Things went pretty much according to script in the Pac 12 Tournament except for one major casting change: instead of Stanford and Cal duking it out for the championship, it was the Cardinal and UCLA.
It was one of the best title games in years.
After a slow start, the Bruins rallied to lead 27-26 at halftime. They lead by as many as seven as the second half waned. But Stanford sophomore point guard Amber Orrange went on a tear, scoring six straight points to bring her team within one.
Orrange held the line for the Cardinal, putting up four of their six final points, including the game-winning bucket: a spinning drive to the rack. UCLA wasn’t able to get a final shot off, and Stanford was crowned conference champions for the seventh consecutive year with the 51-49 win. Orrange lead the Cardinal with 20 points, while Chiney Ogwumike had 10 rebounds, but was held to a career low three points.
"Tournaments are won by guards, and Amber was the best guard on the floor," said Stanford head coach Tara Vanderveer about Orrange who hit the go ahead basket with seven seconds in the game. "She took care of the ball. She ran our offense. She had huge shots for us down the stretch."
As a freshman, Orrange showed flashes of brilliance on court including high basketball IQ. She seems to be emerging at the right time this season to be that second role player to Chiney Ogwumike, the team’s high scorer, rebounder, and conference player of the year.
The Cardinal need it, too. They have done very well this year considering they lost Nnemkadi Ogumike, a three-time All-American and the all-everything for her team. Sister Chiney has carried Stanford, which is thinner than it has been in years, but even she can have an off night.
After Ogwumike, who averages 22.4 points per game, and Joslyn Tinkle and Orrange, who rack up 11.8 and 10.5, respectively, there is a steep drop off in producers. Six players average under two points per game. The fact that Stanford has stayed in the top seven this season has more to say about the intelligence of Coach Tara VanDerveer than anything else. Orrange stepping up is just what the Cardinal need if they hope to go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA's Markel Walker drives to the basket on #13 Chiney Ogwumike of Stanford (Photo by Lee Michaelson) go to full game PHOTO GALLERY
After an impressive run in the championship game, UCLA looks ready to make a solid tourney run. Their only losses this season were to Stanford, Cal, Notre Dame, and Cal State Northridge. Their rout of Cal in the semifinals was a shock in the way they won: by mounting a 20-point lead midway through the first half, which grew to as many as 26 in the second. Cal was never able to catch up.
The Bruins’ performance in the championship game shows that they are peaking at the right time. They are a dangerous team because they share the load: three players average 10-11 points per game, and another three average 7-8. If someone is having a tough game, others step up. This was the case in the title match up, when Markel Walker chipped in 16 points, Antonye Nyingifa added 10, and Nirra Fields came off the bench for seven.
"I felt like this whole weekend was something that we can go back on and see that we accomplished something," said UCLA head coach Cori Close. "We played together. Our seniors stepped up a lot. Yes, it hurts, but we found something in us that we didn't know we had, and we played so well together as a team."
Another advantage for UCLA is the years of experience Close has brought back to her native California after seven years as an assistant at Florida State. The way the Bruins attacked both Cal and Stanford indicates what an effective scout and mastermind she is.
The question that remains is whether the selection committee will lower Cal’s seeding due to their Pac 12 appearance, where some favored them to win the title. And will UCLA’s stock rise?
We will find out in a week.
Pac-12 All-tournament team
Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford – most outstanding player
Amber Orrange, Stanford
Jazmine Davis, Washington
Alyssia Brewer, UCLA
Chucky Jeffery, Colorado
Chiney Ogumwike set the following Tournament game records - First 20-20 game (23 points 21 rebounds, WSU), Single Game Rebounds (21, WSU), Single Game Defensive Rebounds (WSU, 15 (tie), Tournament Rebounds (50), Tournament Defensive Rebounds (34)
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