Brice Calip and Missouri State were young, still inexperienced and in many ways just enjoying the moment when they made it to the women’s NCAA Sweet 16 two years ago.
There is a different feeling now for Calip and eight other Lady Bears still around from that 2019 game. But they face the same challenging opponent when they play No. 1 overall seed Stanford in an Alamo Region semifinal game Sunday in the Alamodome.
“Compared to this year, we know that we were born to be in this spotlight, and just showing the nation our game and just being more prepared and fulfilling our roles in order to get to this point,” said Calip, the senior guard and Missouri Valley Conference player of the year who will play her 131st career game, one short of the school record.
“This team is resilient,” senior guard Elle Ruffridge said. “Collectively, we’re just so good together.”
Fifth-seeded Missouri State (23-2) is a mid-major with two Final Four appearances, the last two decades ago with record scorer Jackie Stiles. The Lady Bears finally got back to the Sweet 16 two years ago and lost 55-46 to Stanford, but the pandemic denied them another tournament shot last year when they were 26-4 in coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton’s debut after Kellie Harper left to coach her alma mater at Tennessee.
“What they have is a tradition,” said Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, in her record 35th NCAA tourney as a coach. “They have a tradition of winning basketball, they have a tradition of playing hard-nosed team basketball.”
Stanford (27-2) is in its 13th consecutive Sweet 16, and Agugua-Hamilton believes the Cardinal are even better than two years ago. She feels the same about her fifth-seeded Lady Bears.
“We’ve done a lot of player development individually. Our players have gotten better, but even just more so gelled as a team, and as a group,” Agugua-Hamilton said. “Last year, I think we probably could have had a pretty good run in the tournament. We just have had more time together.”
Oregon senior forward Erin Boley talked about the team effort it will take to stop Dana Evans, while Louisville’s All-American guard talked about how all of her teammates were coming through for the second-seeded Cardinals.
While Evans averages 19.6 points a game, she hasn’t scored more than 15 points in any of the five ACC or NCAA tourney games games. The guard who was a freshman on the Cardinals’ 2018 Final Four team, is shooting only 32.1% (25 of 78) and 16.7% (6 of 36) from 3-point range in the postseason.
“If I’m not able to score the ball for this team, I feel like I can get other people involved, and we have enough scorers that I don’t have to score 20 points every game for us to win. That’s been proven,” Evans said.
No. 6 seed Oregon, like Louisville, is in its fourth consecutive NCAA Sweet 16. But the Ducks, trying to get to their fourth consecutive Elite Eight and second Final Four in a row, had lost five of six before getting to Texas.
“When you get to this point in the season, it feels like nothing else mattered up until this point” Boley said. “And as long as you’re playing well together and you’ve kind of got a flow going with each other, then this is the only point in the year that really matters.”
The X Factor: Louisville has to get off to a better start than in its first two NCAA tourney games. The Cardinals trailed 21-12 in the first round against Marist, and then had to overcome an 18-point deficit after the first quarter against Northwestern and match the third-largest comeback ever in the tourney.
“We’re going to have to make sure we we pass the ball to ourselves, that would start the game off well for us,” Cardinals coach Jeff Walz said.
Players to Watch: Oregon sophomore forwards Sedona Price (6-7) and Nyara Sabally (6-5) provide an imposing front court for Oregon. … Evans is among four double-figure scorers for Louisville. The others include guard Hailey Van Lith and 6-foot-3 forward Olivia Cochran, both freshman.
Stanford and Missouri State both had a hard time making shots in their Sweet 16 matchup up two years ago. The Cardinal shot 25% (17 of 68) overall, and 10.3% (3 of 29) on 3-pointers, with Missouri State only slightly better at 25.4% overall (16 of 63) and 15.4% from long range (3 of 13).
“I remember just struggling to score offensively,” Stanford third-team All-American senior guard Kiana Williams said. “They have a lot of the same players, so that means they’re more experienced and they’re going to be even more aggressive and physical.”
The Lady Bears have a 19-game winning streak, though their first two NCAA tourney wins came over fellow mid-majors UC Davis and Wright State. Pac-12 champion Stanford’s second-round 73-62 win over aggressive Big 12 team Oklahoma State was its 16th win in a row.
The X Factor: Missouri State post players Jasmine Franklin, the MVC defensive player of the year, and Abby Hipp have to be physical against Stanford’s starting lineup that generally features four guards and 6-foot-4 freshman forward Cameron Brink
Players to Watch: Williams, the third-team All-American playing the NCAA tournament in her hometown, became Stanford’s career leader for made 3-pointers in the first round. … Franklin has had consecutive double-doubles in the NCAA Tournament for the Lady Bears. Ruffridge, who didn’t take a shot in the 2019 game had a career-high 20 points while making 5-of-7 3-pointers against Wright State.
Time: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, ABC.
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