- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Just when you think you know how it is going to end …
It's the early minutes of the second half at Maples Pavilion and Stanford is rolling, up 30 points against rival Cal with 13 minutes, 35 seconds to play and it's time to go into the media notes to see what the largest margin of victory has been in this series of late.
All of a sudden, four minutes later, it's an 18-point game and the Bears are hitting shots and cranking up the defensive pressure. Cal finally makes its first trip to the free throw line with 5:45 to go, and at 3:19, it's an 11-point game.
And then, with 17 seconds to go, the Cardinal are huddling, calming each other down. The Bears are down only by five points.
Stanford -- led by Chiney Ogwumike's 23 points and 12 rebounds -- hung on for a 70-64 victory over the No. 21 Bears, setting up a very interesting rematch on Sunday (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 4 p.m. ET) in Berkeley, a nice appetizer before the Super Bowl main course.
"We did not keep playing hard. We did not keep the pedal to the metal and it was disappointing," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "The end of the game had to get everyone's attention for Sunday."
This was the closest game Stanford has played since a 76-70 win over No. 3 Tennessee back on Dec. 21. Pac-12 competition thus far has presented only a few tense moments for the No. 4 Cardinal, save for a 10-point win at Colorado and a rough first half against UCLA at home last weekend.
On a night when No. 3 Duke barely got by Miami, No. 6 North Carolina fell to Syracuse and eighth-ranked Maryland lost to No. 18 NC State in the ACC, and both No. 13 Kentucky and No. 16 Vanderbilt lost in the SEC, Stanford (20-1, 9-0) evaded the upset to win its 19th consecutive game.
Still, the Bears (14-6, 6-3) felt pretty good after it was over, shaving 25 points off a deficit that had them looking like blowout bait.
Cal guard Brittany Boyd laughed at the writers in the postgame news conference who admitted they were madly rewriting game stories that looked like foregone conclusions only minutes earlier. And she confessed that at the point she looked up at the scoreboard and saw a 59-29 deficit, she was thinking more about school pride than coming all the way back to win.
"I was thinking, 'Do not get blown out,'" said Boyd, who finished with 25 points. "We got it together a little too late. If we had five more minutes, I think we could have pulled it out."
With Cal's leading scorer Reshanda Gray having a tough night -- she was 0-for-3 from the floor with five rebounds in just 14 minutes -- the Bears leaned hard on the fiery Boyd.
And Boyd came through with 16 second-half points to lead the rally. Senior Afure Jemerigbe added 18 for the game and Gennifer Brandon, playing in her fifth game since returning from a two-month absence, finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"Against Stanford, we need a third scorer and Gen did that for us tonight," Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said her players taught her a lesson Thursday night about resilience.
"We are disappointed we didn't come out with the win," she said, "but I am proud of our team and their fight. We did not give up."
And while the Bears might carry momentum from Thursday's strong finish into Sunday's game -- and assume that they won't get another scoreless effort from Gray -- they have to know that the Cardinal are suddenly a little more alert than they were when they were cruising with 13 minutes to go on Thursday night.
The nice girls from Stanford might just be a little mad -- at themselves. And they might bring that to Haas on Sunday.
"I'm glad we played well for 30 minutes and not 20 minutes," VanDerveer said. "We will learn from our mistakes … We do not feel good about how we finished."
For the first time in a long time, the usually gregarious Ogwumike was a little taut after the game. Asked at what point in the final 10 minutes she might have thought "Uh-oh," she stiffened just a little.
"I never go 'Uh-oh,'" Ogwumike said. "We always keep our poise. Maybe we were a little too poised and calm tonight. But we will figure it out. It's not my job to go 'Uh-oh.'" It's my job to keep people together."
18dBonnie D. Ford