In our first half blog, I wrote that leaving in Chiney Ogwumike could have resulted in Markel Walker picking up her third. Sure enough, with the score 29-29 in the early second half, Walker drives the paint right into a waiting Ogwumike, picking up her third foul. That's the right call, but any charge/block call comes with some amount of subjectivity, so that the whistle went against the baby blues is a big break for Stanford. Now, if anyone hits the bench, it's going to be UCLA's star.
No one has led by more than two in the first three minutes of this second half, as the squads trade buckets and fouls. But Nirra Fields changes that equilibrium with a three to pull the Bruins ahead, 35-31, at the under-16 timeout. After missing their first 12 shots on the night, UCLA now has their largest lead of the game.
UCLA had no answer for Chiney Ogwumike in the earlygoing, and so I had expected Stanford to continue rolling with Ogwumike back on the court. But if Stanford wants to claim its seventh straight Pac-12 Tournament and preserve an inside path to its sixth straight Final Four, it seems the Cardinal are going to have to grind this one out.
A Great Flow
Amber Orrange has a driving layup. Walker hits a J to keep the UCLA lead at four, now 37-33. She has ten points. Both teams step up their defense, with Stanford sure looking to record a block – the official scorer just calls it a missed Bruin layup – and UCLA then forcing a shot-clock violation. (That's the second on Stanford tonight, despite fans audibly chanting down the last few seconds on the clock. What gives?) The next possession sees an illegal screen on UCLA's Kacy Swain, her third foul. Walker, Swain and now Alicia Brewer each have three fouls, so it would be great for Stanford to go after them and draw a fourth. Orrange has a midrange J, but UCLA answers in kind to keep their lead at four. Great flow throughout this sequence, as the intensity has visibly picked up, but Stanford can't cut into the Bruins' lead. 39-35 UCLA at the under-12 media timeout.
Am I the only one unmoved by UCLA's coach's Cori Close's pregame speech on being "uncommon"? Judging by the body language of her players, apparently not. Then again, after a Walker free throw, the scoreboard does currently read 40-35 Bruins at the 11-minute mark, their biggest lead yet. Moments later, UCLA triples a visibly frustrated Ogwumike, and it works, as Ogwumike is called for a travel. Given the defensive attention to Ogwumike in the paint, it looks like Stanford's going to have to win this one at the three-point line.
As ESPN notes, Ogwumike last scored less than two minutes into the game. There's currently 8:42 left. To make matters worse, Ogwumike has just missed on consecutive possessions and is now 1-of-9 on the night. Unsurprisingly, UCLA leads, 42-35. The Cardinal then have to use their penultimate timeout, as a UCLA press catches them flatfooted. All told, Stanford led 14-4 before Ogwumike hit the bench with eight minutes left in the first half. Since, it's been 40-23 Bruins, and so the upstarts from five hours south now lead 44-37 with 7:07 left.
Stanford will be in the one-and-one with the next UCLA whistle, so the free throw line is one obvious route to get the Cardinal back on top. Plus, of course, shooting free throws doesn't cost you clock. Joslyn Tinkle starts this stanza off with two freebies to pull Stanford within five. Then, Ogwumike can't set the screen the first time – so Amber Orrange tries it again, Ogwumike does get the screen, and a now-open Orrange hits a jumper from the elbow. Jasmine Dixon picks up a charge, courtesy Joslyn Tinkle. Orrange has a steal and a layup, her second such sequence of the game. Tinkle, the glue player of the game, then hustles down a loose ball, though she misses the resulting three-pointer badly. Still, it's a 6-0 Stanford spurt, and at the under-four timeout, it's just 44-43 UCLA. Should be a great finish.
Game MVP: Amber Orrange
Stanford will be sans timeouts the last 3:22, after Orrange used the last one to preserve possession on a loose-ball scramble. She hits the floor the next time down the court to help Stanford maintain the rock on an alternating possession call. Orrange has 14 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and her three steals offset zero assists to five turnovers. With no other Stanford player in double figures – and Chiney Ogwumike still stuck on three – Orrange is Stanford's MVP tonight, whatever happens in the last three minutes.
Sure enough, Orrange drives and picks up foul No. 4 on Alyssa Brewer at the 2:59 mark. More importantly, Orrange hits both her free throws, and Stanford is back up, 45-44, after an 8-0 run. On the defensive end, Orrange then hassles Nirra Fields into a missed jumper.
UCLA, of course, didn't make it this far by accident, and Markel Walker picks up an and-one with a layup and Mikaela Ruef's fourth foul. 47-45, UCLA, two minutes to play. Naturally, Orrange responds. She stutter steps, drives, and lays it in to tie the contest with 1:28 left to play.
Orrange grabs a defensive rebound after Fields misses again. Tie game, one minute left. Posted up, Ruef has an ugly, ugly look as Jasmine Fields has her defended perfectly, but Ruef double-clutches and somehow gets the fadeaway eight-footer to drop. Ruef fouls out moments later, and UCLA will have a fresh clock with 42.5 to go, trailing 49-47.
Walker ties the game on a layup that takes only six seconds, so there will be a six-second shot/game-clock differential, allowing UCLA to get the last look of regulation. After running the clock down, Orrange falls to the ground to hit a spinning layup with just over eight seconds left! It's 51-49 Stanford as UCLA simply cannot stop Orrange from getting into the lane. Walker just misses a tying attempt, a scrum knocks the ball out of bounds, and after review, UCLA will have 0.2 seconds left for a desperation tip-in. The resulting missed jumper isn't released in time anyways, and by the narrowest of margins, Stanford has hung on for its seventh straight Pac-12 Tournament Championship. Wow.
Stanford 51, UCLA 49 (Final)
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