SALT LAKE CITY – Erika Bean knows defenses are going to overlook her.
To some degree, it’s understandable, as the senior point guard only averages six points a game and has never been a score-first floor general.
But Sunday afternoon, the quiet assassin led the young, injury-depleted Utah team to a historic victory over No. 6 Stanford with five 3-point makes in a thrilling 75-68 win.
“We had a feeling that’s how they were going to play her, but I was so proud of her confidence to step up and knock those down,” said Utah head coach Lynne Roberts. “It was a great team win, a great program win, but all of these players just continue to just play their tails off and have just bought into one another and what we’re doing, and it’s really fun.”
Bean’s perimeter shooting made it impossible for Stanford to key on the team’s top scorer, forward Megan Huff, who exhibited the same consistent reliability she’s shown all season with 17 points and 13 rebounds. She also had a team-high four assists and a block.
That is not to say, however, that Bean’s performance came without some struggle.
“We kind of knew (from) past years that they weren't necessarily guarding me on the 3-point line,” Bean said. “And… I think I missed like my first two threes, and just having teammates in my ear and coaches just kind of believing in me, and so when the ball touched my hands, I let it fly.”
Bean finished with a career-high 23 points, and she also grabbed six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
She said her teammates wouldn’t let her get discouraged after any of her misses.
“Just to fire me up, make sure I’m locked in and focused,” she said of what coaches and players did for her. “And my teammates, just giving me that positive encouragement and feedback, you know, just keep shooting. … Also, for me, knowing the time I put in.”
The Utes played well in the first half, taking a 32-31 lead into halftime. Utah outscored the Cardinal in the third quarter, with Kiana Moore and Bean hitting timely jump shots that gave Huff some breathing room in the paint.
Stanford’s stifling defense held Utah’s second-leading scorer, forward Dre’Una Edwards, to four points and five boards, but Bean and Moore made that irrelevant.
Utah’s win over Stanford is the first in program history.
“I’m so proud of our team,” Roberts said. “I think this win is so big because of who Stanford is and what they’ve done. (Head coach) Tara (VanDerveer) is the greatest of all time. I have so much respect for her, her staff and their program. And that’s what makes this win so big is because you’re beating the greatest and it’s humbling and exciting.”
Under Roberts’ leadership, the Utes have been close to earning some of these historic wins the past couple of seasons. But Sunday was the marquee victory for Roberts' four-year career at Utah.
She was matter-of-fact about handing the Cardinal their first loss in Pac-12 play.
“I think you kind of create your own luck,” Roberts said. “So any of the bad luck we’ve experienced, we have to finish things out. We were so close against Arizona State, but we didn’t defend great that last couple of possessions. Today we did.”
The fact that her players believe their hard work will help them make history is the reason they’re breaking records and making history.
“I’m a firm believer that you just keep showing up and work hard, and not worry about what other people think, what other people are doing, and good things are going to happen for you.”
The final minutes of the game were tense, with both teams making plays. But Utah’s moxie shined when Dru Gylten grabbed just her second rebound of the game and then hit Bean with a pass that allowed her to knock down her fifth 3-pointer. The basket gave Utah a 71-68 lead with 1:02 to play.
Stanford called a timeout, but then Megan Huff drew an offensive foul on Alanna Smith, which was her fifth. Huff was fouled again as she rebounded a Lacie Hull miss, and then she made both free throws to give Utah a 73-68 lead.
There were dozens of seemingly small plays that Roberts said were the foundation of their success.
Huff said the win showed Utah’s toughness, while Moore said it showed their faith in each other.
“I think it also just showed the fight in us,” Bean said. “It went down to the wire, we brought out all we had and we got the win.”