LEXINGTON, Ky. -- There will be at least one team from the Pac-12 in the Final Four. For the first time in six seasons, Notre Dame will not be there.
In a day of stunning results, No. 4 seed Stanford pulled off the upset in a 90-84 win against No. 1 Notre Dame. Earlier in the night on the same Rupp Arena court, seventh-seeded Washington upended No. 3 seed Kentucky. The Cardinal and Huskies meet Sunday (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET) in the regional final.
Erica McCall led all players with 27 points on 12-of-18 shooting. And a year after the Fighting Irish rolled past the Cardinal in the same round of the NCAA tournament, the underdog led for all but four minutes and 22 seconds to return to the Elite Eight after a one-year hiatus.
There is more to come from Lexington, but some initial thoughts on Stanford's win.
Player of the game: A day before the game, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer called McCall the most improved player in the nation. She also said it was McCall's play that had the strongest correlation to Stanford's improvement in the second half of the season. Anyone care to argue with the Hall of Fame coach? McCall was a force on the block and in the lane, especially as Stanford built its lead, but she also stretched the defense on the wings.
How it was won: Karlie Sameulson has a lot of range and an unorthodox shooting motion. She would be a terror in shooting games. But all of that aside, it was still a miracle heave that saved the day for the Cardinal. Up just 81-78 and with momentum swinging heavily in favor of the Fighting Irish with a minute and a half to play, Samuelson threw the ball at the rim from well beyond the 3-point line with the shot clock set to expire. It banked hard off the glass and through the basket for an 84-78 lead and some semblance of safety.
To a large degree, Stanford won the game in the paint, one of the first teams to truly exploit what was supposed to be a liability all season for its one-loss opponent. But the Cardinal's 3-point shooting was also instrumental, including when Samuelson staved off what would have been a historic comeback with the longest of heaves.
Turning point: Let's start with the first possession of the second half -- a very long possession. Thanks to several offensive rebounds and a Notre Dame foul, Stanford had the ball for the first 90 seconds of the quarter before McCall converted a nice pass from Lili Thompson for two points. Stanford football coach David Shaw would appreciate a drive like that. And any Notre Dame hopes of a quick blitz out of the break vanished.
Notre Dame cut the deficit to six points at 67-61 early in the fourth quarter and looked to be on the verge of the run it needed. But after several unsteady Stanford possessions, Samuelson ran the baseline and hit an open 3-pointer in the corner to push the lead back to a more comfortable margin. Not long after, harassed at the 3-point line, Samuelson drove through the lane, split two defenders and converted a three-point play the other way. She finished with 20 points and seemingly every one of them came at a pivotal moment.
X factor: House money. That's what VanDerveer said Stanford was playing with after it barely escaped a second-round game at home against an underseeded South Dakota State team. For much of this game, the Cardinal played with the ease and confidence of a team that believed their coach. Stanford played like the underdog it rarely is.
Stat of the game: Entering Friday's game, Notre Dame had lost just once in its previous 143 games to a team other than Connecticut. The Fighting Irish also had an NCAA tournament winning streak of 16 consecutive games against teams other than Connecticut.
What's next: Stanford and Washington have plenty of history, obviously. The all-time series stands in Stanford's favor at 46-16, and even that is a little misleading since many of those wins for the Huskies came decades ago. But Washington owns a one-game winning streak after beating the Cardinal in the Pac-12 tournament (a win that might have helped the Huskies avoid being a No. 8 seed, the spot coach Mike Neighbors said must be avoided at all costs).