NCAA Women: Smith stars but Stanford fall in Final Four

Despite yet another outstanding performance from Alanna Smith in their national semi-final, Stanford went down 62-53 to South Carolina, ending the Australian participation in women’s college basketball for the 2016/17 campaign.

The Australian sophomore finished with an equal team-high 14 points and also hauled in 12 rebounds, but an outstanding fourth quarter was unfortunately in vain as South Carolina progressed to the national championship game.

The game was a cagey affair in the early stages, with South Carolina leading 14-12 after the first quarter. However, on the back of some outstanding defensive work across the board, Stanford dominated the second quarter. With Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer seemingly anticipating every South Carolina move, the Cardinal were able to win the second quarter 17-6 and take a highly unexpected 9 point lead into halftime.

Smith had little impact in the third quarter, but the same could be said for every single member of the Stanford roster. An insipid performance in the third quarter represented a total reversal of their outstanding second quarter effort. With stars Allisha Gray and A’ja Wilson firing, South Carolina overhauled the Stanford lead and took a 4 point buffer of their own into the final term. Whilst Smith only scored four points on 2-6 shooting in the third quarter, that represented half of Stanford’s scoring output in an abject quarter for the Cardinal.

South Carolina extended the lead to seven points, but with Smith hitting her shots and Stanford starting to get their groove back, the margin was trimmed time and again, with Smith’s three pointer with 2:10 to play bringing Stanford within three at 53-50. South Carolina kicked again though, and whilst a second three pointer in quick succession from the Australian brought Stanford back within five with 38 seconds to play, it would be Stanford’s last scoring play of their season. South Carolina guard Tyasha Harris proved to be clutch from the free throw line to seal the game and bring Stanford’s, and Smith’s, season to an end.

One of Stanford’s most valuable players in the second half of the season, Smith’s production as Stanford’s sixth player has surely secured herself a starting berth for 2017/18 as a spot opens up in the frontcourt following the graduation of Erica McCall after this season.

South Carolina will go on to play Mississippi State in the national championship game. Mississippi State, who shocked the undefeated Connecticut with an overtime buzzer-beater in the national semi-final, have an Australian connection of their own, having secured the commitment of Dandenong Rangers WNBL player Chloe Bibby for the next four seasons.