STANFORD, Calif. — In those final minutes, the home crowd in Maples Pavilion was deafening.
The cacophony reflected a confidence palpable in both the cheers that exploded every time Stanford (18-1, 9-0 in the Pac-12) sank a shot and the slightly bored silence that descended upon the court whenever Cal did the same.
But as the clock ticked off the final eight minutes, that win looked precarious and that silence evaporated and was replaced with jeers whenever Cal (15-6, 6-3) was in possession. Because incredibly, in the final eight minutes of regulation the visitors launched a 22-8 comeback run and sent the game into overtime.
No athlete had ever faced this challenge. The last time the Cardinal went into overtime at home was in 2007. Suddenly, this unranked, upstart Cal squad threatened to break a winning streak that spanned 73 consecutive games at Maples Pavilion.
In the end, Stanford barely escaped the exhausting 74-71 overtime extravaganza with the victory. But the fact that this outmatched Cal squad did what no other team was capable of left room for little save relief when the final buzzer sounded.
The contest didn’t start out close, but it also didn’t start out in Stanford’s favor. In the first two minutes of the game Cal got off two surprise baskets before the Cardinal sank a layup. But a minute later Stanford took the lead – and kept it.
“The mindset definitely was we have to throw the first punch we have to assert ourselves first,” Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike said. “Because there’s limited time, anything can happen.”
Led by sophomore Chiney and her senior sister Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Stanford has averaged a 20-point final margin against its Pac-12 opponents this season. In Saturday’s game Nnemkadi became Stanford’s fourth all-time scorer, while Chiney racked up a career-high 27 points and 18 rebounds. The Card’s defensive pressure extinguished Cal’s offensive drives and post play. Cal was forced to take shots farther out, leading to a sub-40 field goal percentage in the first half.
Meanwhile, Stanford outpaced the Bears in transition and, in a first for Cal this season, at the boards. The Bears doubled up on Nnemkadi in an attempt to neutralize her threat, but that only opened up Chiney for major looks.
“They were doubling, it’s as simple as that,” Nnemkadi said. “Once they double me that leaves one other person open. And clearly, they took their chances, and Chiney can take care of business. We’re not a One-Move Mary, as coach says.”
Still, at the half Cal’s deficit was a mere nine points, and in the second period the Card never led by more than 14. Then, just before the eight-minute mark, a layup from Gennifer Brandon sparked Cal. Led massively by guards Layshia Clarendon and Brittany Boyd, Cal finally broke through Stanford’s man-to-man to sink 15 more points.
“Our pressure and the tempo of the game rattled them up a little bit,” Cal coach Linsday Gottlieb said. “We’re a team that never feels like we’re out of a game.”
With 37 seconds left, Clarendon nailed a 3-pointer to take the score to 69-67. Then, with a two-point deficit and 27 seconds left, Clarendon approached the charity stripe. In the seconds before the ball left her hands the crowd booed, but to no avail: two baskets later Cal tied the score.
“I thought the difference was Clarendon, especially in the second half,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We worked really hard on her. There were some times where we weren’t aggressive enough on her defensively.”
Both teams sputtered in the extra minutes and seemed entirely focused on preventing opposing shots than making their own. The game dissolved into free throws.
The crowd told the game’s fate as Stanford’s Toni Kokenis approached the top of the key to take two free throws. The fans’ shouts reverberated through the court as Stanford’s score climbed two points higher. As Stanford preserved its home streak, Cal saw its own modest six-game winning streak snap.
Neither team stayed long amidst the roars of the crowd.
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