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Buffs Knock Off Stanford, Gain West Final
The Colorado Lady Buffs upset defending national champion Stanford, 80-67, in the first round of the NCAA West Regional.
Though CU would lose to Texas Tech two days later and be denied a berth in the 1993 Women's Final Four, the win over the No. 6 Cardinal was the impetus for a No. 10 final ranking for CU and finally earned some respect for the Big Eight Conference.
The game story the following morning (keyed in by CU student assistant Luke Rogers):
March 25, 1993
MISSOULA, Mont. - The Colorado Lady Buffs knew they had already arrived as a power in women's basketball. Thursday night they showed it to the rest of the nation.
CU, 27-3, made its first visit to the Sweet 16 even sweeter by downing the defending national champion Stanford Cardinals 80-67 in the West Regional semifinals in Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Buffs will try to reach the Final Four for the first time Saturday at 7 p.m. when they play Texas Tech in the regional final.
Despite trailing 10-0 to start the game and 54-40 with 14:58 to play, CU didn't stray from its plan.
"The first thing we wanted to do was slow Stanford down," Lady Buff head coach Ceal Barry said. "We didn't want the score to be 96-86. Our goal was to hold them between 65 and 70 points, but that is our goal with anyone we play.
"No one gave us a snowball's chance in hell to win this game. Our kids did a great job of sticking to our game plan even when we were down 10-0."
Barry stopped short of calling it the best win in the program's history, but beating the "queens of basketball" down the stretch speaks for itself.
CU closed to within 39-36 by halftime and took its first lead of the contest (58-56) on an inside basket by senior Mindy Henry with 7:52 to play. The teams were tied 61-61 when Lady Buff All-America guard Shelley Sheetz, 28 points, put CU up for good with a 3 pointer with 3:05 left. Sheetz's shot was set up by offensive rebounds by senior Amy Mathern in that possession. The two plays epitomized the career of Mathern.
"I told everyone that we have four minutes to win this game," Mathern said. "I knew it was going to take every ounce of energy. After the second rebound I was thinking Sheetz better make this shot (the 3 pointer) after all the battling to get the rebound."
Stanford, 26-6, had its dreams of going to a fourth straight Final Four, winning back-to-back championships and the opportunity for a third title in four years, slowly crushed by CU.
The Lady Buffs made 13 of 14 free throws to ice the game in the final 1:44. Senior guard Stephanie Mack made 9 of 10 in that stretch. Mack teamed with freshman Decelle Thomas to hold Stanford senior point guard Molly Goodenbour to 13 points.
"Playing against Cori Close (of Cal Santa-Barbara) last week really helped prepare us," Mack said. "We knew Goodenbour was the key person to slow down."
Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer felt foul trouble - Stanford was called for 29 fouls - and CU's defensive intensity in the second half was the difference.
"Colorado really stepped it up on the defense end of the court," VanDerveer said. "They were beating us to the loose balls and Sheetz hit a big three-pointer."
Sheetz was joined in double figures by Henry (15), Jamillah Lang (15) and Mack (12). Stanford was led by All-America center Val Whiting's 21 points.
Sheetz felt games in the Big Eight Conference, not highly thought of nationally, at Oklahoma State and Kansas helped prepare the Lady Buffs. Colorado fell behind early in both games, but regrouped for victories in both cases.
"We've been in that position before and we have confidence that our defensive pressure will break down the opponent," Sheetz said. "We played with a lot of heart and there was no pressure on us because everyone expected them to win."
CU forced Stanford into 19 turnovers, while committing only 13.
"We're not finished yet so we can't put this win in perspective," Barry said. "It's a tremendous win and a big step for our program, but Stanford was the team we needed to get by to progress further."
Barry continued to stress the importance of the free throws that were made by Mack. "Steph Mack is just so good at free throws; she just nailed those things, " said Barry. "We were actually trying to get the ball to Shelley near the end, but Steph did such a great job that it didn't matter."
Said Mack, a 70 percent foul shooter for the season, "I don't know if it was easy at the free-throw line. When it came down to it I was kind of within myself."
Sheetz, a perfect 7 of 7 at the free-throw stripe, said, "Steph just concentrated on those free throws because she knew she had to make 'em, and she came through for us."
Mack said, "Coach Barry told us that if we wanted to go to the Final Four, this is one of the steps along the way. Coach Barry has done such a great job of preparing us for every game and we prepared great for this game."
Henry, a 6-2 senior from Merino she came through with several clutch second-half buckets, admitted Stanford may have been looking ahead to a Saturday regional final against Texas Tech.
"Stanford may have been taking us too lightly, " Henry said. "And all week long up here, people have been saying that Stanford would beat us by 30 points." Barry noticed the same attitude and said "No one would believe but us. I just hope the people in Boulder are as proud of this team as we are. We've been here since Tuesday and all we've heard are people saying they hope we give Stanford a game.
"We gave 'em quite a game and now I hope we can beat Texas Tech and go to the Final Four. That'd be awesome."
Barry said she was only slightly worried when Stanford streaked to a 10-0 lead at the start. " I thought, 'Oh no, we can't be this bad.' "Everybody did what they had to do. I'd call it, 'controlled aggressiveness' we played with in the second half. I didn't want to get into a running game with Stanford, and fortunately we didn't. I was surprised at how easily they scored against us in the first half."
Credit Barry for creating some key defensive matchups that gave her team an advantage in quickness over a bigger Stanford team. Freshman Decelle Thomas and starting guard Stephanie Mack tipped numerous Cardinal passes, taking Stanford out of its offense and creating havoc with a full-court press. Meanwhile, Mack played an excellent defensive game against Molly Goodenbour holding her to just two points in the last 18 minutes. The other important defensive move was putting reserve forward Jamillah Lang on 6-3 center Whiting, Stanford's leading scorer at 18.6 points per game. With the 6-0 Lang guarding her most of the way, Whiting had just eight of her 21 points in the second half.
Other than a last-second basket for the game's final two points, down the stretch Stanford made just 4 of 21 field goal attempts and committed seven turnovers, which CU cashed in for nine points. For the half, Stanford sjot 10-of-28 (.357) after going 17-of-31 the first 20 minutes.
Lang, plagued all year by a knee problem, also provided an offensive spark in the second half when Wirfs and Mathern, the starting front-liners, were having off-nights. Lang and Henry scored 10 of Colorado 12 points as the Lady Buffs turned a 49-44 deficit into a 61-60 lead with about five minutes left.
Halftime-Stanford 39, Colorado 36. 3-Point Field Goals-Colorado 3-8 (Sheetz 3-7, Lang 0-1), Stanford 4-15 (Goodenbaur 3-9, Whiting 1-1, Paye 0-1, Hedgpeth 0-2, Kelsey 0-2). Rebounds-Colorado 36 (Henry 6, Lang 5), Stanford 35 (Whiting 14). Assists-Colorado 17 (Mathern 8), Stanford 20 (Hedgpeth 5). Steals-Colorado 11 (Thomas 3), Stanford 2 (Goodenbaur, Paye). Turnovers-Colorado 13, Stanford 19. Total Fouls-Colorado 17, Stanford 29.
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