By Sam McPherson
When it comes to Bay Area women’s college basketball, the discussion starts and ends with Stanford University. The Cardinal have won two NCAA championships (1990, 1992), been to a whopping 12 Final Fours and have won a total of 23 Pac-10/Pac-12 conference titles.
So is it fair to ask what’s wrong with the 2014-15 team that currently sits just 19th in the Associated Press poll and 20th in the Coaches Poll? Success does breed expectation, of course, and truthfully, there’s nothing wrong with the Cardinal program right now at all.
It was 1987 the last time the Stanford women didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, and that seems like a long time ago. As long as this team qualifies for March Madness, everything is still okay at Maples Pavilion. With five losses to ranked teams (including two to Pac-12 rival Arizona State), the Cardinal’s 21-9 record doesn’t look so bad at all.
And Stanford just beat then-No. 7 Oregon State last Thursday on the road in Corvallis, their second win over a ranked team this year. Who can forget the Cardinal’s overtime victory over top-ranked Connecticut back in mid-November, either? Yes, everything is just fine for the Stanford women in 2015.
The Cardinal are the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament that runs March 5-8. The Beavers are the top seed, and the Sun Devils are the No. 2 team in the bracket. Stanford earned a first-round bye in the tournament, and it will face the winner of the first-round game between UCLA and Arizona on Friday.
If the Cardinal win that game, they’ll likely get a third crack at Arizona State on Saturday. Stanford swept UCLA this season and split with Arizona, dropping a three-point game on the road in early February just two days after losing a heartbreaking, one-point game to the Sun Devils in Tempe.
The track record for Stanford in this tournament is excellent, as well: the Cardinal has a 35-3 all-time record in the conference tournament and has never lost a quarterfinal game. Stanford won the league tourney title in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Head Coach Tara VanDerveer is in her 30th season in the position for the Cardinal, and she’s one of the most decorated coaches in the game. She is a 14-time conference Coach of the Year in the Pac-10/Pac-12, and before coming to Stanford, VanDerveer won four Big Ten championships coaching the Ohio State Buckeyes.
She also guided the 1996 Olympic Team to a gold medal in Atlanta. Needless to say, the Stanford Cardinal have one of the best coaches in the game: VanDerveer is a member of both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
With all this history on their side, the Cardinal have to be favorites to emerge from the Pac-12 Tournament once again as champions, even if it doesn’t look that way on paper. Stanford made the Final Four last season, and the win over the Huskies early this season firmly shows what the team is capable of accomplishing.
And in a close game, who wants to pick against Coach VanDerveer?
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.