At least Candice Wiggins shared the box of chocolates.
Wiggins, called “all that and a box of chocolates” for her amazing play, showed exactly what that meant when she poured in 41 points to lead Stanford to a stirring 98-87 win over Maryland in the Spokane Region championship game before 6,821 fans at the Arena on Monday night.
“This game was unlike any we played the whole season; they were hitting on all cylinders,” Maryland senior Laura Harper said. “We knew how potent Candice was going to be, but I mean, you still can’t stop her.”
“What can I say about Candice?” Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said about the regional most outstanding player. “A great player steps up in big games.”
The win put Stanford into the Final Four for the seventh time but first since 1997. The Cardinal (34-3) carry a 22-game winning streak into Sunday’s matchup against the winner of tonight’s game between Connecticut and Rutgers. The national semifinal is something that Wiggins, a senior, has been waiting for since losing in the Elite Eight as a freshman and sophomore.
“I think what hit me was actually my sophomore year when we lost to LSU,” Wiggins said. “They were celebrating and dancing and I thought, ‘I just want to dance like that.’ I kind of had that image in my head before the game started and sure enough, we were all out there dancing.”
Wiggins wasn’t the only sweet Cardinal. Sophomore guard JJ Hones had a career-high 23 points; 6-foot-4 freshman Kayla Pedersen had a game-high seven assists and 15 points, hitting all three of her 3-pointers of the Stanford season-high 14; and Jayne Appel had 11 points and nine rebounds.
All that was needed to turn back Maryland (33-4), which put five players in double figures, led by the career-high 35 points from electrifying point guard Kristi Toliver. Marissa Coleman had 16 points, Crystal Langhorne 13 with 10 apiece coming from Marah Strickland and Harper, who also had nine rebounds.
“Sometimes it’s just not your day,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “You have to give credit where credit is due. Stanford did a tremendous job for 40 minutes. They continued to hit big shot after big shot and really played poised for a complete 40-minute game.
“Obviously, the shots they hit from 3 were big-time daggers. They did a tremendous job.”
The first half was an amazing display of offensive efficiency – with Maryland shooting 64 percent and still trailing 51-41.
That’s because Stanford shot 61 percent overall and an astounding 67 percent (8 of 12) from 3-point range. Hones and Wiggins both had 17 points.
Despite the fireworks – at one point Stanford made eight consecutive shots and scored on nine consecutive possessions; Maryland had a string of six straight makes – the key was the last 3 minutes.
Leading 41-38, Stanford ripped off 10 quick points, the last six on Pedersen and Hones 3s.
“That stretch was critical to be able to cut into the lead and go in with some momentum,” Frese said. “Credit to Stanford’s defense and just how smart they are; the plays that they were able to make tonight.”
The teams couldn’t maintain the pace for the second 20 minutes – Stanford shot 41 percent and Maryland 46 – but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Maryland sliced the deficit to five early in the second half, but a quick 8-0 run with 3s from Wiggins and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude – her only basket of the game – rebuilt the cushion. Then when Frese reacted to a foul by leaving the coaching box and got a technical foul, Wiggins made two free throws and a basket on the ensuing possession for a 73-56 lead with 11:14 left.
“We were very aware Maryland’s been down before, by big numbers even, and has come back to win,” Gold-Onwude said. “We were on the court up when it was 10 or 12 with 22 seconds and saying, ‘They can come back.’ “
Toliver was the reason for that.
Her 3-pointer at 6:19 cut the lead to 79-72. She was in the midst of scoring 11 straight Maryland points. But each time the Cardinal had an answer and when the Terps struggled a little from the foul line down the stretch, the game was decided.
“Candice was the best,” Appel said. “I told her before the game she’s the best player on the floor and there’s no one who can stop her out there. She’s played all over the world and no one can stop her there, so why tonight?”
Stanford 98, Maryland 87
Stanford (34-3)—Pedersen 5-9 2-3 15, Appel 5-11 1-2 11, Hones 9-16 1-2 23, Wiggins 10-22 16-19 41, Gold-Onwude 1-3 0-0 3, Pohlen 1-1 0-0 3, Harmon 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 32-63 20-26 98.
Maryland (33-4)—Langhorne 4-6 5-8 13, Harper 4-8 1-2 10, Strickland 4-9 1-3 10, Toliver 14-21 4-4 35, Coleman 6-15 3-6 16, Newman 1-1 1-1 3, Mingo 0-0 0-0 0, Perry 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 33-61 15-24 87.
Halftime—Stanford 51-41. 3-Point Goals—Stanford 14-28 (Wiggins 5-11, Hones 4-10, Pedersen 3-3, Pohlen 1-1, Gold-Onwude 1-3), Maryland 6-19 (Toliver 3-8, Harper 1-1, Strickland 1-5, Coleman 1-5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Stanford 29 (Appel 9), Maryland 36 (Harper 9). Assists—Stanford 22 (Pedersen 7), Maryland 10 (Toliver 5). Total Fouls—Stanford 20, Maryland 19. A—6,821.