It was a moment for the UVU women’s basketball team to be proud of.
The Wolverines ended the first half of their first NCAA tournament basketball game with a 6-0 run against the No. 1-overall seed, the Stanford Cardinal.
For a squad that had plenty of ups and downs in 2020-21, making some solid plays at both ends of the court against a elite opponent was something for UVU to build on.
It didn’t have much impact on the outcome of the game, however, which was never in doubt. Stanford scored the first six points of the contest as part of a 29-9 first quarter and never looked back, cruising to the 87-44 win over the Wolverines.
“Stanford is the number one overall seed for a reason. They’re very talented and extremely well coached, so credit to them and good luck to them,” UVU head coach Dan Nielson said after the game. “As far as my group, I couldn’t be more proud. Proud of the way we responded, especially in the second half. I thought we did a better job defensively.”
Facing an opponent with plenty of size, athleticism and ability, the Wolverines tried to keep the Cardinal away from the basket by playing a zone defense early in the game. If Stanford had a rough shooting night, UVU might have been able to hang around.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the multitude of Cardinal shooters were very capable of taking advantage of good looks from beyond the arc.
Stanford made 12 of 21 attempts from downtown in the first half alone, building a huge lead as UVU struggled to acclimate to both being in the tournament and facing the top-ranked team in the country.
certainly wouldn’t have called it the best basketball the Wolverines have played but UVU gave it everything they had, scrapping on defense and working hard to get looks on offense.
It showed in how the Wolverines actually matched Stanford for the last 21 minutes of game action. During that period of time, the Cardinal only outscored UVU by four points.
Stanford, however, was clearly superior and the scoreboard made that clear as the Cardinal advanced to the second round.
The Wolverines were led by 20 points from junior center Josie Williams, while junior guard Maria Carvalho added six points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Stanford was paced by 20 points (including six 3-pointers) from guard Kiana Williams.
While the outcome wasn’t what UVU dreamed of, the experience might turn out to be the biggest benefit.
Not only was it the first NCAA tournament game for the Wolverines, it was only the fourth time in program history that UVU had faced a ranked opponent (the first since the Wolverines played No. 18 Oregon State in 2017.
This is also a UVU team that only has one senior on the roster (forward center Va’e Malufua), so the Wolverines hope that having everyone returning will pay dividends down the road.
This is a team that got the opportunity to be at the Big Dance because it was second-place in the Western Athletic Conference when league champ Cal-Baptist — which was undefeated — was ineligible to play in the NCAA tournament.
Now that UVU has seen in person what it takes to play against the best in the country, the Wolverines can take all the steps possible to close that gap and be better prepared for their next opportunity.
The odds are definitely stacked against UVU and other programs from smaller conferences, however, since women’s college basketball doesn’t have the same parity as its men’s game counterpart.
That was clear on Sunday as there wasn’t a single upset in the first 16 games of the women’s NCAA tournament.
The hope for Nielson and the Wolverines is that they will get more chances in the future and eventually be the type of team that beats those odds.