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Excitingly, the Stanford Symphony hits the final note

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In terms of acoustics, the Alamodome leaves a little to be desired. The booming bass gets lost in the open spaces, the highs sparkle in the rafters, and no sane conductor would want to work on it, unless their concerto is less about sound than movement.

The latter is the kind of harmony Stanford created on Friday night. On more than one occasion, Cardinal Tara VanDerveer’s coach has likened his basketball team to a symphony, and if it seemed like a drill before the Final Four, it wasn’t once his players found their rhythm, their flow and their rhythm.

“When someone does a solo, the other members of the orchestra are always playing,” VanDerveer said as he entered the Stanford-style national semifinals. “They don’t put down their instruments.”

However, they almost shot them a second too soon.

In an epic national semifinal showdown between one virtuoso against another, South Carolina nearly hit the glorious final score. It wasn’t until Aliyah Boston’s attempt to pull back on the buzzed ledge that the seeded Cardinal escaped with a thrilling 66-65 victory.

The Gamecocks’ plan, in the words of coach Dawn Staley, had been to “mess things up”. It was almost exactly what they did.

Stanford, who had taken the lead on a Haley Jones jump shot with 32 seconds left and then forced a South Carolina roll, was just trying to attack the ball and wait for the Gamecocks to foul in the last few seconds. But Stanford, who had spent most of the evening delivering his attack with melodious precision, returned the ball close to midfield.

As time passed, South Carolina’s Brea Beal drove hard to the rim and tried a lopsided layup. He didn’t fall, but Boston – the emotional leader of the Gamecocks – grabbed the rebound and returned the ball to the rim when time ran out.

When he refused to fall, a crushed Boston broke down in tears, and the Cardinal’s players exulted, winning a trip to the National Championship game on Sunday against Connecticut or Arizona.

If the back-and-forth affair at times looked like a mind-blowing match-up for decades, there were good reasons for it.

In 1992, Staley was a college point guard with noisy tools and big plans, and VanDerveer ended one of them. Staley’s Virginia team lost to Cardinal VanDerveer that year in the Final Four, but this duo would later team up to win an Olympic gold medal.

At the time, the coach believed the young player might have a future as a lawyer or politician.

“Whatever Dawn decided to go for it, VanDerveer said, ‘she was going to be on top. “

When Staley received his first college coaching offer 21 years ago, VanDerveer advised him against taking it. Staley said she suspected it was a compliment – she was still an outstanding WNBA player at the time – but Staley consciously decided to use her as another doubt to overcome.

“Thank you for making the chip a little bigger,” Staley said.

What about when Staley won his first national championship as a coach in South Carolina four years ago? Along the way, his team rallied to beat Cardinal VanDerveer in the national semifinals.

This time, however, it was the VanDerveer team that made the theater work. Jones led the way with 24 points, but his teammates played their instruments well.

San Antonian Kiana Williams, a former Wagnerian, started off slow but made two huge plays on the stretch, hitting an off-balance shot in the lane with 2:06 to go and pulling a long pass for a quick-breaking bucket with 1: 42 to go.

Overall, the game was played brilliantly, not only by VanDerveer’s Cardinal but also by Staley’s Gamecocks.

And while it shouldn’t have been their responsibility to justify interest in their sport – nor will it be Baylor and Houston’s job to prove something about men’s basketball on Saturday – the Gamecocks and Cardinal did it anyway.

They reminded everyone that the real shame of the last few weeks was that it wasn’t always about basketball. It certainly wasn’t the players’ fault that people were talking about other issues that shouldn’t exist anymore, and NCAA President Mark Emmert admitted it this week.

“When you put the men’s and women’s championships side by side, as has been made clear over the past few weeks, it stands to reason that we have dropped the ball by supporting our female athletes,” said Emmert.

“And we can’t do that. It is a failure that should not exist. This 60-year head start that men had, that should no longer exist. It must be put behind us.

He won’t be behind them on Sunday, of course. This will not be the case next year either. But VanDerveer said she hopes “this is a defining moment” for the game she has coached for more than four decades, and more nights like Friday won’t hurt.

The melody is catching on.

Whether the acoustics are perfect or not.

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikefinger

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