The most unlikely of Stanford’s championship teams in women’s basketball was led by the most unlikely of heroes.
Taylor Greenfield, a reserve forward who came into the Pac-12 Conference tournament averaging 3.7 points per game, scored a career-high 20 points to lift the 19th-ranked Cardinal to a 61-60 victory over California in the championship game at KeyArena.
Greenfield was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after sparking the third-seeded Cardinal to its 11th title. Stanford had been seeded No. 1 in all 13 previous tournaments.
“This is as rewarding a championship as I’ve ever . . . felt, because we definitely had to really scrap for it,” coach Tara VanDerVeer said.
That was true of the season as a whole and the title game in particular. Stanford and California competed ferociously in a thrilling second half that ended with the Bears’ Mercedes Jefflo nailing a 3-pointer at the final horn.
Point guard Brittany Boyd and post Reshanda Gray, two of California’s all-time greats, struggled much of the night.
Boyd missed most of the first half after taking an elbow to the face. She needed four stitches to close a cut and finished with seven points (with 2-for-9 shooting), four steals and three assists. Gray, Pac-12 Player of the Year, had six points and three rebounds.
“Our point guard goes out with blood gushing, and everybody else rallied,” California coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “That was something I’m proud of.”
The fourth-seeded Bears (23-9), who split two league games with Stanford (24-9) and tied the Cardinal for third place, led 25-23 at the half.
Greenfield, a senior from tiny Huxley, IA., opened the second-half scoring with a 3-pointer to push the Cardinal out front. Stanford led most of the second half, but California gave chase to the bitter end before an estimated 2,500 spectators.
“I thought Stanford was a little bit better than us in some critical moments and made some plays,” Gottlieb said.
Asked if she imagined she would win the Most Outstanding Player award, Greenfield said, “I hate to say I imagined it, but I knew it was possible.”
Greenfield received ample support from her teammates. Point guard Amber Orrange notched 12 points, a career-high six steals (tying a tournament record) and four assists to offset an uncharacteristic five turnovers. Hustling little guard Lili Thompson contributed 13 points and three steals. Freshman post Kaylee Johnson had seven points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots while helping defend Gray.
Reserve forward Courtney Range led California with 17 points. Jefflo added 16, and Mikayla Cowling scored 14.
The Bears have never won a Pac-12 regular-season or tournament championship. Stanford has claimed one or both titles every season since 2001-02.
Gottlieb said she believes Stanford and California deserve to be hosts for the two opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. The 64-team field will be announced March 16.
Greenfield was joined on the all-tournament team by Orrange, Boyd, Gray, Arizona State’s Sophie Brunner and Colorado’s Lexy Kresl.
Tourney to return to KeyArena — for one year
The Pac-12 has added one year to the original three-year agreement to hold the women’s tournament at KeyArena. Conference commissioner Larry Scott said Sunday, “Seattle has been a great host again,” and “we’re very happy here,” but he said the Pac-12 isn’t ready to commit to KeyArena beyond 2016 for a variety of reasons. He said there are currently no plans to revive the old plan of staging the men’s and women’s tournaments in the same city, but he said the idea has been discussed on occasion.
Official attendance was announced at 26,898 for this year’s four-day tournament. Far fewer fans were actually in the building. The total attendance and Sunday’s official crowd of 4,864 for the title game rank second in tournament history to crowds in Eugene at the inaugural tournament in 2002.