Kiana Williams had one wish all along: She wants top-seeded Stanford to keep playing in her hometown for as long as possible.
No stopping until the NCAA Tournament nets come down. Step one is done.
Williams looked up to the stands and acknowledged parents LaChelle and Michael during a lopsided first-round victory against Utah Valley in San Antonio. She briefly got to celebrate her latest milestone that her parents treasured getting to witness while finally watching her play in person this season.
And after the game, the senior point guard held up a white T-shirt someone had made reading “SHE’S COMING HOME!!!”
“I told my teammates I want you guys to stay here in my hometown as long as possible,” said Williams, noting she had “50-plus people in the stands.”
Next up for the Cardinal (26-2) is a Tuesday night date with eighth-seeded Oklahoma State (19-8), an 84-61 winner Sunday against No. 9 seed Wake Forest.
Other teams in the Alamo Region advancing to the second round for Wednesday games include: No. 3 seed Georgia (21-6) after it beat No. 14 seed Drexel 67-53 on Monday and will take on sixth-seeded Oregon (14-8) with the Ducks defeating South Dakota 67-47; No. 13 Wright State advanced with a 66-62 upset of No. 4 Arkansas and will play No. 5 Missouri State, which defeated No. 12 UC Davis 70-51 on Monday night; and seventh-seeded Northwestern moved on after the Wildcats’ 62-51 win over 10 seed UCF.
It’s a long time coming for Northwestern (16-8), which returned to the tournament for the first time since 2015 and just the third time since 1993. Now the Wildcats will play No. 2 Louisville (24-3) after its 74-43 win against 15th-seeded Marist.
Oklahoma State didn’t plan to celebrate the first-round win for long.
“Stanford’s got one of the premier programs in the country,” Cowgirls coach Jim Littell said. “They’re just high level every phase of the game. … I told our kids in the locker room: ”Let’s play loose, let’s play comfortable, enjoy the fact that you got here, and let’s turn it into March Madness. Expect to win and expect high things of yourselves.′ So that’s the way we’re going to approach it.”
Dealing with Williams’ hot hand will be on the to-do list.
She became Stanford’s career 3-point leader in the win by passing Candice Wiggins’ 295 made 3s from 2005-08.
Williams’ entire family campaigned for her Stanford team to come to San Antonio for an extended visit.
“We want to stay as long as we can, I’m with Ki,” Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer said.
Stanford won national titles in 1990 and ‘92 and lost in the championship game in 2008 and ’10 - and no question VanDerveer would love nothing more than to cut down the nets and hoist a trophy one more time.
The Cardinal have won 15 straight since a surprising two-game skid.
It will get harder from here.
Senior forward Natasha Mack carried the Cowgirls into the second round with 27 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and two steals in the opener.
“She’s going to be a handful down there,” Williams said.
The 6-4 Mack averages 4.1 blocks per game.
“It’s just a comforting feeling to know you’ve got the leading shot blocker in the country sitting back there waiting on people,” Littell said.
Dealing with Mack will be a tough chore for Stanford, with VanDerveer noting: “Mack put on a show. She scores, she rebounds. You’ve really got to defend her.”
For Angel Baker and Wright State (19-7), underdog status hardly mattered. The Raiders are on to the second round with the program’s first NCAA Tournament win ever - and a stunning upset at that.
Thanks to tenacious Wright State, the Horizon League shined on the big stage.
“We knew we were going to be counted out, so we just played our game and made a couple upsets, busted a couple brackets,” Baker said. “We can compete with anybody, believe in ourselves, count on your teammate, believe in your teammate, the one next to you and we will get it done.”
The Raiders’ result marked the first win by a No. 13 seed over a No. 4 since 2012 and earned their first tournament win in school history. In fact, No. 13 seeds were just 9-104 all-time as the 2021 tournament began.
WILDCATS MOVE ON
Watch out, Northwestern coach Joe McKeown has some serious moves.
McKeown offered a celebratory dance on national TV during his postgame interview after the Wildcats’ special win. He shuffled right, then shuffled left, flapping his arms all the while.
“We’re going this way, we’re going this way. Tough to hang with me, you gotta have some game to hang with me!” McKeown said on ESPN.
If Northwestern has its way, Coach will keep dancin’.
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