With dozens of close friends and family in the stands, the hometown star was struggling in the biggest game of the year. Kiana Williams had missed 11 straight shots and her Stanford Cardinal were in their largest halftime deficit of the past four years.
Minutes into the third, Williams finally got one. On her way back down the court, she shook her head in shock and flipped her hands as if to say, "All right. Now let's go." From there it was all Cardinal.
"Once I got that first shot to go in, things started going for us," Williams said.
No. 1 overall seed Stanford overcame a cold shooting stretch to drop No. 2 seed Louisville, 78-63, and advance to the Final Four. Despite a cold shooting stretch in the first half, they utilized depth and height to shut down Louisville. There wasn't enough senior Dana Evans could do to keep the Cardinal's season alive.
Williams finished with 14 points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds in a packed stat line.
"I just had to change my mentality," Williams said. "I was forcing things. I think I wanted it too bad. I didn't let the game come to me. Tara got on me, my coaches got on me, and my teammates picked me up. I just had to change my mentality coming out in the second half."
Stanford will face No. 1 seed South Carolina in the Final Four at 6 p.m. on Friday. The other semifinal is No. 1 UConn and No. 3 Arizona at 9:30 p.m.
Williams lights comeback for Cardinal
Stanford fell into its deepest deficit of the season when the Cardinal trailed by 12 at half. They struggled shooting at 10-for-26 overall in the first half. They missed wildly on some attempts, and failed to convert rebounds to second-half points despite a taller lineup than Louisville.
The struggle didn't last long into the second half. Williams came alive at 6:48 of the third after missing 11 straight shots between the second and early third quarters. She lit a 17-2 run that she finished off herself with a floater that gave Stanford the lead back, 46-45, at the 2:26 mark. Haley Jones had four rebounds, two on each end, during the run.
Louisville took a two-point lead two times and went into the fourth quarter leading 50-48. Stanford outscored the Cardinals, 30-13, in the final quarter to get back to cruising altitude in the tournament. Williams made two 3-pointers and Ashten Prechtel hit two of her own in addition to a layup and free throw.
Prechtel played 16 minutes off the bench and was an additional spark in the second half. She had 16 points, four assists and three rebounds. Lexie Hull led Stanford with 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Jones had a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Louisville controls first half
Stanford struggled to hit anything from the onset. They made one of nine 3-point attempts after seven players sunk it from range in the Sweet 16 victory. Louisville turned steals into an early lead and Evans found space for easy shots against a defense that usual plays tighter.
Evans had 10 points in the first quarter alone as the Cardinals took a 21-13 lead that increased it to 38-26 by half. Coming into the Elite Eight they were 25-0 when leading at the half.
In her final collegiate game Evans put up 24 points and was 6-for-8 from 3-point range. She added three rebounds, three assists and a steal. No other Cardinals player put up more than eight. Freshman Hailey Van Lith, Evans' backcourt mate and the likely next face of the program, had seven points and three rebounds.
Head coach Jeff Walz said before the game his team needed to hit 10 3-pointers to have a chance against the Stanford offense and the Cardinals hit that mark exactly (10-for-19).
Stanford nears tournament 3-pointer record
The Cardinal average nine 3-pointers a game on 38.3 percent from deep and have been even better over the past three games of the tournament. They've made at least 13 3-pointers in each outing and overall they make nearly half their field goal attempts.
It took Williams' spark in the third quarter to reignite the offense and create space for all of their weapons — including those on the bench. They shot 44.1 percent as a team and finished 7-of-17 from 3-point range.
In four games they've made 50 3-pointers, placing them third in the tournament record books for most over an entire series. The 2015 UConn team made 54 and the 2016 team made 53. The Cardinal will likely break the record in the Final Four game and could set it significantly higher if they reach the final.
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