Stanford’s collapse against South Carolina exposes early issues

    It should have been Stanford’s game.

    Playing on their home court, the Cardinal led South Carolina by eight points heading into the fourth quarter. But bit by bit, shot by shot, steal by steal, the No. 1 Gamecocks battled back.

    And with two seconds left in regulation, Aliyah Boston reminded everyone that she’s the reigning Player of the Year, with a feathery shot off the backboard to knot the score at 61 and force overtime.

    What followed was a disastrous collapse from No. 2 Stanford in a 76-71 loss, the team’s first of the season.

    The good news for Stanford? The loss came on Nov. 20, and there is a lot of time left to correct the issues that emerged. The bad news? There were a lot of issues, especially down the stretch.

    “Maybe it’s a team not ready to be No. 1,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer told reporters after the game. “So we have to be hungry as the No. 2, and we have to want to improve.”

    It was an exciting, down-to-the-wire nail-biter, but there was no mistaking this for a postseason contest. South Carolina and Stanford exposed weaknesses in one another and learned a lot about themselves. It’s why VanDerveer and Dawn Staley schedule games like this during the regular season: to figure out where they stand now, and how they can be the last team standing on April 2, 2023.

    Cameron Brink led all scorers with 25 points, and for the 23 minutes she played, the junior looked like the best player in the country. But it was the minutes she didn’t play that made the difference, particularly the last three after the 6-foot-5 forward had fouled out.

    Brink was a mismatch for South Carolina, like she will be for most teams this season. She’s lanky, athletic and skilled around the rim, but she also possesses the guard-like skills needed to stretch defenses, attack from the 3-point line and knock down shots from long range. When the junior was on the floor, South Carolina had no answer for her. The problem for Brink is the same one that plagued her during her first two seasons — staying on the floor.

    “Cameron is developing into something pretty special,” Staley said. “Her ability to hit 3s, to put the ball on the floor and stretch defenses elevates her game.”

    Brink led all Stanford scorers with 25 points before fouling out in overtime. (Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports)

    Brink exited the game for good with 3:01 left in overtime. Even as South Carolina started to claw back, Stanford had a chance to seal the win with 10 seconds left after Agnes Emma-Nnopu stole the ball to give the Cardinal another possession, up 73-71.

    Stanford drew up a play but failed to inbound the ball, resulting in a five-second call. Yet again, Stanford had another chance. Brea Beal missed both of her free throws, and Stanford’s Kiki Iriafen grabbed the rebound before positioning her hands in a “T” shape and turning to the official. The sophomore didn’t realize Stanford had used its last timeout. She was assessed a technical foul, and South Carolina got two free throws and the ball, ending the game on a sour note for the Cardinal.

    That’s a lot of chaos to sum up one major concern for Stanford: maturity. The Cardinal have all the skills they need; they just need more time to develop. But this one will sting for a while because South Carolina didn’t storm in and take the victory. Instead, the Cardinal handed it over.

    “There is a lot we left out there on the court,” said Stanford senior Haley Jones, who finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “But also in the grand scheme of things, it’s November. It’s our first loss, so I think there’s a lot left on the table.”

    South Carolina won’t be pleased with the late-game turnover or four missed free throws in the last 24 seconds of play, but at this point in the year, they were seasoned enough to secure a victory.

    “Stanford brings out the best of you, and the worst at times,” Staley said. “I just thought we didn’t play our best, and Stanford had a lot to do with it.

    “We gutted out a win. This wasn’t an easy thing at all.”

    Boston finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds for her 63rd career double-double. In addition to the basket that forced overtime, she made two buckets in the extra period to help secure the victory.

    Down South Carolina’s lineup, sophomore Bree Hall and senior Laeticia Amihere also gave the Gamecocks a lift off the bench. Hall had 12 points, and no basket more important than the 3-pointer she made to put her squad up four with 45 seconds remaining.

    Amihere finished with nine points, six rebounds and two blocks, doing a little bit of everything for South Carolina.

    For Stanford, it’s hard to pick out the positives in a mistake-riddled overtime loss that included 22 turnovers, but it wasn’t all bad. Jones and Brink outplayed Boston and Zia Cooke for most of the game. It wasn’t until the second half that the South Carolina duo got their footing, after combining for just one made field goal in the opening two quarters. And with Brink on the bench, Stanford senior Ashten Prechtel proved herself to be a reliable defensive option, finishing with seven rebounds and five blocks.

    The mistakes were glaring on Sunday. But it’s November, and November games are for making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. March games are not.

    And March is when these teams will likely see each other again.

    Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

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