There will be three Pac-12 teams among the Elite Eight, all of which Stanford has beaten this season. The Cardinal played a total of five teams who are still alive in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
Fourth-seeded Stanford fell to top-seeded Louisville, 86-59, in the semifinals of the Lexington Regional on Friday. It may look like the Cardinal (24-11) ended its season on a bad note but the opposite is true.
Stanford overcame its fair share of adversity to reach its 11th consecutive Sweet 16, beating three teams who reached the Elite Eight along the way. Overall, Stanford played 12 games against nine of the final 16 teams.
In a year of unproven talent, dropping out of the top 25, the loss of senior All-American Brittany McPhee for nine games and a schedule that makes sausage-making look good, the Cardinal somehow perservered.
Only McPhee and Kaylee Johnson, the team's top offensive and defensive player, respectively, are not eligible to return. Two high school All-Americans and the twin sister of a high school All-American will replace them.
Stanford has always been built for the long haul and this year was no different. Kiana Williams rose out of a talented freshmen class and showed she could play among the elite. DiJonai Carrington showed what happens after a year of development.
Alanna Smith and Marta Sniezek are ready to assume leadership and there are several candidates for a breakout season among the quality role players, including Alexis Romano, Maya Dodson, Nadia Fingall and Alyssa Jerome.
Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, showing she's still among the best, can lament the loss of McPhee and Johnson but once the sparkle scatters, she'll be looking through glasses made of renewed energy and optimism.
Stanford ran into a great team. Louisville (35-2) advanced to its first regional final since 2014 and fourth since 2009.
“We knew coming in we were going to have our hands full," Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said. “We knew were going to have to play extremely well, and I thought we did that.”
McPhee had 15 points and Carrington 14 for Stanford, which hoped to upset a tournament top seed for the third straight March in Lexington after knocking out Notre Dame the previous two years.
The Cardinal bench outscored Louisville 23-13, but Stanford committed 19 turnovers leading to 22 points.
“They have a combination of athleticism and aggressiveness, size,” coach Tara VanDerveer said of Louisville. “They really extended their defense on us, and I think that we – intellectually, we knew that was going to happen, but you can’t –it’s hard to kind of talk to people about this is what’s going to happen. Snd when it happens, it’s a little bit different.”
The Cardinal started out doing what it needed to stay with Louisville offensively, outshooting the Cardinals 73 percent to 65 percent in the first quarter.
But Stanford still trailed by six, and that early statistic demonstrated its struggle to slow down the athletic Cardinals.
"They just knocked down a lot of shots," Carrington said. "They were very aggressive on the offensive boards from the one to five. We didn't match that today."