No. 1 seed Stanford was already demolishing Montana State at home in the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament when Fran Belibi added an exclamation mark to the Cardinal’s ultimate 78-37 route of the Bobcats.
Midway through the second quarter, with the Cardinal up 29-6, Belibi — a 6-foot-1 junior forward — blocked a Montana State shot attempt on the perimeter before collecting the ball, bursting out into transition and slamming it down with her right hand, sending the Maples Pavilion crowd and her teammates into a frenzy.
It was Belibi’s third career slam, with the other two coming last season when Stanford played games in front of no fans, as well as the third dunk in the history of the women’s NCAA basketball tournament, according to the Associated Press. Brittney Griner and Candace Parker recorded the other two in 2013 and 2006, respectively.
“We knew their post players like to shoot, so I was just trying to recover back,” Belibi said of the play. “I got the block, which was cool, and then I was kind of dribbling down and I kind of looked over to see who was there and where she was, and then I got past the 3-point line and I kind of went for it, so it worked out.”
Belibi frequently dunks in practices and warm-ups, scenes that fans are well familiar with from witnessing pregame or from social media posts. But a live-game dunk in front of an already amped-up crowd in a postseason setting, right after the Cardinal had jumped out to a 20-0 start by the end of the first quarter, made the moment all the more special.
Belibi was also one of three Stanford players to finish in double figures with 12 points to go along with 13 rebounds.
“To be able to do it in a game and to have all those fans with us and to hear the crowd for, it was a really long time. It was like 30 seconds. That’s a long time to be cheering,” Belibi said. “Just to hear how loud it was in there, that was definitely a highlight.”
There are no greater supporters of Belibi’s than her teammates, who were so enthused by Belibi’s display that they pretended to be fainting on the bench.
“I think it’s really cool to see that on their faces,” Belibi said. “They’ve been getting on me all year about not dunking so far. The freshmen have been like, ‘We came here for this, so where is it?’ So it was really cool to get it and to make it happen, and then to just get engulfed, I felt really loved.”
“Thinking back on plays people don’t remember, ‘Oh, it was a really cool 3-point shot’ or ‘It was a great shot.’ People remember the dunks,” added Lexie Hull. “I remember every single one of Fran’s. To be right there was super cool and definitely a memory I’ll have forever.”
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said she was excited that Belibi got to have a special moment, but it was just one play in one game in their quest to win back-to-back national championships. Stanford takes on No. 8 seed Kansas in the second round on Sunday.
“I did remind her that it’s two points and the next play down, there was a girl that got a layup,” VanDerveer said. “It was [Belibi’s] girl, so I was like, ‘Come on, Fran.'”