LAS VEGAS -- Tournament Tara is back in the Pac 12 championship.
Lexie Hull had 28 points and nine rebounds to lead No. 7 Stanford to a 67-51 win over No. 8 UCLA on Saturday night in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals.
The win put Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer five victories shy of passing Pat Summitt (1,098) as the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history, and her third-seeded Cardinal (27-5) in the Pac 12 championship for a 17th time.
Stanford will meet No. 1 seed Oregon in the championship for a third straight year, and fourth time in five years. Stanford beat the Ducks 64-57 in last year's title game. Oregon beat the Cardinal 77-57 in the 2018 championship.
"We are thrilled to be playing for the championship of (the) Pac-12 Conference," VanDerveer said. "I think tonight was a battle of two really talented teams. UCLA is a great team; they're going to do extremely well in the NCAA Tournament. They're very well-coached team, and they have a terrific talent on their team."
Kiana Williams added 12 points for the Cardinal, while Francesca Belibi contributed eight points and seven rebounds.
But it was Stanford's defense that stimulated the win, as it held UCLA to a season-low 51 points, the eighth time the Cardinal held a Pac 12 semifinal opponent to 51 points or fewer.
"Our defense has been more consistent than our offense all year," VanDerveer said. "The first time when we played them our defense really let us down. Sometimes I find that when you're really working hard defensively it rushes your offense. But I think we've learned to play an aggressive defense, and smart defense. I think when you're playing well, you're playing well at both ends of the floor."
That is exactly how the Cardinal methodically wore down UCLA.
Stanford, which ranked second in the Pac 12 at 74.3 points per contest, ranked fifth in the conference in giving up a mere 59.63. The Cardinal's plus-14.67 scoring margin was second in the league. And where the Cardinal thrived was limiting its opposition in getting high-percentage shots throughout the campaign, which resulted in it ranking No. 1 with its field-goal percentage defense (35%).
All of which is why it came as no surprise the Cardinal shut down UCLA's potent offense.
The Bruins (26-5) were stymied after holding a 15-13 lead after the first quarter. UCLA managed just 16 points in the second and third quarters combined, while Stanford took over.
"I never worry about the first half, because the second half is the ballgame," VanDerveer said.
Michaela Onyenwere, Japreece Dean and Charisma Osborne each had 14 points for the Bruins.
Stanford closed the door with a 16-0 run in the second half, and eventually took a 50-31 lead into the fourth quarter and cruised to its 17th Pac 12 championship game.
"A lot of things went wrong in that stretch," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "We knew if they were able to get into an offensive rhythm — we really didn't see their offense much in the first half — they are really high-level execution level team, and we let them be that. We knew we had to disrupt them. I thought we played really good defense the first half. Really disappointed we weren't able to come out and assert that same kind of defensive prowess in the third quarter."
The Cardinal improved to 47-0 when holding its opponent to fewer than 70 points at the Pac-12 Tournament. The Cardinal is now 47-5 all-time at the event — 17-1 in the semifinal round — and has won 13 of the 18 titles.
Stanford: The Cardinal opened a 50-31 lead after three quarters by way of field goals only. Stanford didn't attempt its first free throw until the 2:16 mark of the fourth quarter.
UCLA: Onyenwere's offense was non-existent in the third quarter, which took away from UCLA's offense and allowed the Cardinal to gradually distance itself. After scoring 8 in the first half, Onyenwere scored 2 points in the third quarter.
VanDerveer didn't hold back about her team's championship matchup on Sunday.
"I think Oregon is the No. 1 team in the country. They're the No. 1 team in the country because they execute extremely well offensively. They have tremendous three-point shooters, whether it is their starting lineup or off their bench. ... They don't have any weaknesses. They have the No. 1 player in the country. Honestly, our team is I think a lot younger, not as experienced, and we're going to have to figure out something to do that will really help our team be successful. We didn't figure it out the first few times.:
Stanford lost at Oregon, 87-55, on Jan. 16, and at home in Palo Alto, 74-66, on Feb. 24.
Stanford: Will face Oregon in the Pac 12 championship on Sunday night.
UCLA: Awaits its NCAA Tournament bid.
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