Another thrill ride for Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. -- How many hard lessons is this year's Stanford women's basketball team going to have to learn?

The Cardinal have already learned that beating Connecticut doesn't mean you can't lose to Chattanooga, that knocking off Oregon State doesn't mean you can beat Oregon, that winning Pac-12 titles isn't a default status, that changing your entire offense and turning it into a well-oiled machine isn't going to happen overnight.

And that hosting an NCAA tournament game isn't the same as winning it. At least not if you don't play well.

Stanford figured that last one out just in time Saturday.

Cal State Northridge, the No. 13 seed, took a 29-28 halftime lead on Stanford. In Maples Pavilion. In the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Matadors came out firing as the second half started, going up 36-30 -- not an insurmountable lead, but not a step in the right direction.

And then Stanford, whose earlier season missteps cost the program another Pac-12 regular-season title, turned the game before closing out a 73-60 victory. Playing through the tough moments has become another learned skill on The Farm this season.

"Honestly, I looked up at the scoreboard and we were down and it made me mad," said sophomore guard Lili Thompson. "I was like 'C'mon guys, let's get it together.'"

Thompson then reeled off three baskets in the next four Cardinal possessions, setting in motion a 24-4 run that gave Stanford a decisive lead.

Thompson played four minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and scored just four points. She finished with 17, joking that she was channeling Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, whom she met last week at a Warriors game, posing for a picture that she posted on Twitter.

"We all know that look on her face," said Stanford forward Taylor Greenfield, who led the Cardinal with 19 points (13 in the second half) as her postseason breakout continues. "Then we just know to get her the ball."

The victory was the 800th for Tara VanDerveer at Stanford and her 500th at Maples Pavilion.

"I've had a lot of great coaching experiences at Stanford," VanDerveer said.

This one has been one of the most interesting, a fact reinforced again Saturday afternoon by a team that's been equally capable of greatness and inconsistency.

"We are a roller-coaster team," VanDerveer said of her 25-9 Cardinal. "We try not to get too excited when we are winning or too low when we are losing. We have made comebacks this season and had players make big shots."

Looking at a 29-28 halftime deficit after leading 20-7 didn't make VanDerveer happy, but it wasn't a reason to panic, either.

"This is a typical Stanford team, we analyze things and reset," VanDerveer said.

Northridge coach Jason Flowers said Greenfield's play was "the difference in the game." "Having her on the floor and having the versatility to post up and play on the perimeter was tough on us," Flowers said.

Flowers said his team was never intimidated. He harked back to last season, when his Matadors were a No. 16 seed facing top-seeded South Carolina. He said he stood behind a curtain in Seattle, waiting to go out for his team's pregame news conference, and heard some reporters joking about whether the Gamecocks would win by 40.

"I thought 'OK. We do what we do,'" Flowers said. And his team played tough, falling 73-58. So rolling into Maples Pavilion to face Stanford, the kingpin of West Coast women's basketball, wasn't an occasion to fear.

"These kids have worked their tails off day in and day out," Flowers said. "They don't fear anyone. ... We are not the little engine that could. There wasn't jubilation when we were on a 16-2 run against Stanford because that's what we do. We expected to win. I'm just saying, we are not the little engine that could."

Indeed, the Matadors had Stanford on the ropes for long stretches, with senior guard Ashley Guay leading the way. Guay finished with 27 points. Defensively, Northridge forced Stanford into 10 first-half turnovers and bottled up the Cardinal's offense for more than eight minutes.

And even after it appeared Stanford was in control in the second half, leading by as many as 14, the Matadors made one last push and cut the Stanford lead to 6 with 1:48 to play. Greenfield said the Cardinal never felt as if the game was getting away.

"We had the motivation and momentum for sure at that point," Greenfield said. "Instead of paying attention to 'It's only a six-point lead,' we paid attention to the fact that we were in the lead and we needed to keep it."

Monday presents a different challenge entirely for the Cardinal, a matchup against an Oklahoma team that put up 111 points in its opening-round win against Quinnipiac.

VanDerveer was asked about Oklahoma's performance, with the preface that "I'm sure you didn't see much of the game."

And VanDerveer said only, "I saw enough."