SPOKANE, Wash. — Lexie Hull scored 20 points in front of her hometown crowd, Haley Jones added 18 points, including four key free throws in the closing moments, and defending national champion Stanford toppled No. 2 seed Texas on Sunday night for a return trip to the women’s Final Four.
The Cardinal (32-3) will play in the national semifinal for the 15th time in program history, facing either North Carolina State or Connecticut in Minneapolis.
The Spokane Region final was tightly contested throughout and reinforced the resolve that Stanford was missing earlier in the season when it lost to Texas at home on the night it received its rings from the 2021 championship.
Stanford (32-3) was the tougher team this time around, especially in the second half.
Hull made a key 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter and had a three-point play that gave Stanford a 53-48 lead with 2:29 remaining. Texas never got closer than two in the final moments and Stanford spent the final seconds celebrating around Hull and her twin sister Lacie.
Hull made 7-of-14 shots on a night scoring was at a premium. Jones was just 4-of-11 shooting but made 10-of-11 free throws and Stanford was 18 of 22 at the line. Jones also had 12 rebounds.
Cameron Brink added 10 points for Stanford, all in the third quarter, and the Cardinal extended the longest win streak in the country to 24 games.
Texas (29-7) lost in the Elite Eight for the second straight season; last year’s unexpected run as a No. 6 seed stopped with South Carolina.
Joanne Allen-Taylor led Texas with 15 points before fouling out. Rori Harmon, the Big 12 freshman of the year, scored 14 and Audrey Warren added 11 points off the bench. Texas’ second-longest win streak in the country snapped at 14 games.
“They’re really good, no question about it. You let them do what they want to do, they’ll hang 70, 80 points on you,” Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. “I think you’ve got to give our kids credit because they didn’t let them do what they wanted to do. They really played their guts out, and they played the way we wanted to play. And we just couldn’t score enough points.”
Stanford’s return trip to the Final Four keeps alive the hope of being the first team other than Connecticut to repeat as national champions since Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. But the Cardinal had to get through the fourth quarter — both Sunday and in November.
Texas thrived in the fourth in the first meeting, trailing by five to start the quarter that day before outscoring the Cardinal by 10 for a 61-56 victory.
On Sunday, Texas also trailed by five to start the fourth and pulled within three on an Allen-Taylor jumper. It took Stanford nearly three minutes into the quarter before Lexie Hull hit an open 3-pointer from the wing — just the third 3 of the game for the Cardinal.
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Jones pushed the lead to 50-43, but Warren’s jumper and three free throws cut it to 50-48 with 3:35 left.
That’s when Hull drove to the rim and scored while being fouled for what proved to be the decisive points. The Cardinal made 6 of 8 free throws in the final two minutes.
The Longhorns were in the Elite Eight for the 11th time in program history, but have not been to the Final Four since 2003. Schaefer has coached in the Elite Eight in five straight tournaments but has lost his last three region final games.
“We were supposed to be here this year in my mind,” Schaefer said. “We were playing good. We’re one of the best eight teams in the country. I don’t think there is any doubt about it.”
Stanford has not lost since falling to South Carolina on Dec. 21. The Cardinal may get a chance at seeing the Gamecocks again, but it would be in the national title game.
— By TIM BOOTH
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