Stanford clinches share of Pac-12 title with double-OT win in Colorado

The USC Trojans are on a journey toward greatness. Lindsay Gottlieb and assistant coach Beth Burns have the Women of Troy on the right track. USC is ahead of schedule, reaching the NCAA Tournament in Year 2 of Gottlieb’s tenure. Top national recruit Juju Watkins will enter the program next season. Some transfer additions should make the roster even better. USC is on its way up.

The Trojans realize, however, that attaining elite status requires a combination of elite quality and elite toughness.

The Trojans have the elite toughness. Stanford shows what elite quality looks like. This is what USC wants to become. This is where USC wants to go.

Stanford overcame No. 21 Colorado on Thursday afternoon to clinch a share of the Pac-12 regular-season championship.

Buffaloes Wire noted how much of a fight Colorado gave to Stanford:

“After taking a 19-5 lead midway through the second quarter, CU had an opportunity to put away Stanford, which began the game 1-for-21 from the field. But the Cardinal corrected their offensive woes and surpassed the Buffs early in the third quarter.

“While the final score was disappointing, the Buffs should hold their heads high knowing that they took the No. 3 team in the country to double overtime. Especially on defense, Colorado proved once again that it can play with the best in the country.

“The Buffs will look to build some momentum heading into the Pac-12 Tournament.”

Stanford had to deal with the nightmarish start and a tough Colorado team. The Cardinal also had to deal with a late arrival in Boulder due to nasty weather conditions. The Cardinal didn’t have a pregame shootaround.

They were also playing this game early Thursday afternoon (2 p.m. Pacific time) after playing a rare Monday night game against UCLA.

A normal Pac-12 game schedule usually involves a Sunday afternoon game, then a Friday night game for the next homestand or road trip. Stanford had a Monday-Thursday schedule, with the Thursday game being an early tip. The UCLA game was tough, intense, close, and draining. It was easy to imagine a scenario in which the Cardinal had nothing in the tank for Colorado.

Moreover, Stanford star Cameron Brink scored only eight points, snapping a 21-game streak with 10 or more points. She fouled out in the first overtime period.

Everything went against Stanford.

Yet, the Cardinal still won.

That’s championship mettle. That’s elite toughness and quality depth coming to the surface, with backup big Lauren Betts giving Stanford huge minutes off the bench and Fran Belibi providing some worker-bee minutes at both ends of the floor. Haley Jones played all 50 minutes and gave Tara VanDerveer 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists.

USC played Stanford tough in two meetings this season. Viewed solely through that prism, the Trojans are close to the Cardinal.

However, where USC clearly falls short of the Stanford standard is in the full journey through a season. USC did not challenge itself in nonconference games, whereas Stanford takes on tough teams, including No. 1 South Carolina and Tennessee this season.

USC will finish in the middle of the Pac-12. Stanford will finish tied for first, showing the consistency USC is close to attaining, but hasn’t found just yet.

Lindsay Gottlieb can point to Stanford’s win over Colorado and tell her USC players, “That’s the team we want to become.”

It will be fascinating to see how quickly USC can rise to the Stanford standard.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire