AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) — Tara VanDerveer doesn’t return to Buffalo often, yet the Stanford coach hasn’t forgotten the tough blue-collar mentality of the place she once called home.
A reminder came Friday, when Alanna Smith scored 30 points and the No. 8 Cardinal overcame the pesky Bulls and their swarming defense to pull out a 62-55 win.
“This wasn’t a pretty game, but I call it a gritty game, and very apropos to Buffalo,” said VanDerveer, who spent her final two years of high school playing at Buffalo Seminary in the late 1960s. “This is kind of a gritty city, like tough and aggressive. I was really proud of our team to show that side.”
Little came easy for the Pac-12 Conference Cardinal (9-1), who bounced back from a 79-73 loss at Gonzaga by reeling off three straight wins over a rugged seven-day stretch. Stanford beat then-No. 3 Baylor 68-63 on Saturday and traveled to beat No. 9 Tennessee 95-85 on Tuesday before out-lasting a Mid-American Conference Buffalo program that has made the NCAA Tournament twice in the past three years.
“We knew that we couldn’t underestimate this team,” Smith said. “I’m just really proud of how our team stuck together and really stood behind each other and didn’t crumble.”
Smith added 13 rebounds and five assists, while Nadia Fingall scored six of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.
DiJonai Carrington had 10 rebounds, but finished 1 of 7 for 4 points after scoring 33 at Tennessee.
The Cardinal never trailed, but were held to a season-low in points, and didn’t reach a double-digit lead until Fingall’s basket in the low post put Stanford up 54-44 with 2:37 remaining.
Cierra Dillard scored 21 points for Buffalo (7-3), which had a 14-game home winning streak snapped. The nation’s’ leading scorer also topped 20 points for the 14th straight game dating to last season.
Dillard finished 8 of 25 from the field, while the rest of the Bulls combined to go 11 of 44.
Buffalo coach Felicia Legette-Jack shrugged off the missed shots to note how her team made a final push in the fourth quarter.
“It’s difficult, but it was right there for us to grab,” Legette-Jack said. “Because of that, we know that we belong. It’s not like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe we’re in a game.’ We have positioned ourselves to be right there with the best in the country.”
Trailing 41-33 to open the fourth quarter, the Bulls cut the deficit to two on two occasions.
Dillard’s behind-the-back pass to set up Brittany Morrison’s layup, followed by a 3-point basket with 7:17 left, cut the Cardinal lead to 43-41. Smith and Buffalo point guard Hanna Hall then traded 3-point baskets before the Bulls ran out of gas.
The Bulls missed seven shots and committed a turnover over their next six possessions in allowing the Cardinal to pull away.
Coming close wasn’t good enough for Dillard.
“I don’t care if it was the L.A. Lakers, a loss is loss,” she said. “Shots that usually fall for us didn’t fall for us. Down the line, I made some bad judgments, some bad turnovers. I take all responsibility.”
VanDerveer, the second winningest coach in women’s basketball, spoke at her former high school during a visit on Thursday. And she drew a big cheer during pre-game introductions, as there were about 220 Buffalo Seminary students and teachers in attendance.
“It was surreal,” she said. “It was emotional for me.”
VanDerveer added the Bulls to the schedule because it’s close to home for sophomore forward Alyssa Jerome, who is from Toronto, which is a 90-minute drive from Buffalo. It’s also about a three-hour drive from junior guard Mikaela Brewer’s hometown of Barrie, Ontario.
Legette-Jack is a longtime friend of VanDerveer and spent time at the Stanford coach’s home this offseason. Asked how she managed to convince her to play at Buffalo, Legette-Jack smiled and said: “I asked her.”
Stanford: An early Eastern Time start and coming off two wins over ranked teams might have contributed to Stanford’s slow start, making just 11 of its first 35 attempts.
Buffalo: The Bulls, who hope to make their third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years, hung tight for 36 minutes against one of the nation’s best teams.
Stanford: Hosts Cal State Northridge on Dec. 29.
Buffalo: Hosts St. Bonaventure on Sunday.
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