AUSTIN, Texas – On a day when the offense struggled to find a rhythm it was the defense of No. 6/5 Stanford that carried the Cardinal to a 63-54 come-from-behind victory at Texas Saturday.
Stanford (4-1) shot just 32.3 percent and was out-rebounded 55-40 by the Longhorns (3-1), but the Cardinal defense held Texas to a 26.2 percent output (16-for-61) from the field and forced 20 turnovers to negate any advantage. The defensive effort intensified in the second half, as the Cardinal, trailing 37-30 at halftime, limited the Longhorns to just five field goals and 17 points over the final 20 minutes.
“We had a rough first half, we had to make some adjustments at halftime, which I think our team did,” said Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, who won her 898th career game. “We came out and were much more aggressive in the second half. I’m proud of how our team battled. This wasn’t a pretty game, but a very big game for us to win.”
Redshirt senior forward Mikaela Ruef played a team-high 36 minutes, posting her first double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds while playing a physical game inside that helped limit Texas’ top posts, Imani McGee-Stafford and Nneka Enemkpali, to a combined 7-for-21 effort shooting.
“We changed the way we were playing screens [in the second half], and it forced them into turnovers and we got some steals,” Ruef said about the Cardinal’s defensive adjustments. “We stepped it up on defense and forced them into mistakes, and got easy baskets in transition.”
Ruef hit her first four shots from the field and scored all 10 of her points in the first half, keeping the Cardinal offense afloat as senior Chiney Ogwumike was held to just four points in the opening 20 minutes. Ogwumike would find the mark after the break, scoring 14 of her game-high 18 points.
“This game forced me to be outside, and it was a little uncomfortable at times,” Ogwumike said. “I’m just really proud of my team for helping me build my confidence back in the second half. Sometimes the big games are what people talk about, but this game really taught me, and our team in particular, how to be mentally tough and stick with things.”
A back-and-forth first half ended with a 9-2 Longhorn run over the final 3:04, putting Texas up 37-30. But the tightening of the Stanford defense would turn the game around as the second half got underway. Texas got its lead to 40-32 thanks to three free throws early, but went cold from the field, going scoreless over the next 6:33 as Stanford used a 15-0 run to go up 47-40. The Longhorns would not get their first field goal of the half until Enemkpali hit a jumper with 10:40 remaining in the contest.
Ogwumike paced the Cardinal run, scoring 10 of the 15 Cardinal points while Amber Orrange provided five en route to a 13-point, eight-rebound effort on the day.
“We had great leadership with Chiney and Mikaela. I thought Mikaela really helped us out early, hitting her shot, and Chiney picked us up in the second half, hitting her shot,” VanDerveer noted.
Stanford stretched its lead to as much as nine at 56-47 with 3:05 remaining, and the Longhorns could not solve the Cardinal defense on the other end, making just three field goals over the final 7:10.Chassidy Fussell led the Longhorns with 15 points, while McGee-Stafford posted a double-double of 12 points and 14 rebounds. Enemkpali grabbed 11 rebounds to go with nine points.