STANFORD — Tara VanDerveer had a simple message for her struggling Stanford women’s basketball team at halftime: The season could be over in 20 minutes.
Chiney Ogwumike took it to heart, along with all the others.
Ogwumike is plenty accustomed to doing a little bit of everything for Stanford — and the Cardinal needed all she had to get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament, especially the spark she brings on both ends of the floor.
Ogwumike scored 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds and top-seeded Stanford pulled away in the second half to survive a hard-fought effort by 16th-seeded Tulsa for a 72-56 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday.
“We are not a team that overlooks anyone,” VanDerveer said. “We can beat anyone and we can get beaten by anyone.”
Amber Orrange added 14 points, six rebounds and three assists for the Cardinal (32-2), who needed more than a half to get rolling while playing at home in Maples Pavilion coming off final exams and a two-week layoff since winning the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
Conference Player of the Year Ogwumike took charge in Stanford’s quest for a sixth straight Final Four after her big sister, Nneka, became the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft and the league’s Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Up next for Stanford is a second-round date with No. 8 seed Michigan, which beat ninth-seeded Villanova 60-52 on Sunday.
Taleya Mayberry scored 18 points and Kelsee Grovey added 12 for Tulsa (17-17), back in the tournament for the first time since 2006 after a surprise run to the Conference USA tournament title as a sixth seed.
The Golden Hurricane won four games in as many days to get here, and certainly didn’t play like one of the lowest seeds in the bracket.
Tulsa scrapped for loose balls, jumped in the passing lanes for steals and took Stanford out of its comfort zone from the opening tip. The Golden Hurricane, riding a five-game winning streak under second-year coach Matilda Mossman, pulled within 32-30 on a basket by Loren McDaniel with 16:38 remaining, but couldn’t keep up against the talented Cardinal the rest of the way.
Still, for a half at least, this game brought back memories of top-seeded Stanford’s stunning 71-67 loss to No. 16 seed Harvard at home in the 1998 tournament — still the only time a No. 1 team in the men’s or women’s field has lost to a 16 seed.
Mossman used that as motivation for her team.
“It happened here in 1998. It happened here on their home floor. It happened a 16 against a No. 1,” Mossman said. “It wasn’t going to be easy. Just because they were upset 15 years ago didn’t mean it was going to happen again.
VanDerveer didn’t even go there. She didn’t need to reflect on that memory, because her players know exactly what took place for the injury-plagued Cardinal.
“We know our history, we can learn from history,” Ogwumike said.
Joslyn Tinkle had nine points, seven rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal for Stanford. Taylor Greenfield came off the bench and contributed nine points in Stanford’s 18th straight victory since a home loss to rival California on Jan. 13. The Cardinal won their seventh consecutive conference tournament crown and shared a 13th straight regular-season championship.
Their plan was to take Mayberry out of her game, and that is what Orrange did with her defense. Averaging 18.7 points coming in, Mayberry had four assists and shot 6 for 18 in her final collegiate game and missed all three of her 3-point tries.
VanDerveer said she would miss guard Toni Kokenis as a defensive option against Mayberry.
Kokenis hasn’t played since Feb. 3 at Oregon State, sidelined with an undisclosed illness. She missed her ninth straight game and 10th overall.
Forward Mikaela Ruef had eight rebounds after missing two weeks of practice with an injury VanDerveer wouldn’t discuss.
It took Stanford well into the second half to find a rhythm. Early on, Tulsa trapped full court whenever it had the opportunity to make things more difficult for the home team, including after a timeout midway through the first half that forced Stanford into a 30-second violation.
“We were a little anxious,” Ogwumike said.
Ogwumike scored 15 of her points in the second half and left to a standing ovation with 1 minute to go. She also had three assists and shot 13 for 18.
“There’s no question she’s the best post player we played against all year long,” Mossman said. “We couldn’t match her effort in the second half.”
Grovey hit two early 3s and Tulsa forced three steals in the opening 43 seconds before the Cardinal even took their first shot.
Stanford began the game 4 for 12 and missed its initial three 3-point attempts before Greenfield connected at the 11:04 mark of the first half to put the Cardinal ahead 15-14 for their first lead of the game.
Ogwumike was whistled for her second foul 3:34 before halftime and took a seat on the bench until her team went into the locker room at halftime tied at 24. It marked the third straight game Stanford didn’t lead at intermission and sixth in all this season.
Stanford improved to 27-4 in 17 years hosting the NCAA tournament and has won seven straight NCAA tournament games at Maples since losing to Florida State in the second round in March 2007.
The Cardinal shot 65.5 percent in the second half Sunday (19 for 29) after 38.5 percent in the opening 20 minutes.
“Our numbers in the second half were awesome,” VanDerveer said. “I’d rather have a game like this than play a great first half and stink it up in the second half. We’re carrying our momentum to Tuesday night.”