SPOKANE, Wash. – It was supposed to be a game of salvation.
And while Stanford did indeed take revenge by beating Texas 59-50 to hit a ticket to its second consecutive Final Four, the story became more about a passing of the defensive torch.
For the last few years, guard Anna Wilson has been Stanford’s defensive stop, a solid 5-foot-9 bundle of annoyance that prides itself on letting other players take, and usually miss, uncomfortable shots. She has built a reputation as a restraint defender who gives opponents and teammates nightmares.
“I mean, you do not want her to defend you,” Stanford guard Lexie Hull said before scoring a game-high 20 points on Sunday night. “I do not want her to defend me in practice. I don’t think anyone does that. “
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So when Texas freshman Rori Harmon joined Wilson & Co. on November 21st. hung up and the Longhorns stole an upset 61-56 victory in Maples, it made heads turn. Wilson would presumably want revenge this time.
But instead of an excellent Wilson Sunday defense display at Spokane Arena, it was time for the underclassman to shine. And for the next few years, the “I do not want her to guard me” sentiment will probably be applied to second forward Cameron Brink.
In a game full of stars, it was Brink who shone the brightest. The 6-foot-5 shot-blocking sensation tied a career high with six strokes on Sunday night and added a steal to a great extent.
“She’s really special and very smart,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. “She has a good awareness about what’s going on and when she should help and when she should not.”
A sample of Brink’s dominance halfway through the second half when Stanford, with a 40-37 lead, switched to a zone:
3:41 to play in the third quarter: Brinkblok
1:38 in the third: Brink block
1:06 in the third: Brink block
: 38 in the third: Brink steals
Then Brink blocked two more shots early in the fourth quarter.
After Brink’s asterisk, Stanford still clung to just a three-point lead, 45-42. But the fact that Texas came empty on all those possessions was the difference in a stiff, grinder of a game where it took a lot of effort to get any buckets.
“I call them your forgiveness player,” Schaefer said of Brink. “When you have that person behind it, it just kind of changes your team. It allows your team to play really aggressively. ”
“I like blocking shots,” said a muffled Brink, who was almost embarrassed to get attention after the game. She admitted she did not know exactly how spectacular she was during that time, but said she was always happy to contribute: “I love defense, so yeah, it was fun.”
Brink has always been good at blocking shots, but not always good at picking her spots. The 2022 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Brink has long struggled with dirty problems. Due to Stanford’s depth, she is pulled almost every time she makes two mistakes in the first half, and has spent long stretches of big games on the bench. Before Texas Part II, she said “I think I was quite better with pollution” and added that it “is definitely always a focus for me.”
On Sunday night, it was clear that Brink could not manage to stay on the floor. Asked to compare her game Sunday (10 points, six rebounds, six blocks, one steal and one assist) to her game in November (seven points, five rebounds, three blocks, one steal and no assists), Schaefer said Brink is “Much better and much improved.”
VanDerveer called her “a difference maker”.
Stanford is often praised for his precise, back-door-cutting attack, which cuts defense and cuts into blocks until it gets a wide open lineup. But the cardinal is not spoken of defensively enough, where his length has the ability to tease opponents on every shot (and help get almost every defensive rebound).
Another important part of that piece when Brink left and Stanford went to his zone: Stanford sent Wilson to the bench and went big with Brink, post Fran Belibi (6-foot-1) and guards Hannah Jump (6-foot), Lexie Hull (6-foot-1) and Lacie Hull (6-foot-1). Haley Jones (6-foot-1) was also in the mix.
This series meant that Stanford also became defensively taller, and that length and size clearly frustrated the Longhorns. Texas finished with just 16 points in the paint (Stanford had 24) and Texas forward Lauren Ebo turned 0-out-6 from the field.
“Of course the whole team is great,” Ebo said. “Every shot is not going to be easy. Credit to them for their natural gift of greatness. ”
Wilson, who played 24 minutes Sunday, did a great job at Harmon. The Texas freshman scored 14, but it took her 18 strokes to get there. The Hull sisters also took turns guarding Harmon and using their height and length to tower over the 5-foot-6 dynamo. But Wilson can do better defensively, and she knows it.
In Minneapolis, where Stanford will go for his second consecutive title, and the fourth of VanDerveer’s career, defense will once again play an important role. But this time, Stanford will have two bonafide defensive stars, both of whom can now be considered veterans.
Now imagine a game where Wilson suffocates opposing guards on the perimeter and terrorizes Brink wickets in the paint.
It sounds miserable to everyone – except, of course, the cardinal.