like Lexie and sets a great example. Even if things aren't going her way, our team needs her to play well and she knows that and she takes that to heart. She doesn't let people down. She's very dependable. And I feel like I can be very direct with Alanna. We've had some very direct conversations to help her. I think she's having an All-American season. We want to keep it going. Her improvement, her resilience, being a great teammate -- all the things we look for at Stanford. I wish college was like a six year or eight year deal. We love Alanna playing on our team. I'm already recruiting her younger sister (Andie) who is only like 10 years old. She's (Alanna) a wonderful young person to be around."