The Stanford Cardinal, still stinging from a loss in the regionals last season, came back from an early 13-point deficit to beat the North Carolina Tar Heels at Maples Pavilion Tuesday night in the Stanford Regional final 74-65.
With the win, Stanford (33-3) reaches the Final Four for the sixth time in the last seven years. The Cardinal were bounced in the national semifinals in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and lost in the championship game in both 2008 and 2010. Their last national title was in 1992.
The fourth-seeded Tar Heels (27-10), who had upset top-seeded South Carolina on Sunday, jumped out to a quick 22-9 lead before Stanford clawed back into it.
The Cardinal went on a 15-2 run to go up 48-42 with 13:09 left, but North Carolina wasn’t done, coming back to lead 63-62 with 4:01 to go on Jessica Washington’s 3-pointer.
Lili Thompson put Stanford back on top with a jumper with 3:12 remaining and after a turnover by the Tar Heels, Ogwumike scored off a nice feed from Ruef to put the Cardinal up 66-63 with 2:23 remaining.
Leading 68-65 in the final minute, Ruef was called for an offensive foul, but Xylina McDaniel missed a layup at the other end. Bonnie Samuelson hit a pair of free throws to put the Cardinal up 70-65 with 22 seconds to go and Stanford was able to run down the clock and launch the celebration in front of a raucous crowd at Maples.
Ogwumike finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds while Ruef scored a career-high 17 points and had nine boards en route to winning regional MVP honors. Samuelson scored 13 points off the bench and Amber Orrange had 14 points and four assists.
Allisha Gray led the Tar Heels with 19 points and nine rebounds. Diamond DeShields chipped in 13 points and Latifah Coleman notched six assists.
North Carolina was 25-for-60 (41.7 percent) overall, 9-for-22 (40.9 percent) from 3-point range and 6-for-9 (66.7 percent) at the line. Stanford was 29-for-58 (50 percent), 9-for-20 (45 percent) and 7-for-11 (63.6 percent).
The Cardinal gets another crack at top-ranked, and defending champion, Connecticut (37-0) in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. Pacific. The Huskies beat the Cardinal 76-57 in Storrs, Conn., on Nov. 11. The other national semifinal pits Maryland (28-6) against 36-0 Notre Dame.