LAS VEGAS (AP) — The fouls were mounting, the defense scrambling, the lead down to two. Stanford's bid for another Pac-12 tournament title was starting to look shaky after a stellar start.
The Cardinal rallied together in the locker room at halftime and turned a close game into another rout — and another championship.
Haley Jones scored 19 points, Cameron Brink added 16 and No. 2 Stanford won its second straight Pac-12 tournament with a 73-48 rout of Utah on Sunday.
“It was just a little better concentration,” Stanford coach Tara VanDeveer said. “They got together and talked about. If we want to be the Pac-12 champions, we've got to play better.”
The Cardinal (28-3, 17-0) shut down the Utes defensively in the second half to pull away in what was a two-point game at halftime. The reigning national champions held Utah (20-11, 8-8) to 7-of-33 shooting in the second half and had a 40-12 advantage in the paint to win their 15th Pac-12 tournament in 21 tries.
The Cardinal stretched their winning streak to 20 straight games heading into the NCAA Tournament, where they'll undoubtedly be a No. 1 seed. Stanford is 30-1 all-time against the Utes.
“We won last year and we have that target on our back, which we kind of embrace,” said Jones, who had six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots. “It's kind of fueling that fire to keep our competitive energy going into the tournament.”
Utah was without forward Peyton McFarland, who injured her knee against Washington State on Thursday, and struggled against Stanford's length inside, particularly in the second half.
Brynna Maxwell had 16 points to lead the Utes, who went 2 for 13 from 3 in the second half as Stanford pulled away.
The consolation: Utah will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.
“They've proven all season long they're the best team in the conference and today was no different,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “This doesn't define our season. I'm excited we're here, disappointed we lost, but we're not done.”
The Cardinal breezed into their 19th Pac-12 title game, beating Oregon State and Colorado by a combined 39 points. The 71-45 win over the Buffaloes was VanDerveer's 1,000th at Stanford and the Cardinal's 33rd straight against Pac 12 opponents.
Stanford looked like it was primed for another runaway, using an 11-1 run to build an early 12-point lead. The Cardinal held Utah scoreless for more than 3 1/2 minutes until Maxwell hit a turnaround jumper at the first quarter buzzer and led 21-11.
The scrappy Utes weren't going to let it be that easy.
Utah reached its first Pac-12 championship game by getting hot at the right time, hitting a combined 24 3-pointers in wins over California, Washington State and Oregon in Las Vegas.
The Utes took advantage of three Stanford players on the bench with two fouls and started to hit from 3-point range in the second quarter to get back in it. Utah went 4 of 5 from the arc — Dru Gylten hit one from 10 feet behind it — and used an 8-0 run to pull within 32-30 at halftime.
“It was not looking good,” VanDerveer said.
Jones, Brink and Lacie Hull returned in the third quarter and so did Stanford's defense. The Cardinal held Utah scoreless for nearly 4 1/2 minutes to push the lead to 52-43 after three quarters.
Stanford continued to lock down the Utes in the fourth, holding them to 2-of-15 shooting, including 0 for 6 from 3. Hull hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-1 run that stretched Stanford's lead to 71-46 and put the game out of reach.
“After halftime, we just missed some shots we normally make and kept turning it over,” said Gylten, who had six points and five assists. “That's what Stanford does best, make you pay for those.”
Utah was no match for Stanford in the second half, but just reaching the title game was an accomplishment for a team picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason poll.
Stanford dominated the second half after allowing Utah to hang around in the first and will be among the favorites to win it all when the NCAA Tournament starts in less than two weeks.
Utah had relied on Jenna Johnson and Gianna Kneepkens most of the season. Both freshmen have been hampered by injuries recently and it showed.
Johnson, who's dealing with foot issues, finished with two points on 1-of-9 shooting. Kneepkens finished 1 for 6 for three points with tape on her ailing shoulder.
“Both those guys are banged up,” Roberts said. “There's no greater teacher than experience and they'll get better from this.”
Utah: Should be in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.
Stanford: Will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and should have a good chance to repeat as champion.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25