LOS ANGELES (CBS / AP) — It was one of those rare off-days for Stanford, and it nearly cost the Cardinal.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike had 24 points and 12 rebounds, and second-ranked Stanford overcame its worst shooting of the season to beat Arizona State 52-43 Friday in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
“We really had to work hard. We had to battle,” said Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer . “Arizona State is an experienced, physical, and big team. They gave us all we can handle, and I was really proud of how our team stepped up.”
Ogwumike’s younger sister, Chiney, added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the top-seeded Cardinal (30-1), who advanced to Saturday’s title game at Staples Center in pursuit of their ninth tournament championship. They’ll play second-seeded California (24-8), a 64-49 winner over Washington State in the other semifinal. Stanford is 5-0 in the tourney against its Bay Area rival.
“I’m especially proud of Nnemkadi and Chiney because they wouldn’t let it slip through their fingers in anyway,” VanDerveer said. “Their leadership was outstanding.”
The Cardinal won their 27th straight game, equaling the longest winning streak in school history. The Cardinal won 27 in a row last season before losing to Texas A&M in the national semifinals, and 27 straight in 2009-10 before being stopped by Connecticut in the national championship game. Their only loss so far this season was to UConn.
“I’m really excited to come out of this game with a W, because it taught us a lot of things,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “Being able to communicate was key … us being on the same page from the start to the end. They’re a very talented team. They’re very athletic. Us being able to handle that pressure is something that I don’t think we could have done as well last year, and we’re just learning how to develop that this year, too.”
Stanford also extended its winning streak against conference opponents to 77 with a 13th consecutive win against the Sun Devils.
But the Cardinal hardly resembled their usually dominant selves, shooting a season-low 29 percent while missing all 10 3-pointers. Their 52 points just missed the record of 51 for fewest scored in a win.
“Just chalk it up to a bad shooting game,” VanDerveer said. “I can’t tell you if it was something in the waffles this morning or whatever it could be. But some days you have games like that, and thankfully we were able to overcome that with great rebounding. I thought excellent defense, kind of just not getting discouraged.”
The Cardinal was just 4 of 26 from the floor in the second half, when they were outscored 28-23.
“Their defense definitely caused us to really figure out what we needed to do on offense,” Nnemkadi Ogwumike said. “Taking it to the hole today was more effective than shooting on the outside. However, when we do get those open shots, we’ve got to knock them down. We know what we can do.”
Kali Bennett scored 10 points and Micaela Pickens added 10 for fourth-seeded Arizona State (20-11). Leading scorer Kimberly Brandon, who averages 10.1 points, was held scoreless and her slight stature didn’t match up well with the Ogwumikes.
“I didn’t want to force anything because this was a big game, but I should have been more aggressive,” she said.
Stanford led by 14 early in the second half, but saw its lead dwindle to seven with just under 7 minutes to go. Arizona State outscored the Cardinal 12-5, including five by Janae Fulcher and a 3-pointer from Olivia Major, to put pressure on.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike turned the ball over—one of 16 Stanford miscues—and Pickens scored on a fastbreak layup, cutting the Sun Devils’ deficit to 42-36. They got within six twice more in the final 1:24, fouling Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who made six straight free throws to repel the threat.
The Cardinal were steady from the line, hitting 22 of 27 free throws and dominating the boards 48-28.
Arizona State wasn’t much better, shooting 30 percent from the floor, but the Sun Devils had 13 steals and held their own in the paint, 22-20.
“What we wanted to do was to pressure the basketball and to make it difficult for them to be able to get the ball to the two sisters,” interim Sun Devils coach Joseph Anders said. “We were able to do that and actually put their guards back on their heels.”
Stanford improved to 29-2 in the tourney that began in 2002.
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