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Overall top seed Stanford routs Utah Valley women as expected, but Wolverines love every second of NCAA appearance

Josie Williams scores 18 points to lead UVU in first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance as Wolverines fall 87-44 in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday night

SHARE Overall top seed Stanford routs Utah Valley women as expected, but Wolverines love every second of NCAA appearance
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Utah Valley head coach Dan Nielson talks to his players during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Sunday, March 21, 2021. Stanford won 87-44.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

The words of Alfred Lord Tennyson rang true for the Utah Valley University women’s basketball team on Sunday night in the Orem school’s first-ever NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament game.

“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” wrote the British poet, to which the Wolverines can now add: Better to have played and lost by a lot of points than never to have been invited to the Big Dance in the first place.

Filling in for WAC regular-season and conference tournament champion Cal Baptist, which was not eligible for the NCAA Tournament because it is transitioning from Division II to Division I, 16th-seeded Utah Valley was thoroughly dismantled 87-44 by No. 1 overall seed Stanford at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, in a first-round game that was as lopsided as most experts said it would be.

“I would take every second of this week over again a thousand times for my team to experience it again. As far as my group (played), I couldn’t be more proud.” — Utah Valley University women’s basketball coach Dan Nielson

Pac-12 champion Stanford (26-2) meets Oklahoma State, which knocked off Wake Forest, in a second-round game on Tuesday, while UVU’s season ends at 13-7.

It was still worth it, said second-year UVU coach Dan Nielson and the team’s best player, Roy High product Josie Williams, who led the Wolverines with 18 points despite first-half foul problems.

“I would take every second of this week over again a thousand times for my team to experience it again,” Nielson said. “As far as my group (played), I couldn’t be more proud.”

Added Williams, who had 11 of her points in the second half when the Wolverines were far more competitive than they were in the first: “This experience has been invaluable and something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Stanford led 53-20 at halftime; the Cardinal won the second half, too, but only 34-24.

As Nielson pointed out, the Cardinal does what it did Sunday to a lot of people, including Pac-12 foes. The Cardinal outscored three opponents by an average of 31 points in the recent Pac-12 conference tournament in Las Vegas. Stanford’s average margin of victory during its 15-game winning streak is now 27.1.

“They are the No. 1 overall seed for a reason, and have had all the success they’ve had this season for a reason. They are very talented. They are extremely well-coached and play well together. So credit to them,” Nielson said. “This was a real positive experience for us to come and be able to compete against some of the best, not just in the country, but probably the world. I mean, that team could beat a lot of pro teams.”

Before the opening tip, the Wolverines had a standard, of sorts, of which to aspire. That was how the other 16 seeds fared against No. 1 seeds on Sunday.

High Point lost 102-59 to UConn and Mercer fell 79-53 to South Carolina. 

The Wolverines harbored no hopes of winning the game, but they did want to compete. That happened for bits and stretches, but let’s just say the Cardinal was never nervous.

As one of the halftime hosts on ESPNU put it at the break, Stanford could act like it was a walk in the Golden Gate Park. Because it was.

The Cardinal led 11-1 before UVU made a field goal, a nice jumper by Williams. The Wolverines missed eight of their first 10 shots. Still, there were some memorable moments for the heavy underdogs.

Shay Fano, Nehaa Sohail and Williams all made 3-pointers in the first half when both teams were still engaged and playing their main rotation players. Sohail will also remember getting knocked in the noggin, which required her to miss a few minutes with a bloody nose. Williams led UVU with seven first-half points, while Sohail had five.

“Right before tipoff I remember looking at one of my coaches and we just smiled and just took it in and enjoyed every moment of it and had fun,” said Williams. “We were all soaking it all in, playing in the Alamodome and everything.”

“Right before tipoff I remember looking at one of my coaches and we just smiled and just took it in and enjoyed every moment of it and had fun,” said Williams. “We were all soaking it all in, playing in the Alamodome and everything.” — Utah Valley’s Josie Williams

Maria Carvalho made UVU’s best defensive play, forcing Stanford’s Jana Van Gytenbeek to dribble off her foot with some strong defensive pressure. That was the Cardinal’s first turnover in nine minutes, and only its third of the first half.

Utah Valley committed nine first-half turnovers.

Stanford was unstoppable when it really mattered, as 12 players saw action in the first half, and nine scored.

Stanford’s Kiana Williams was 5 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half and became the school’s all-time 3-point shooter in the first half, passing Candice Wiggins. She finished with a game-high 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting, including 6 of 11 from beyond the arc.

Most of Utah Valley’s best moments came early in the third quarter. The Wolverines were eventually outscored 18-12 in the third quarter, but they will always have the first four minutes, when they played the country’s best team almost evenly.

“For the majority of the second half we were able to do that in spurts, more spurts than we did in the first half,” Nielson said. “That’s why it was maybe a little more competitive. I know (Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer) had her second and third group in there, but they are still all very, very good players and we were glad to be able to compete against those guys.”

Kiana Williams opened the period with a 3-pointer, but that was matched by Carvalho. UVU’s Williams made three free throws, and when Kayla Anderson wiggled free for a nice layup, it was just 9-8 for Stanford in that particular quarter.

But the rest of the quarter went like the other 36 minutes of the game, and UVU failed to make a field goal the remainder of the quarter to trail 71-32 and the end of three.

“It was a great experience, and it is motivation to perform better and try to get back here and continue to build our program up,” said Nielson, who was an assistant on Jeff Judkins’ staff at BYU before taking over at UVU in 2019.