SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Tara VanDerveer only needed to tell her team one thing at halftime -- the Cardinal would be coming to the Pac-10 tournament championship game Monday night no matter what, either to play or to watch.
Her players responded with the extra energy she demanded. The Cardinal had no choice.
Kelley Suminski scored 17 points, making three crucial 3-pointers that put her team ahead for good, and No. 2 Stanford held off a determined Southern California squad 73-69 on Sunday to advance to the Pac-10 tournament title game.
"I couldn't imagine coming to the game and watching it tomorrow," Suminski said. "That was a motivator for the whole team."
Candice Wiggins scored nine of her 24 points in the final six minutes and added 12 rebounds and five assists as the Cardinal survived for their 19th straight victory despite being outhustled for much of the game and dominated in the paint. A loss might have cost them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Wiiggins made two free throws with 33.6 seconds left and then tossed the ball into the air after the final buzzer and hugged her teammates.
"They really played on a mission," VanDerveer, who coached her 800th game, said of USC. "This is the type of game that really helps us for the NCAA Tournament. We hit some big shots. We were tentative early. We had to battle, and that was great."
Stanford (28-2) will try to win its third straight Pac-10 tournament title against Arizona State, a 54-47 winner over second-seeded Oregon earlier Sunday. The Sun Devils won the inaugural conference tournament in 2002.
Eshaya Murphy had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Chloe Kerr scored 14 for surprising Southern Cal (19-10), the tournament's fourth seed after being picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10.
"We were thinking the impossible," said USC coach Mark Trakh, who showed his players the hockey scene from the movie "Miracle" moments before tipoff. "It almost happened."
USC led by as many as eight points twice against the Pac-10 champions, who won their conference games by an average of 24.9 points. Suminski made back-to-back 3-pointers for Stanford that tied the game at 54 with 10:23 remaining, and the Cardinal then relied on their seniors to stay composed the rest of the way against an inexperienced opponent.
Perhaps it was a tad bit refreshing -- not to mention downright nerve-racking -- for the Cardinal to be challenged for a change. When Kristen Newlin, who finished with 14 points and eight boards, scored and was fouled 10 minutes into the game, the players on the Cardinal bench jumped up to celebrate.
And that excitement lasted all game.
Especially after USC freshman Camille LeNoir banked in a 3-pointer from just inside the midcourt line at the halftime buzzer to give USC a 37-32 lead -- the first time Stanford trailed at the break all season.
"I looked up, it was 37-32, it's halftime and we're still around," Trakh said. "We took a pounding the first two times, but we did everything we could possibly do to win this game."
The Cardinal's 30.8 percent shooting for the opening 20 minutes was their worst first half all season and their second worst for any half. They haven't been pushed like this since their last defeat, 62-58 at Oregon on Dec. 29.
LeNoir hit another 3 early in the second half but limped off with an injured left ankle moments later. She returned after being taped.
Stanford regained the lead on Susan King Borchardt's 3-pointer with 17:23 left that capped a 10-0 run, but USC again had an answer.
Top-seeded Stanford was dissatisfied following its 81-40 victory over rival California on Saturday night and had a long list of things it wanted to do better in the next round.
The Cardinal had their sloppy moments Saturday but appeared more focused from the first tip a day later. Wiggins blocked a shot by LeNoir on the game's first possession, but energized USC never let Stanford pull away.
"Even though we've been in a lot of blowout games and have been beating opponents by a lot of points, in practice we work on special situations," said Wiggins, the first freshman to be Pac-10 player of the year.
VanDerveer missed the inside presence of scrappy senior forward T'Nae Thiel, sidelined until at least the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a partial fracture in her left foot.
The Cardinal missed 10 of their first 14 shots and were outshot for the first time all season (45.2 percent to 39.1 percent).