• Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
  • Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
  • Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

SPOKANE, Wash. — The reigning national champion Stanford Cardinal secured a trip back to the Final Four on Sunday night, becoming the second No. 1 seed to reach this year’s national semifinals, with a 59-50 win over the No. 2 seed Texas Longhorns.

It’s the 14th Final Four appearance for the Cardinal under legendary coach Tara VanDerveer.

When these teams met in November in Palo Alto, Texas spoiled Stanford’s ring-night celebration of last season’s title with a fourth-quarter comeback to win 61-56 on the Cardinal’s home court. Stanford took an identical five-point lead to the final period Sunday. This time, the Cardinal made it stand up in large part thanks to the play of senior Lexie Hull, who scored a game-high 20 points in front of family and friends in her hometown.

Having rallied from a five-point deficit entering the fourth quarter of the first meeting, the Longhorns threatened to do the same thing Sunday. They had cut Stanford’s lead to two when Hull drove for a runner while being fouled and converted the ensuing free throw for a three-point play. On the following possession, Hull made two free throws to give the Cardinal a two-possession lead for good.

Although Hull’s twin sister, Lacie, was scoreless, her play was also a key difference from the November matchup. Back then, Stanford was struggling to replace point guard Kiana Williams, who left for the WNBA after the championship. The Cardinal handed out a season-low seven assists and turned the ball over 20 times against Texas’ pressure.

Turnovers did remain an issue for Stanford on Sunday, as the team gave the ball away 20 times, including 11 in the second half. But Lacie Hull and Haley Jones — who also had a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds — had four assists apiece as the Cardinal doubled their November total. And center Cameron Brink played a key role despite battling foul trouble, scoring all 10 of her points in the third period and blocking six shots.

After getting off to a disappointing 4-2 start this season, Stanford hasn’t been beaten since a 65-61 loss at fellow Final Four team South Carolina on Dec. 21 — a winning streak that is now the nation’s longest at 24 consecutive games.

Texas boasted a 14-game winning streak entering Sunday’s game, the nation’s second-longest, and the Longhorns led much of the first half. But Texas struggled to score against Stanford’s size, making just 12 of 39 attempts inside the 3-point line (31%). The Longhorns will also lament leaving points at the foul line, having shot just 11-of-20 on free throws.

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