The Stanford women's basketball team didn't look anything like the team that won the Pac-12 Conference tournament last weekend through the first half on Saturday.
Things went much better in the second half of its NCAA tournament opener against New Mexico State at Kansas State.
Alanna Smith had 19 points and 11 rebounds, Karlie Samuelson hit five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points, and the No. 2 seed in the Lexington Region survived the Aggies' spirited upset bid for a 72-64 victory that earned the Cardinal a game against the host Wildcats on Monday.
"I thought that we didn’t come out with the defense that we needed in the beginning and that really hurt us," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I just feel like you could tell that we’ve
been off for a few weeks and hopefully we got the rust off and play better on Monday.”
The Cardinal (29-5) earned the right to host the tournament's first two rounds, but the Pac-12 gymnastics championships at Maples Pavilion this weekend forced them to head east for their game against the Aggies (24-7), who rolled into the tournament with 17 consecutive wins.
Trailing 38-31 at the intermission, Stanford made a few adjustments and then let it all go in the final two quarters.
“I think having size is an advantage, but them being quick can be hard to guard," Smith said. "Them beating us off the dribble can be a problem, but we had really good help backside from the other post and other people helping was really good for us.”
New Mexico State led by as many as nine early before Smith gave Stanford its first lead midway through the third quarter, and Brittany McPhee provided the lead for good midway through the fourth.
McPhee finished with 16 points for the Cardinal. Erica McCall added nine points and 11 boards.
"I think we kept our composure well," Samuelson said. "We've been down plenty of times this year. We always know we can come back from anything, so just keep playing hard."
After struggling all game, McPhee scored to make it 54-55 with 7:30 left. She added a three-point play a couple minutes later, then hit free throws down the stretch to seal it.
"I don't think we took them lightly," Samuelson said. "Every team in this tournament is really good. I think we were prepared for that. ... They're a good team and they played really well."
Stanford, which has won 13 straight NCAA tournament openers, won despite committing 16 turnovers, thanks in part to 50 percent shooting in the second half. The Cardinal shot just 34 percent during the first two quarters.
"We keep our heads in the game," Samuelson said. "I think there is a big difference from feeling
panicked and having a sense of urgency. We can yell at each other and have that sense of urgency, but we’re never in a panic and know that we can always come back from anything.”