LOS ANGELES, Calif. – It wasn’t quite the Greeks overcoming the odds to sack Troy, but No. 5/4 Stanford made quite a momentum swing of its own Friday night, matching the program’s best comeback by erasing a 19-point deficit to defeat the USC Trojans 64-59 at the Galen Center.
The comeback dramatically clinched for the Cardinal (25-2, 14-1 Pac-12) a share of its 14th straight Pac-12 regular-season title, and 23rd overall. Additionally, Stanford sewed up the top seed at the Pac-12 Tournament set for March 6-9 at KeyArena in Seattle.
“Our Washington [loss[ really taught us a lot about ourselves, but we knew at the 10-minute mark of the first half tonight that a lot of game was left and it wasn’t a loss,” said Chiney Ogwumike, who scored a game-high 27 points with seven rebounds. “That helped us play motivated on defense. It wasn’t our most cohesive offensive night but at this point in the year, teams are fighting for spots in the tournaments and we have to learn from this experience and get better from it.”
Stanford trailed by 19 at 32-13 after Alexyz Vaioletama’s free throw with 6:08 to go in the first half, then promptly outscored the Trojans (16-11, 9-6 Pac-12) 51-27 the rest of the way. USC made five of its first six 3-point attempts and nine of its first 12 attempts from the field to go up 21-9 with 12:37 to go in the first half. The Trojans then went on an 11-4 run over the next six-plus minutes to take its 19-point lead as its defense had forced eight Cardinal turnovers.
“USC came out really focused and hit some big shots and we got ourselves into a hole,” said Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women’s Basketball Tara VanDerveer. “We dug out of it because we made some free throws, got defensive stops and did a much better job in the second half defensively. Chiney really battled in there, it wasn’t necessarily her best game but she gets her 25, 27 every night, and Bonnie complimented Chiney with some big shots.”
‘We have to look at things and make a decision to play harder right from the get-go,” she added.
The Cardinal slowly chipped away at the deficit, but Cassie Harberts hit a jumper for two of her 12 points on the night to make it a 16-point game at 37-21 with 4:04 to go in the half. From this point, however, the Stanford defense woke up, holding USC scoreless the rest of the half while the Cardinal offense ended the period with nine straight points capped by Bonnie Samuelson’s 3-pointer with 10 seconds on the clock.
Ogwumike and Samuelson combined for the first seven Cardinal points of the half to cut the Trojan lead to two at 39-37 with 17:07 to go. USC would fight its way to a six-point lead at 43-37, but jumpers from Mikaela Ruef bookended eight straight points from Ogwumike as the Cardinal scored 12 straight points over a span of 5:11 to take a 49-43 lead with nine minutes to play.
Stanford would get the lead as high as nine but the Trojans would not go away, as Ariya Crook, who scored a USC-best 24 points, continued to keep USC in the game. Crook cut the Cardinal lead to four with 42 seconds to play, and then to three at 62-59 with 18 seconds to go, but each time Samuelson answered with a pair of free throws, finishing the night with 14 points.“I know that [making free throws] is one of my jobs in close games, so it was good practice for me to be in that situation,” Samuelson said. “I know that my teammates and coaches have confidence in me to make those free throws.”