Georgia Ousts Stanford 61-59: Final Reaction

Chiney Ogwumike and Amber Orrange combined to score three quarters of Stanford women's basketball's points Saturday night, and that's simply not a sustainable formula come March. Georgia stunned the Cardinal down the stretch. The five-year Final Four stretch is over for Stanford.

Second-half sendoff
I'll keep it short and sweet. Chiney Ogwumike keeps scoring en route to 30-plus points, albeit not on 8-of-9 efficiency. But it is someone(s) else on the team (Amber Orrange would be the most logical guess) whose improved second half play makes the difference and allows the Cardinal to pull away for a comfortable enough win. Also, I guess I'm feeling magnanimous tonight, because after praising the officials for largely swallowing their whistles in the first half, I'd now like to compliment whoever it is doing the online Gametracker stats for this game. Stanford's men's games are often a minute or two behind and often include wacky omissions, with everything there save for, say, turnovers, minutes played or the actual score. No such problems tonight, so thanks, whoever you are.

Cold spell
As we start second-half action, the officials apparently did crave attention after all, reviewing an Amber Orrange two/three (yes, it's a three), but otherwise, we again have good flow and a quickly-moving back-and-forth contest, much like in half No. 1. The Bulldogs made three three-pointers in the first half, but have yet to connect on either of their two deep ball attempts in this second half. Meanwhile, Stanford has missed seven shots in a row, so the play has been even, if not spectacular, thus far in the closing half. In fact, the Cardinal have precisely maintained their seven-point halftime lead, with the score now 39-32 at the 14:17 mark. Note that Georgia forward Jasmine Hassell (four points) has three of the Dawgs' four fouls, so Ogwumike et al may want to keep attacking the paint.

The Ogwumike Difference
Georgia is a good team, and it's showing tonight, but they don't have a true center. Meanwhile, though she's listed at forward, Chiney Ogwumike plays for Stanford, and as long as she can keep scoring, Coach VanDerveer and the brain trust will keep going to her. With two layups, she has four of Stanford's second-half points as of the 11:50 mark, and yes, the Cardinal still lead by seven, now 41-34, at the 12-minute timeout.

As someone predicted, Amber Orrange has begun to emerge as well, and now has 12 points – on an admittedly inefficient 17(!) shots to go with a team-high eight boards. Georgia is now shooting just 29 percent overall (13-of-45), so while it would be great for the Cardinal to seize this one by the throat and get the starters some rest before Cal or LSU beckon, as long as the defense keeps up the suffocation act and the team keeps up its rebounding prowess (now +8), it's looking all right now.

Survive and Advance
In all, Stanford has not played anywhere near spectacularly tonight, not with players not named Ogwumike a horrific 8-of-38, but they have played solidly in terms of fundamentals. They've stuck with their starting lineup by and large (cough, cough), they've kept feeding the ball to the one player who can't be stopped (now 10-of-11 for 22 points), and most of all, they've closed out on anything resembling a good look defensively. Georgia is now hovering just above 26 percent shooting overall (13-of-49), including 4-of-16 deep, and is on pace to finish south of 50. (The poor free-throw shooting, now 4-of-10 after two UGA misses, doesn't hurt matters either.) Still, Stanford has to like its odds, as its 42-34 lead at the 9:34 mark feels much larger given its defensive prowess tonight.

Transition Sparks UGA Run
Of course, as I write that, UGA goes on a mini-run, getting a free throw, an open jumper, and a second-chance three to score six straight. It's now just 42-40 Cardinal with 8:30 left as Stanford has settled for jumpers on the offensive end instead of continuing to pound it to Ogwumike, and the resulting long misses allowed UGA to get out in transition. Coach VanDerveer is none too happy and spends a timeout to reset, but after a UGA muscle bucket inside, we're tied at 42-all with 8:10 left. And then, after a point-blank Chiney miss, UGA again runs in transition and is rewarded with two free throw makes and a 44-42 lead, thanks to their 12-1 run. Stanford simply has to get back in transition to force UGA to execute against Stanford's halfcourt D. Ruef J. UGA driving layup – against a halfcourt D, so much for that theory. UGA steal. Stanford foul diving for a loose ball, and now UGA will shoot a one-and-one on the other side of the under-eight media timeout. They lead 46-44.

Stanford Resets
For what it's worth, there are two potential aces up Georgia's sleeve. First, they didn't return back across the country after their opening-round weekend out west, instead electing to stay acclimated out in Washington. (So much for the hot start theory.) Second, Coach VanDerveer says that she really likes what UGA is doing and is going to steal some of their stuff next year, per the AP game preview. That's above and beyond traditional coach-speak praise, so maybe this Lady Dawg coaching staff is exceptionally innovative.

Meanwhile, Stanford is two games away from becoming the first program to reach six straight Final Fours (presumably alongside fellow No. 1 seed UConn, who has a chance to equal that mark), but the Card have a fight on their hands tonight. At least they have the upper hand now, as Ruef rattles home another jumper to tie and Ogwumike (who else?) steals and scores the layup at the other end. Then, on a single trip down the court, a loose ball tieup goes Stanford's way thanks to the possession arrow, UGA fouls offball, and the Cardinal grab an offensive rebound off a Ruef miss for, yup, a fourth-chance opportunity. Orrange is true from midrange and the Cardinal have responded with six straight points, now leading 50-46 with 4:02 left. Georgia won't go easily, as has been the case all night, as Shacobia Barbee has an and-one play on the other end and Anne Marie Armstrong swishes a deep three. Yet Stanford is up to the challenge, keeping pace with an Ogwumike layup and an Orrange three. UGA hits another jumper and it's now 55-54 Card with 2:27 to play. Serious nailbiting time.

Final Stretch
Both teams score on putbacks, UGA's Jasmine Harrell with a layup before regulation's final media timeout, and then Mikaela Ruef, aka "Clutch" judging by recent events, with a free throw to retie the contest, 57-57, with 1:20 left. Guess the fans are getting their money's worth. Hassell again with a layup inside for UGA, and then Ruef can't hang onto an Orrange entry pass a little high and behind her, albeit still catchable. The Dawgs then miss a three so badly, not even drawing rim, that the rebound takes a weird trajectory and is tipped to an UGA guard. Stanford, down 58-56 with 23 seconds left, has to foul, and UGA will shoot two. Bad break for the Cardinal, but if Stanford is upset here in Spokane, you can blame the late-game defensive collapse. UGA had 35 points through the first 30:25, worse than a 50 point pace over a 40-minute game. They have 23 in the last nine minutes, good for better than 100 points.

Of course, UGA now hits both free throws after struggling all day, and Stanford burns 10 seconds before calling timeout with 13.5 to play, trailing by four. Serious desperation time. Joslyn Tinkle is up to the challenge, though, burying a 28-footer with 5.1 seconds left to bring Stanford within 60-59. If only the Cardinal hadn't used 18 seconds on that possession, they would be in position for a much better final look! As it is, UGA is too quick to be fouled, slipping out of Stanford's grasp on the in bounds, and only after a review are 0.8 seconds restored to the clock with UGA stepping to the line up one. The Dawgs hit a free throw, Stanford throws away the in bounds, and it's over, 61-59 UGA final.

With only Joslyn Tinkle graduating, next year should be better yet for the Cardinal, but it would have been really nice to keep that Final Four streak alive. As is, count it an early exit for the women, who could never put away a pesky UGA team tonight. It bit them in the end, as some timely shooting lifted the Dawgs to the Tournament's biggest upset thus far, 61-59 over the Cardinal in the Sweet 16.

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