February 17, 2020

Lost Games Won: The Colorado Story

In less than a month, Colorado and Stanford have offered up two unforgettable games: two of the most memorable and explosive comebacks of the VanDerveer era.  In these contests, players on both teams showed heart, resilience, and the kind of intensity that end-of-season games offer.  In both games, there were lead changes and tit for tat intensity that created doubt into the final seconds.  Still, and let’s be clear about this, Colorado had seemingly won both of these games with just seconds on the clock. 

For Colorado fans, these will be bitter memories of games their team would, could, and should have won – then stunningly lost.  In both, Colorado had the palpable taste of an upset victory over a top 10 team, only to see that taste turn terribly bitter in the face of an explosive, last second Stanford turnaround.

The memory of these games will of course be quite different for Stanford.  Both were games in which Stanford showed focus, attention to detail, and resilience that made the difference.  The outcome of both games turned on the smallest events, but not on luck.  Stanford did what it needed to win.

At Maples on January 24, Colorado came out with fire in their eyes, holding a 8 point lead at the end of the first quarter.  Colorado lost that lead at the half, but then clawed back to a two point lead at the end of the third.  Stanford clawed to a 1 point lead in the final seconds, but Mya Hollingshed launched a three pointer with about 3 seconds left.  It swished, and with just 1.6 seconds on the game clock, Colorado players celebrated their 2 point lead and probable victory.  That turned out badly for them. 

Stanford called time out, allowing an inbounds play from the front court.  Now came the attention to detail.  Lacie Hull, after faking a pass to her twin (Lexie had been a go to player all game), threw a perfect long pass to a cutting Ashten Prechtel for a game tying lay up.  That was part of a well executed play in which every Stanford player did their part to create the opening for Prechtel.

The game was now tied.  The Colorado moment was lost.  The overtime was anticlimactic.  Stanford and Lexie Hull took over and won with an 8 point margin.

Now fast forward to Boulder less than a month later.  Colorado had the revenge factor as well as the home court advantage.  Stanford did not buckle, and held an 8 point lead at the half.  Far from wilting, Colorado cut the lead to one point at the end of the third quarter.  In the final quarter, the lead changed back and forth.  Colorado had a five point lead with less than 2 minutes left.  It was now Kiana Williams time.

Williams scored 8 points in the next two minutes, but the real story is how she scored them. 

Stanford had to foul to regain possession.  Colorado missed 4 of 6 free throws with the game on the line, but still held a three point lead with less than 24 seconds to go.  At that point, a set play gave Ashten Prechtel an open look for a game tying three, but Prechtel missed it.  Colorado’s Emma Clark got the board and was immediately fouled.

Things looked pretty dark for Stanford at this point.  If Clark could make one of her two free throws, this would be a two possession game with only 18 seconds on the clock.  Clark missed both, and Prechtel rebounded.  Stanford called an immediate time out and set up another play, this one to free Kiana Williams for a three from the base line.  And why not.  Williams had already scored a game high 23 points.  Her shot bounced up, and back in. 

The game was now tied with 12.9 seconds left.  Colorado was out of time outs.  They inbounded and got the ball into the front court where Hollingshed was trapped against the side line.  She got doubled.  With less than 4 seconds on the clock, Hollingshed attempted a pass that got tipped back toward the Stanford basket.  Williams grabbed it and had time to get about two strides beyond the mid court.  With 1 second left, Willaims launched a high arcing three pointer from 10 to 12 feet beyond the three point line.  The horn sounded, the red light showed on the backboard, but the shot was already in the air. 

Really bad news for Colorado.  Williams second three pointer within 15 seconds was a shot for the highlight reel.  It gave her a game and career high 29 points.  It was an explosive and, for Colorado fans, a stunning loss of a game that, with good reason, they thought had been won.  Emma Clark, among others, must feel really bad.

I can empathize with Colorado fans.  Stanford has lost some big games because of last second heroics of the other team.  But the program’s record in these last second games is a positive one: Stanford wins more of these games than it loses.  It’s that attention to detail.  It’s that focus.  It’s that belief in themselves.  And it’s good coaching.

At the end of the game, Stanford players celebrated big time.  Well deserved.  But now it’s time to prepare for a really important weekend with the Oregon schools.


Unknown said...

Warren this was a really good piece. I was at the game. I knew it would be a tough, "high altitude game." I had my Stanford WBB bringing the heat tee-shirt on. As CU began to pull away in those last minutes my optimism began to fade. I was thinking-- this will be impossible to overcome. When Kiana hit the tying 3 pointer, I thought--- perhaps we can pull it out in overtime. Unlike the UCLA game Kiana was still looking fresh, though she had played nearly the entire game. This was a great team effort, but Kiana was really on fire. To see Tara lean back as Kiana released the ball and then throw her hands up in the air was pure CLASSIC! I hope we can take it to OSU and OU. I'll be looking for your next blog. TR

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