STANFORD, Calif.- Chiney Ogwumike scored 16 of her game-high 20 points in the second half, as No. 6/5 Stanford rallied past No. 12/13 North Carolina 74-65 in Tuesday’s NCAA Regional final at Maples Pavilion.
With the victory, Stanford (33-3) punched its ticket to this weekend’s NCAA Final Four in Nashville, the Cardinal’s 12th appearance in school history and first since a loss in the national semifinals to Baylor in 2012. Stanford will face No. 1/1 Connecticut on Sunday at 6 p.m. PT.
Ogwumike added 10 rebounds for her 26th double-double of the year, finishing 9-19 from the floor and sparking Stanford’s second half surge.
Also fueling Stanford’s comeback was an impressive performance from Mikaela Ruef, who contributed 17 points on 6-11 shooting to go along with nine boards en route to earning regional MVP honors. Ruef, who entered the game 7-51 from three-point territory in 131 career games, knocked down 3-5 from beyond the arc.
North Carolina (27-10) led 36-30 at halftime, thanks mainly to a 7-13 clip from three-point range and 15 points from Allisha Gray. But the Tar Heels were only 2-9 from long distance in the second half and limited to 37.9 percent shooting.
Trailing at intermission for only the sixth time this season, Stanford outscored North Carolina 44-29 over the final 20 minutes thanks to a 58.6 percent shooting clip.
North Carolina got the ball back with 50 seconds left after an offensive foul on Ruef, but Xylina McDaniel missed a layup and Ruef secured the rebound. Samuelson then iced the game by knocking down a pair of free throws with 21.1 to go.
The Tar Heels took control of the game early, stunning the home crowd after Brittany Rountree’s three-pointer resulted in North Carolina’s biggest lead of the game at 22-9 with 12:47 left in the first half.
Facing a 29-20 deficit with 6:44 left before halftime, Stanford scored 10 of the next 12 points to creep to within 31-30 at the 4:25 mark. North Carolina closed the half with five unanswered points, taking a 36-30 lead into the break.
Trailing 38-30, the Cardinal embarked on a 13-4 scoring run to regain the lead after Ogwumike’s putback with 15:37 made it 43-42.
North Carolina fell behind by eight points before chipping away and taking its final lead at 63-62 after a three-pointer from Jessica Washington with four minutes to go.
Two sequences later, Thompson’s jumper put Stanford in front 64-63 and the Cardinal closed out the game.
Stanford is seeking its first NCAA championship since 1992. The Cardinal has reached the national final twice over the last six years, falling to Tennessee in 2008 and Connecticut in 2010.