UCLA forward Atonye Nyingifa grabs a rebound alongside Stanford forward… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
UCLA was doing everything right.
The Bruins discombobulated second-ranked Stanford with pressure and a scrappy zone defense. They shut down the Cardinal's vaunted front-court players and created scoring opportunities with slick interior passing.
UCLA was 20 minutes away from winning the Pacific Life Pac-10 women's tournament Saturday at Staples Center.
Then Stanford showed why it's one of the top teams in the nation and a contender once again for the national title.
The Cardinal overcame a nine-point halftime deficit and defeated the seventh-ranked Bruins, 64-55.
"You knew it was coming," UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell said of the Cardinal's second-half run.
Freshman guard Toni Kokenis scored 13 of her career-high 17 points in the second half as Stanford improved to 29-2 and extended its winning streak against conference opponents to 57 games. The Cardinal is expected to receive a No. 1 regional seeding when the NCAA tournament bracket is announced Monday.
UCLA, with a 27-4 record that includes three losses to the Cardinal, is expected to garner a No. 2 seeding.
"They had us on the ropes," Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said of the Bruins.
It was a stark contrast to the first two games between UCLA and Stanford, both easy wins for a Cardinal team that features size, experience and freshman contributors such as Kokenis, who sparked a victory at Pauley Pavilion last month.
Sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike had combined for 53 points and 23 rebounds in Stanford's semifinal victory over Arizona, but the Bruins neutralized the forwards with an aggressive zone.
"It was definitely frustrating because it felt like there were two people on me at all times," Nnemkadi said.
With senior guards Doreena Campbell and Darxia Morris making shots from the perimeter and sophomore forward Markel Walker scoring and passing inside, the Bruins forged a 30-21 halftime lead.
It was only the third time this season (and the first since a Feb. 19 loss at Tennessee) that Stanford trailed at the break.
Senior forward Kayla Pedersen said the Cardinal did not panic.
"We knew we had dug ourselves a hole," she said. "It was more of a challenge: How are we going to get out of it? How are we going to fight back?"
Meanwhile, UCLA attempted to maintain its edge.
"We came out saying, 'Don't look at the score. Don't look at the time,' " Campbell said. "Go for 20 minutes and put everything you've got [into it]."
The box score won't show it, but senior point guard Jeanette Pohlen played a pivotal role in Stanford's comeback. The Pac-10 player of the year struggled against UCLA the last time the teams played and was uncharacteristically inefficient in the semifinal victory over Arizona and in the first half Saturday.
But when the former Brea Olinda High star made a three-point shot to cut the margin to six, she and her teammates seemed to relax, their body language indicating that if Pohlen was OK, so was Stanford.
UCLA answered but Pohlen made another three-pointer, setting the stage for a Kokenis steal and basket that brought the Cardinal to within three points.
Pohlen then found Nnemkadi Ogwumike near the rim for baskets on consecutive inbound passes, the second leading to a three-point play that gave the Cardinal a 47-46 lead with 6:17 remaining.
Kokenis took over from there, making a jump shot and then going the length of the court for a layup after making a steal. She followed with two three-pointers from the left corner and the Cardinal led, 57-48.
"I was just in the right place at the right time and was able to finish," Kokenis said.
Unfortunately for UCLA, it was unable to do the same.