PALO ALTO — Everyone associated with UC Davis women’s basketball knew it was asking a lot: The 16th-seeded Aggies were at top-seeded Stanford for a first-round NCAA tournament game.
When the last shot clanked off the rim, the powerful Cardinal had beaten the Big West Tournament champs, 86-59, at Maples Pavilion to advance to a second-round contest against St. John’s on Monday.
“Prior to this contest, I thought Stanford was a national-champion-caliber team,” UCD coach Sandy Simpson said afterward. “Nothing I saw (Saturday) dissuades me from that opinion.”
With six players scoring in double-digits, the Cardinal — led by Nnemkadi Ogwumike’s 22 points — overcame a feisty Aggie start to pull away in the second half.
UCD had kept the nation’s No. 2 team to a manageable 42-30 intermission lead.
“They’re a solid team, they had answers,” continued Simpson, who is retiring after 14 seasons at the Aggie helm. “We had to pick our poison and protect around the hoop.
“We did a good job of that. I thought we were even on points in the paint.”
But when you’re a Stanford — winners of 23 straight games and 62 in a row before the home folks — you have those “answers” Simpson talked about.
UCD could have put on a Just-Happy-To-Be-Here face and taken a dive as a 26-point underdog. But the Aggies — led by seniors Paige Mintun and Heidi Heintz — served notice early.
Heintz took a nifty pass from Mintun and chalked up a trey that put UCD up 5-4. Later, Vicky Deely’s 3-pointer tied things at eight apiece — then Kasey Riecks stole a pass from Stanford star Jeanette Pohlen and eventually made her own long-distance connection.
With 4:50 gone in the game, the Aggies led 11-8. It would be UCD’s last lead of the season.
On the next possesion, Stanford All-Pac-10 selection Kayla Pedersen hit from beyond the arc to tie the game.
When Hannah Stephens was called for a phantom foul on Cardinal Toni Kokenis, the freshman guard’s two free throws started a 7-0 run for Stanford.
But Mintun, the Big West tourney MVP, wouldn’t let her team lose sight of their hosts …
A jumper in the paint, followed by a trey (assist from Riecks) pulled the Aggies to within two.
But here came those “answers” again.
Pohlen — the Pac-10 Player of the Year — hit a 25-foot bomb. So did Pedersen, followed by two free throws and a basket by Ogwumike. UCD trailed 28-16 and only once the rest of the way would it crawl to within nine points (at 39-30 just before halftime).
After the break, it was all Stanford.
A 17-7 run put things on ice at 59-37 with 13:49 remaining. The Cardinal’s biggest lead would be 86-57 with under a minute to play.
Ogwumike scored 10 of her 22 points early in the second half. Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said she liked the way her team “took care of the ball” and “managed to move it around well” as Cardinal players Pohlen (11), Kokenis (11), Lindy La Rocque (14) and Chiney Ogwumike (10) also finished in double digits.
Stanford shot 55.4 percent and a white-hot 60 percent from 3-Point Land.
But it was Mintun, the brilliant 6-foot-2 post who kept plodding, leading a group of Aggies that Simpson said “never quit.”
Mintun finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal. She went out hitting eight of her final 15 shots.
Heintz scored 11 and handed out three assists, then talked about her last game with Mintun and Simpson:
“It was pretty emotional for the three of us. It’s been a fun run for all of us and it’s been an honor to play for coach. I know he not only feels the same about me and Paige, but the whole team, too.”
Heintz called the NCAA bid “an awesome way to close it out.”
Notes: The Aggies finished 2010-11 with a program-best 24-9 mark. Stanford is now 30-2. … St. John’s (a No. 9 seed) beat Texas Tech, 55-50, in a pedestrian, turnover-plagued warm-up to the Stanford-UCD contest at Maples. … Aggie Blair Shinoda finished with six points (two treys), Riecks added seven and Samantha Meggison canned a half-dozen. … UCD shot a respectable 46.8 percent from the floor, but got hammered on the glass, 33-19. Stanford handed out a season-high 28 assists.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or (530) 747-8047.