Stanford, Cal to collide for Pac-12 title

SEATTLE -- The pictures in Taylor Greenfield's mind are worth, if not a thousand words, a few important wins.

"If you look at us, everyone was smiling and laughing and having a great time out there tonight. If you look at pictures from the UConn game [in November], it's the same thing," Greenfield said. "In the big games, we have a blast with each other. And when we do, we win."

All that smiling and laughing came with equal shares of nail biting and gut checking Saturday night at KeyArena, as Stanford earned its 13th trip to the Pac-12 tournament title game in 14 years, edging second-seeded Arizona State 59-56.

The Cardinal (23-9) face rival Cal -- a 68-55 winner over upstart Colorado -- on Sunday (ESPN/WatchESPN, 9 p.m. ET) with an opportunity to solidify their position in the NCAA bracket, likely as a top-16 seed, which would mean hosting first- and second-round games at Maples Pavilion. Most seasons, that would be a foregone conclusion, but not this one. Stanford has struggled in ways that it hasn't in recent memory, making Saturday's win over Arizona State anything but ho-hum. "It's definitely been a wacky year," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "All part of the journey."

After uncharacteristic losses and lapses and a tumble to the back end of the national rankings, Stanford is suddenly sitting where it has always been, in the wings waiting to play for a championship. And that is thanks in large part to a player who hasn't been heard from much to this point.

Greenfield, a senior from Iowa, finished Saturday's game against the Sun Devils with a season-high 17 points, one off her career high. She played a season-high 30 minutes and scored what turned out to be the game-winning basket, a zig-zagging drive through the lane to lay in the ball with 44.3 seconds to go, putting Stanford up 57-56.

Greenfield then pulled down a huge offensive rebound on a Kaylee Johnson free throw miss with 11.0 seconds left and hit a free throw with 10.3 seconds remaining to give the Cardinal a three-point lead before Stanford defended Arizona State's last-ditch effort to tie the score.

"We needed her and she delivered, and it was awesome," VanDerveer said.

When it was over, Stanford celebrated like it hasn't in awhile, beating the Sun Devils for the first time in three tries this season and winning the one that counted the most.

"I think Taylor just likes tournaments," VanDerveer said after the game. "She played well yesterday [against UCLA], she played even better today and I told her we need her to play even better tomorrow."

Greenfield, who has scored in double figures only three times in the past 16 games, admits there's something about tournament play that gets her blood pumping. She said it has been a running joke in her family for a long time.

"I love it," Greenfield said. "I mean, I don't want to limit myself to being a tournament player, but I get so excited for tournaments. I was praying that we would get to play ASU again. ... I know everyone was excited, but I was ready. I was so pumped for this game."

Greenfield said the win-or-go-home scenario causes "something to click on in my brain."

"I personally believe I thrive in intense situations," she said, "when everybody is getting fired up and I can remain calm."

It certainly got intense for a while when ASU cut down a 13-point Stanford advantage with less than nine minutes to go, countering with a 10-0 run and then grabbing back the lead with 2:19 to go.

But then came Greenfield's heady play and a huge block by Johnson with 11 seconds left and the Cardinal clinging to a one-point lead.

"We had talked before the game about how we gave up a 13-point lead to them the last time we played and that we weren't going to do that again, and then we did," Greenfield said. "But we focused and got it done, and that's what matters."

Truth be told, Greenfield's Stanford career has probably never been quite what it could have been. Greenfield is long and versatile and fundamentally sound -- and, too often, tentative on the floor.

She started 13 games as a freshman, then just two games in her sophomore season and five as a junior. She has made five starts thus far in her senior season but is now fitting the bill as a role player.

"In spurts, she's played well," VanDerveer said. "But I think she knows we need her now."

Greenfield said she actually prefers to come off the bench, after she has had a chance to assess the flow of play and how she can help the team.

"I want to be a spark in the game," Greenfield said. "Tonight, I was watching and it was like, 'This is perfect.' It's exactly what I wanted to do."

The season-ending finger injury to sophomore Karlie Samuelson has opened up an opportunity for Greenfield to get more minutes and make an impact, and on Saturday she grabbed hold of it.

"Taylor was really aggressive. She took the ball to the basket," VanDerveer said. "She helped us on both ends of the floor."

Senior guard Amber Orrange led the Cardinal with 18 points. But that's something of a given for the Cardinal. The suddenly relevant Greenfield was the game-changer.

"It's all about opportunity," VanDerveer said.