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McCall blocks upset bid by South Dakota State in NCAAs

 

Stanford's strength this season has been its defense, so it's no wonder that the Cardinal used a defensive stand to advance to the Sweet 16.

Junior guard Lili Thompson gave 13th-ranked Stanford the advantage at one end of the court and junior forward Erica McCall made sure the Cardinal kept the advantage at the other end.

McCall blocked a shot from South Dakota State standout Macy Miller with one second left and the Cardinal came back to beat the Jackrabbits, 66-65, in the second round of the NCAA women's tournament at Maples Pavilion on Monday night.

No. 4 seed Stanford (26-7) held 12th-seeded SDSU (27-7) without a field goal for the final 4:43 and overcame an eight-point deficit with four minutes left.

Despite playing without a senior starter for the first time since 2002-03 and not winning a Pac-12 regular-season or tournament title for the first time since 1999-2000, the Cardinal still managed to get back to the Sweet 16 for the ninth straight year.

"It's very satisfying," said Tara VanDerveer, who coached her 1,000th game at Stanford and improved to 827-173. "Most people talk about next year's team but you never know about next year, so let's enjoy this year. I'm proud of the strength and resilience and grit that this team showed. This isn't our best shooting team or best execution team, but maybe it's the hungriest team."

The Cardinal is second in the country in field goal percentage defense (32.6), 17th in scoring defense (53.8) and sixth in blocks (6.2 per game).

Thompson scored the winning points on a 3-point play with 8.2 seconds left to cap a game-ending 12-3 run.

Thompson played all 40 minutes and finished with 19 points and five assists, while McCall had 20 points and 12 rebounds to record her 17th double-double this season.

The Cardinal faces top-seeded Notre Dame (33-1) in the semifinals of the Lexington Regional on Friday at 6 p.m. at Rupp Arena. It will be a rematch from last year's regional semifinals that Notre Dame won, 81-60.

No. 3 Kentucky (25-7) and No. 7 Washington (24-10) also advanced to the Lexington Regional. The Pac-12 has four teams -- UCLA and Oregon State are the others -- in the Sweet 16, a first for the conference.

The Jackrabbits, who beat No. 5 Miami Saturday to record their second-ever NCAA Tournament win, were attempting to go to their first-ever Sweet 16. This was their seventh tournament appearance in eight years, and they had played non-conference games against Notre Dame and Maryland, so they would be comfortable facing top competition.

They certainly weren't intimidated at The Farm, where Stanford came in 33-4 in NCAA Tournament home games. SDSU outscored Stanford 23-13 in the third quarter to overcome a six-point halftime deficit and led 62-54 with 4:43 left.

"There is tremendous pressure in this tournament and there is tremendous pressure on the home team," SDSU coach Aaron Johnston said. "People might feel like it's a huge advantage to be at home, and it really is, but when things aren't going well that's tremendous pressure, even more so than being on the road."

But the Cardinal slowly chipped away at the lead as SDSU missed its last five shots and committed four turnovers in the final five minutes.

A 3-pointer by Briana Roberson brought Stanford within 64-63 with 1:14 left. Thompson missed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left, but after Miller went 1 for 2 from the line, Thompson got another chance.

Using a screen by Kailee Johnson, Thompson drove down the middle of the lane, made the layup and was fouled.

"She is the one you want the ball in her hands," McCall said of Thompson. "She is clutch. This girl's crazy good. Honestly, I wouldn't have any other person with the ball in her hands. The way she finishes, the way she attacks, is something I admire a lot."

Despite being 1 of 5 from the line in the fourth quarter to that point (Stanford finished 10 of 22), Thompson made the go-ahead free throw.

"You have to have a short memory," Thompson said. "You can't step up to the free-throw line and think about the three that you just missed. All I'm hearing from my coaches and my teammates is, 'Take your time. We believe in you.' So, you just step up, depend on your preparation, and knock it down."

SDSU still had one last chance, but Miller (19 points, eight rebounds) was closely guarded by Roberson and was forced to take an off-balance jumper that was rejected by McCall.

"I don't think you could ask for a better, harder-fought game by both teams," VanDerveer said. "Every person, every basket, every rebound. It was what coaches love to talk about -- you've got to play each play, because each play mattered."

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