By Sam McPherson

A “Big Game”, of sorts, for the ages happened on Sunday as the Stanford University women’s basketball team took on the California Golden Bears for the Pac-12 Tournament title in Seattle, and the Cardinal emerged victorious with a one-point win, 61-60. Cal led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but the Cardinal took the lead for good with 12:20 left in the game.

Stanford’s Lili Thompson made two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to give her team a 61-55 lead, and a furious Bears comeback fell short by the one point. The Cardinal improved to 24-9 on the year, while California fell to 23-9. Both teams will now await their NCAA Tournament seeding, to be announced next weekend.

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The two teams took different pathways through the tournament semifinals on Saturday to reach the final: Third-seeded Stanford beat second-seeded Arizona State, 59-56, and fourth-seeded Cal defeated lowly Colorado, 68-55. The Buffaloes had done the dirty work for the Bears a day earlier, downing top-seeded Oregon State in the quarterfinals by a 68-65 score.

This is the 11th conference tournament title for the Cardinal.

Forward Taylor Greenfield had 20 points for Stanford, on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor. She two of her three-point attempts and nailed both her free-throw opportunities. Thompson added 13 points, and Amber Orrange scored 12 points and registered six steals in the game. Kaylee Johnson led the Cardinal with 12 rebounds.

Courtney Range scored 17 points and nabbed nine boards for California, but the Bears were just 5-of-11 on their free-throw attempts—and when you lose a game by one point, each one of those misses come back to haunt you. For example, Cal’s Mercedes Jefflo contributed 16 points to the cause, but she missed both her free throws in this huge game. Mikayla Cowling scored 14 points for the Bears as well.

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The two teams previously split back-to-back games in February, with Stanford winning by 12 on the road and Cal returning the favor with a 10-point win at Stanford four days later. Both teams finished with identical 13-5 conference marks, too, making the differences between them ever so slight as seen on Sunday in this nail-biting game—and that’s the way it should be for the rivals, right? 

Now, the Bears will look to make amends in the NCAA tourney, where they lost to Baylor in the second round last season to finish 22-10 on the year. Cal has improved on that mark this year, but it won’t mean much if the team can’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen. The Cardinal made it to the Final Four last season before losing to Connecticut—they avenged that loss earlier this season, and this tournament title has to give Stanford confidence going into the NCAAs.

The Cardinal will be looking for top-four seed in the tournament this year, which would give them a good pathway to the Sweet Sixteen themselves. And having beaten both Oregon State and Arizona State—Top 10 teams—in the last two weeks, Stanford is playing some of its best basketball of the season. No one is going to want to face the Cardinal in the NCAA Tournament.

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.