NORFOLK - With just less than seven minutes to play in the first half, Choicetta McMillian hit a step-back 3-pointer to pull 16th seed Hampton within a point of Stanford in Saturday's first-round NCAA tournament game.
During the next four minutes, the Cardinal made it clear why – whatever the questions surrounding Hampton's tournament seeding may have been – it is the No. 1 seed in the Fresno regional and the No. 2 team in the nation.
After McMillian's three, Stanford reeled off a 13-0 run and didn't look back on its way to a 73-51 victory.
The final score marked the first time this season that HU, which came into the game ranked second in the nation by giving up just 46.8 points per game, surrendered 70 points. The Lady Pirates (26-5), outrebounding opponents by seven boards per game, were also outrebounded 44-25 and had just eight assists – eight-tenths of a point more than senior point guard Jericka Jenkins' season average – while shooting 31.7 percent.
"There's no denying that they're good, but that's like a pitcher pitching and not having his best stuff," HU coach David Six said. "We didn't have our best stuff today. Obviously Stanford has something to do with that, but we didn't rebound the ball. We didn't put enough pressure on the ball."
The Cardinal (32-1), which got 28 points and 10 rebounds from 6-foot-2 senior forward and Naismith award candidate Nnemkadi Ogwumike, shot 58 percent and had 21 assists on its 29 made shots.
"We were too reactionary at the start, but to me, the biggest strength of our team is being able to maintain composure," Ogwumike said. "(Hampton) came out aggressive and stayed that way down to the wire, but we handled things well."
Ogwumike's 3-pointer capped a 22-5 run that gave Stanford a 42-27 halftime lead. The Cardinal then outscored HU 22-7 in the first eight minutes of the second half to go up 64-34 with 12 minutes to play.
"It was our defense," said senior forward Melanie Warner, who returned from a broken finger suffered in late February to play 19 minutes, going 0-for-2 from the floor and 1-of-2 from the free-throw line. "We weren't executing our offense, which transferred over to our defense. We just couldn't get it together."
HU turned often to sophomore forward Alyssa Bennett, who took five of the Lady Pirates' first eight shots. Bennett's off-the-dribble jumper cut Stanford's lead to 17-14 with 9:26 to play, and Jenkins hit a pull-up three with 8:48 left to make it a 19-17 game.
Bennett finished with a team-best 19 points on 7-of-20 shooting.
"I thought she was just as athletic as they were," Six said. "All week we said, 'You've to be big for us,' and she showed up."
The Cardinal led 22-18 before McMillian's three cut the lead to 22-21 with 6:57 left in the first half.
That brought the sizable and vocal HU portion of the 4,258 fans who attended Saturday's games to their feet, but it didn't rattle Stanford. Ogwumike hit back-to-back layups to spark the Cardinal's answering burst.
Ogwumike had 22 points in the first half. Her 6-3 sister, Chiney, added nine points and six rebounds despite being limited to 14 minutes with a bruised knee.
Joslyn Tinkle, another 6-3 forward, added 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and was 4-of-4 from 3-point range as the Cardinal pulled away.
Stanford, which suffered its only loss of the season on Nov. 21 at Connecticut, faces eighth seed West Virginia (24-9) in Monday's second-round game.
HU, the three-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions who had won 11 straight games, fell to 0-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
Coming into the game, the Lady Pirates felt their 16th seed didn't reflect a season the included an RPI of 63, and the school sent a letter to the NCAA selection committee detailing its concerns.
"In life, it's not what they call you, but what you answer to," Six said. "I'm not going to sit here and say we're a 16 seed, (but) we got over that and prepared for Stanford as best we could."
In her final HU game, Jenkins, who ranked second in the nation with 7.2 assists per game and led the Lady Pirates with 14 points per game, had nine points, four assists and three steals. McMillian, HU's other senior starter who averages 13.6 points, finished with three on 1-of-5 shooting.
"We definitely set the standard for Hampton basketball," said Warner, who had two rebounds in her last game. "I hope the teammates we have now know that nothing less is expected."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun