Without Brink, Stanford reaches 2nd round of March Madness
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — For months, Tara VanDerveer prepared every player on her roster to make an impact in March — whether as a starter or playing key bursts off the bench.
The Hall of Fame coach counted on everybody's best efforts after star Cameron Brink got sick and had to sit out.
Haley Jones scored 17 points for a top-seeded Stanford team missing Brink because of a stomach bug, and the Cardinal advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament by beating 16th-seeded Sacred Heart 92-49 on Friday night.
Freshman Talana Lepolo dished out seven assists in her NCAA debut as Stanford advances to the second round Sunday against the winner of Friday’s second game between No. 8 seed Ole Miss and ninth-seeded Gonzaga.
“We needed this, for our team, to kind of bust out a little bit and remind ourselves this is what we can do,” VanDerveer said.
Stanford, earning a No. 1 seed for a third straight year, notched the program’s 100th NCAA Tournament victory — third most all-time behind Tennessee and UConn. The Cardinal (29-5) have reached the Sweet 16 in 14 consecutive tournaments and haven’t lost in the first two rounds since falling to Florida State at home in 2007.
Freshman Ny’Ceara Pryor scored 12 points to lead cold-shooting Sacred Heart (19-14), which overcame a 2-9 start to the season, won its first NCAA Tournament game and kept surprising all the way to March and extended its visit to the Bay Area.
Without Brink, VanDerveer leaned on her post depth. Seniors Francesca Belibi and Ashten Prechtel played more minutes and 6-foot-7 freshman Lauren Betts blocked three shots and was relied upon regularly in the paint.
“I learned from the best, Cameron is one of the best shot-blockers ever,” Betts said.
Belibi started in place of Brink and in Brink-like fashion swatted a 3-point try by Kelsey Wood in the closing minutes of the first half. Belibi wound up with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“It is really different not having Cam out there,” VanDerveer said.
Well-rested Stanford played one week after squandering a 16-point lead in a semifinal loss to UCLA at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas following a conference regular-season crown.
The Cardinal grabbed the bracket's final No. 1 seed — and VanDerveer knew many people weren’t sure Stanford deserved a top seed. Her team used that as fuel and motivation on the way to a 14th straight home win.
Stanford made its final seven field goals of the first quarter, with Jones corralling a defensive rebound then going coast to coast for a layup and getting fouled before scoring on a reverse layup the next time down.
The Cardinal shot 10 of 14 in the opening quarter for a 23-18 lead then went on a 10-0 run in the second to take control as the Pioneers missed five straight shots.
“That will stay with me for the rest of my life, we stayed with Stanford in the first quarter,” Pryor said.
Scrappy Sacred Heart wanted nothing more than to leave a mark during this postseason journey, pulling off the program's first NCAA win by beating Southern 57-47 in a First Four game here Wednesday night. Then, Mannetti started three freshmen against the Cardinal.
“I will never forget all that we've gone through these last two weeks,” Sacred Heart coach Jessica Mannetti said. 'I will never forget playing here at Stanford."
But it has now been 25 years since Stanford lost as a No. 1 seed to 16th-seeded Harvard right here on campus — and VanDerveer was determined not to have a repeat.
“They are absolutely relentless,” Mannetti said. “It was certainly a different experience. We have never played a team at this high of a level.”
Hannah Jump’s 3 to beat the halftime buzzer gave her 97 3-pointers this season, breaking the single-season mark previously held by Karlie Samuelson and Jeanette Pohlen.
Jump finished with 12 points on four 3s.
Stanford made the announcement about 50 minutes before tipoff that Brink, the Cardinal's leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, was out because of a non-COVID illness.
The junior forward’s status is day-to-day.
“Not how I expected March Madness to start but cheering my girls on today. Just a stomach bug & I’ll be back asap," Brink posted on her Instagram account.
The school’s career blocks leader, the 6-foot-4 Brink is averaging 14.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 1.9 assists. Her 111 blocks rank second in the nation.
Sacred Heart: Emotional at the end Friday, Mannetti had hundreds of congratulatory text messages to go through after Wednesday's win, and she planned to respond as her timing allowed. ... The Pioneers talked about how that 1998 Harvard team pulled off the unthinkable beating Stanford on its home floor. In fact, Manetti mentioned how league opponent Stonehill is coached by former Harvard assistant Trisha Brown who was part of that upset. Stanford: Sophomore Kiki Iriafen added nine points and five rebounds while Indya Nivar scored 11 points. ... Stanford has hosted 77 NCAA Tournament games, second-most behind Knoxville, Tennessee – and Maples has hosted more than any other venue. ... Stanford has won 21 consecutive NCAA games on its home floor and is 41-4 all-time at Maples during March Madness.
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