Published January 13, 2015
The worst scoring game of Chiney Ogwumike's career became proof that No. 4 Stanford goes beyond just its All-American.
Don't forget about Amber Orrange when the NCAA tournament comes around. Stanford's sophomore guard showed she can carry the Cardinal by herself.
"I knew the day was coming when things would be really hard for me and I really hoped it wouldn't be the Pac-12 championship, but it was," Ogwumike said. "I think it just shows that we have a lot of players on our team."
Orrange capped a career-high 20-point performance by scoring on a spinning drive with 8.3 seconds left, and No. 4 Stanford won its seventh straight Pac-12 tournament title by rallying past No. 14 UCLA 51-49 on Sunday night.
Orrange scored 10 of Stanford's final 12 points as the teams exchanged the lead seven times in the second half. Orrange's drive pulled Stanford even at 47 with 1:38 left. Mikaela Ruef's basket with 50 seconds left gave the Cardinal the lead and, after Markel Walker scored for UCLA, Orrange spun through two defenders for the winning score.
It's a shot she practices regularly and executed with perfection to all but assure the Cardinal of yet another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Perhaps more importantly, Stanford passed a gritty, possibly needed test before the NCAAs arrive.
"Our team had to grit it out and quite honestly we haven't had to do that a lot during this year," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We learned a lot about ourselves. I think we'll just be better because of this experience."
Orrange shot 9 of 15 overall, including 7 of 11 in the second half, and was the only Stanford player in double figures, making up for a night when Ogwumike was held to a career-low three points and missed eight of nine shots. Orrange never left the floor in the second half, playing all 20 minutes and coming up with one key play after another.
"I was just thinking, I want to win. I want to win. I'll do whatever it takes,'" Orrange said. "I just looked for opportunities to take chances on plays on offense and defense and luckily it worked out."
Ogwumike's struggles were stunning after two memorable performances to open the conference tournament. She had 48 points and 40 rebounds combined in the first two games, yet was a complete non-factor offensively Sunday. She failed to score for the final 38 minutes after hitting a free throw with 18:07 left in the first half. Wherever Ogwumike roamed around the paint, she was surrounded by two or three UCLA defenders.
It was a perfect game plan executed by UCLA that almost ended the Cardinal's run atop the conference tournament. Walker led UCLA (25-7) with 16 points. The Bruins lost to Stanford in the title game for the third time in four seasons.
"We're hurting right now. My heart just hurts for our seniors," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "I felt they gave so much of themselves in that game today. Hard for them not to be rewarded with the win at the end."
UCLA rallied from an 11-0 deficit to lead 27-26 at halftime after missing its first 12 shots and 20 of its first 22. That lead increased to 42-35 with 9:02 remaining after Ogwumike was called for traveling and Alyssia Brewer scored on a pick-and-roll to give the Bruins their largest lead.
VanDerveer burned another timeout and Ruef snapped a 4-minute drought for the Cardinal, only to see Kacy Swain flash open in the lane for a layup and a 44-37 lead with 7:07 left.
Orrange then started her scoring streak to close the game. Joslyn Tinkle hit two free throws before six straight points by Orrange gave Stanford a 45-44 lead, its first since 31-30 early in the half.
It didn't last long. After the teams traded misses, Walker converted a three-point play for a 47-45 lead, only to see Orrange answer on a driving layup with 1:38 left. Ruef gave Stanford a 49-47 lead on a desperation fling with 50 seconds remaining, but Walker answered by driving past Ogwumike for a left-handed scoop with 36 seconds left.
Orrange began her winning drive with 11 seconds left and spun through the defense for a double-clutch shot. UCLA didn't call timeout and Walker drove to the basket, her shot bouncing around and off. Brewer got the offensive rebound but couldn't get a putback attempt up and was knocked out of bounds. After a replay review, 0.2 seconds were put on the clock, but UCLA couldn't get an attempt off.
UCLA had its six-game winning streak snapped and lost to Stanford for the 16th straight time. Atonye Nyingifa added 10 points and nine rebounds.
"I feel like this whole weekend is something we can go back on and feel we accomplished something," Walker said. "We saw something in us we didn't know we had. The only thing we have to do is go on and see what's next."