STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer called Sunday afternoon’s matchup against the No. 1 team in the nation “a heavyweight battle.” The No. 2 Cardinal lost the overtime fight to the visiting Gamecocks 76-71, even though the home team led almost the entire contest.
The game was also a meeting of coaching wizards, with VanDerveer going up against South Carolina fellow Hall of Famer Dawn Staley.
“Dawn did a great job with her team, and they stepped up,” VanDerveer said postgame.
“They made good plays when they needed to,” she added. “They got o-boards. Now we needed to do a much better job of taking care of the basketball. We turned it over too much.”
A Gritty Comeback for the Gamecocks and Costly Cardinal Mistakes
While Staley’s team earned the victory, she didn’t like how her team played in the first two quarters.
“We didn’t play our best, and probably Stanford had a lot to do with it. But in the second half, we decided to go with a different lineup…. there were people on the floor that can score, that had a little bit of experience being on the floor…. It just ignited us.”
Two costly errors down the stretch of the overtime period doomed Stanford’s fate against a gritty and talented South Carolina team who clawed back into the game to take it into an extra period.
The Gamecocks led for the first time all game during overtime. Senior forward Laeticia Amihere made two free throws with three minutes left in the extra period to give the Gamecocks the edge, 66-65. The lead changed hands twice until South Carolina senior forward Aliyah Boston made a driving layup with 1:39 on the clock. About a minute later, her teammate, sophomore guard Bree Hall, drained a three-point jumper that shifted the momentum for good and fired up her team.
Stanford’s efforts to regain the plummeted lead when the Cardinal couldn’t get the ball back inbounds with nine seconds left. That led to a five-second turnover. At that point, South Carolina led 73-71. The second blunder was a mental lapse when sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen called a timeout with three seconds to go. Her team had no timeouts left. The officials assessed Stanford with a technical foul for excessive timeouts.
Staley said, “when they called the timeout, I knew we won the game. It was over at that point.”
Gamecocks senior guard Zia Cooke made the two technical free throws to increase her team’s lead to four. Cooke also made the last shot of the game, another free throw to close out overtime.
Boston led South Carolina with a double-double of 14 points plus 13 rebounds. Cooke added 13 points and four assists. Hall was also in double figures with 12 points.
Junior forward Cameron Brink paced Stanford with 25 points, five rebounds, and four blocks. Jones and Iriafen had 11 points each. Iriafen also grabbed seven rebounds, while Jones corralled nine rebounds and dished out six assists.
Staley Comes Full Circle
The last time the Gamecocks visited the Cardinal was in 2010, during the third year of Dawn Staley’s tenure at South Carolina. Staley recalled that 72-30 blowout loss saying it “helped build where we are today.” After that game over a decade ago, VanDerveer asked the fellow Hall of Famer to talk to the Cardinal postgame.
Times have changed. Staley spoke to the Stanford faithful after Sunday’s game but from an entirely different mindset, with two national championships in her tenure with the Gamecocks, SEC titles, multiple years as the top-ranked program in the nation, Coach of the Year honors, and plenty more accolades.
Hundreds of Stanford fans stayed after the game to hear Staley speak.
“I’m happy to come back and talk to the fans,” Staley said. “You know these fans appreciate good basketball.”
Stanford fans also gave her a hearty round of applause during the pregame introductions. The home-and-home series continues next year when Stanford visits South Carolina, and Staley mentioned being back at Maples two seasons in the future.
Honoring Brittney Griner
Both coaches wore long-sleeved shirts honoring Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner. She is still imprisoned in Russia since being detained at a Moscow-area airport in February when she was on her way to play in the country during the WNBA offseason. At Stanford’s first game of the season, the Cardinal held a moment of silence for her. They did the same on Sunday after a video presentation.
During her first postgame comments, VanDerveer mentioned Griner and the shirt.
“I’m wearing this shirt because it’s 276 days since Brittney Griner has been incarcerated.”
Stanford alumna Jayne Appel-Marinelli, who was at the game, supplied the t-shirts. Stanford also had a booth for fans to write letters to Griner.
Staley has been an outspoken advocate for Griner for months, speaking on national television to highlight her plight, wearing a “We Are BG” button, and reminding her followers on social media to keep Griner in their thoughts. Both coaches know Griner well. Like VanDerveer, Staley is a former US National Team coach. Griner, a two-time Olympian, played under Staley in the Tokyo Games in 2021 when the US won its seventh straight gold medal.
South Carolina stays on the road to play at Cal Poly on Tuesday. Stanford heads to Hawai’i to play in the Rainbow Wahine Showdown and will face Florida Gulf Coast on Friday.