Wednesday, July 24

Stanford overcomes Iowa State in dramatic OT win, advances to women’s Sweet 16

For the second-straight NCAA Tournament, the Stanford Cardinal faced a fourth-quarter deficit on their home court in the second round, staring down the possibility of a stunning upset.

As the Pac-12 player of the year Cameron Brink spent most of the night in foul trouble against No. 7 Iowa State, the No. 2 Cardinal turned to their other twin tower to carry them home. After being limited to five scoreless minutes off the bench in the 2023 loss to Ole Miss, Kiki Iriafen scored 41 points, tied for ninth all-time in a single NCAA Tournament game, and added 16 rebounds and four assists, leading Stanford to an 87-81 victory in overtime. The Cardinal advanced to the Sweet 16 to face the winner of No. 3 NC State vs. No. 6 Tennessee.

There was nothing Iriafen couldn’t do. The conference’s most improved player scored in every which way against Audi Crooks and the No. 7 Cyclones. She drilled jumpers. She faced up from a distance and blew past her defender. She posted up and finished through contact. Iriafen was also massive on defense, forcing first-round darling Audi Crooks into 3-of-21 shooting as Iowa State collectively shot 12 of 27 on layups.

Stanford needed everything out of Iriafen in a game that was in the balance for 45 minutes. Neither team led by more than two possessions after the first quarter. There were 12 ties and 18 lead changes, and Iowa State was up 1 with 31 seconds to play before a cold-blooded 3-pointer from Brooke Demetre proved decisive. Demetre collected the rebound after Addy Brown missed the potential tying bucket on the subsequent possession, and the Cardinal — and the nervous home crowd at Maples Pavilion — could finally breathe.

In what should become an instant classic, Iowa State delivered the first blow. The Cyclones went up seven in the first quarter thanks to hot shooting beyond the arc and steady playmaking from senior guard Emily Ryan, who cashed in three triples of her own. Stanford put on the clamps in the second quarter and squeezed just enough offense out of Iriafen and shooting guard Hannah Jump to pull within two, setting up a barn burner of a second half.

Ryan was dazzling off the dribble and with her step-back jumper, totaling a career-best 36 points, though her 10 turnovers gave the Cardinal extra opportunities. While Crooks was bottled up by Iriafen and Brink and fellow freshmen Brown and Jalynn Bristow were unbothered, chipping in 25 points, including 10 in overtime.

Stanford found just enough outside of Iriafen’s production. Brink had five blocks in her 22 minutes and added eight points and eight rebounds. Jump was the focus of many Iowa State schemes — the Cyclones even threw a box-and-one at the super senior on one possession — but she pounced on every defensive miscue to score 15. Nunu Agara was tasked with defending Ryan and was responsible for several of those 10 turnovers. And Demetre came up with the clutch buckets, the only 3-pointers she’s ever made in the NCAA Tournament outside of garbage time.

Even with the game of Iriafen’s life, the Cardinal still barely avoided a massive disappointment. Two straight years of bowing out on their home court — after being upset in the conference tournament each season — would have cast doubt on Stanford’s toughness.

Instead, coach Tara VanDerveer and her staff were able to push the right buttons to keep Iriafen going and optimize their bench. Tremendous shotmaking on both sides prevented either team from building a sizable lead, but the important takeaway for the Cardinal was when they needed to execute offensively, they were able to.

Neither team deserved to lose, but Stanford was a worthy winner behind Iriafen. The player VanDerveer could barely find minutes for a year ago rocketed into the national spotlight with one of the best tournament performances in recent memory and kept her squad dancing.

Required reading

(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)