Kiki Iriafen launches women’s basketball into the Sweet 16

Just over a year and five days ago, the Stanford women’s basketball team suffered its most humiliating defeat in years, losing to No. 8 seed Ole Miss in the Round of 32. While avenging last year’s early tournament exit was on the minds of all Cardinal players coming into the postseason, at several times tonight, it seemed Stanford was bound to the same fate.

After giving up another three-point shot, the team (30-5, 15-3 Pac-12) found themselves down three points to the No. 7 seed Iowa State Cyclones (21-12, 12-6 Big 12) with 3:43 remaining in regulation. To make things worse, within the next two minutes, Pac-12 Player of the Year Cameron Brink picked up her fifth foul — which meant she had to sit on the bench for the rest of the game. 

But the Cardinal had something at their disposal that they didn’t possess last season: a fully-developed Kiki Iriafen. 

During her first two years in college, the six-foot-three forward averaged 4.2 and 6.7 points per game respectively. But after an offseason of skill improvement and boosting her confidence, the star forward emerged as a force on the court, averaging 18.6 and 10.9 rebounds a game. 

Indeed, the star forward for Stanford didn’t disappoint when the Cardinal needed her the most. She scored six crucial points down the stretch of the game that allowed Stanford to send the game to overtime. Iriafen’s defense on Cyclones’ star Audi Crooks also helped keep the Cardinal within striking distance.

“I think if you want it bad, nothing will faze you,” Iriafen said. “I wanted it really badly so I didn’t let fatigue get into my head.”

Despite missing a shot at the end of regulation that would have sent Stanford to Portland, the Los Angeles product kept her composure throughout the overtime period, tallying 11 points.

But perhaps the biggest shot of the game came from someone who didn’t attempt a field goal until the fourth quarter. 

After Iowa State took a one point lead with 31 seconds remaining in overtime, junior forward Brooke Demetre set a cross screen in the paint for Iriafen. Demetre then came up to the top of the key to receive the ball. Despite the Maples crowd expecting the ball to go inside Iriafen, Demetre immediately went into her shooting form off the catch. The shot had the perfect combination of arc and power, and it spinned through the hoop to give Stanford a two-point advantage — a lead they maintained to secure their spot in the Sweet 16.

“Tara calls Brooke ‘Steady Eddie’,” Iriafen said. “You can always count on Brooke. She is just always, always ready since our freshmen year, regardless of how the game is going for her or how we are doing. 

Despite the loss, Iowa State demonstrated why their future is bright. Senior guard Emily Ryan, who is slated to come back for a fifth-year, accumulated a career-high 36 points on six-for-nine shooting from deep. 

“I thought our bigs had good hands tonight and made big plays down low,” said Ryan. “Then the shooters were making them spread the floor, so it opened more stuff up in the lane and driving lanes.”

Overall the Cyclones shot over 60% from beyond the arc, which helped keep them even with Stanford throughout the game. However, in the end, the Cardinal capitalized more on opportunities to hit shots and get stops at timely moments.

Up next, Stanford will head to Portland for their Sweet 16 game against the winner of the NC State-Tennessee matchup. After failing to get through the Round of 32 last year, the Cardinal are glad to have gotten over the hump this year.

“As much as I love Maples, I didn’t want my season to end here tonight,” said graduate guard Hannah Jump. “We worked hard to be in this game and moment, and I’m super excited for our team to go on to Portland.”