Stanford women on roll at home heading into NCAAs
STANFORD, Calif. (AP)
Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen have a long list of streaks going in their final season at Stanford.
Three straight Final Four berths they hope to soon turn into a fourth. A 23-game winning streak since a pair of December defeats at DePaul and Tennessee - including that thrilling 71-59 triumph over Connecticut on Dec. 30 that ended the Huskies' record 90-game winning streak. Pac-10 Conference regular-season and tournament titles each year, and 57 consecutive victories against conference opponents.
The one remarkable run they can wrap up with two more NCAA wins: a perfect record on their home floor in Maples Pavilion for their four-year careers.
There is much bigger unfinished business for this bunch, too. The Cardinal haven't won it all since 1992 after near-misses in two of the past three NCAA finals.
Winning two more at home is the first step. Stanford is riding a school-record winning streak of 61 in a row at Maples - and extending that run to 63 straight victories would send seniors Pedersen and Pohlen out in style having never lost in front of their supportive home crowd.
''Not many people can say they've done that,'' junior leading scorer Nnemkadi Ogwumike said of going undefeated at home. ''That's pretty special. It's kind of like their senior night wasn't their senior night.''
Stanford (29-2), the top seed in the Spokane Region, will host Big West champion and NCAA first-timer UC Davis on Saturday in the first round of the tournament. The Aggies (24-8) are the 16th seed.
A Stanford victory would set up a second-round date Monday night in Maples against the winner of Saturday's first game between eighth-seeded Texas Tech and ninth-seeded St. John's.
While Pohlen is always cautious not to get ahead of herself, finishing up unbeaten on campus would be a special feat and a strong beginning to what she hopes ends with that elusive championship in Indianapolis on April 5.
''I think that would be amazing if we didn't lose here on our home floor,'' said Pohlen, the Pac-10 Player of the Year. ''It would be awesome.''
Even with that monumental December win at home over the mighty Huskies, Stanford knows it is March and April when things truly count. All summer, the Cardinal were left to contemplate what went wrong in last year's final loss to UConn.
Stanford - 36-2 last season with those lone losses coming at the hands of the Huskies - fell 53-47 to Connecticut in the 2010 NCAA title game after leading 20-12 at halftime. UConn won its 78th straight game to complete back-to-back unbeaten seasons.
It may very well take getting through Maya Moore and UConn again for Stanford to complete its mission.
''It's really a special team and we're going to give it our absolute best shot,'' said coach Tara VanDerveer, whose team had to rally in the second half last Saturday to beat UCLA 64-55 in the Pac-10 tournament final, the Cardinal's fifth conference tournament crown in a row on the heels of their 11th straight regular-season title.
VanDerveer, who has the most versatile roster in her quarter-century tenure on The Farm, said that loss in last year's NCAA final made her a better coach, persuaded her to work even harder in her 32nd overall season as a head college coach.
That energy rubs off on the players she brings in to keep this program on the rise, such as Ogwumike and her Pac-10 Freshman of the Year sister, Chiney.
Or those two senior starters who believe it's finally time to put Stanford back on top.
''Our goal for the season, like other teams, is a national championship,'' Pohlen said. ''We'll keep working on it. I was confident in last year's team, too. This year, we just have a great team overall.''
Pohlen put it quite simply.
''We're going to have to beat everybody,'' she said.
When Pedersen and Pohlen were freshmen, do-everything guard Candice Wiggins carried the Cardinal back to the Final Four at long last after a 10-year absence. When Wiggins departed, she left the reins to VanDerveer's latest group of stars at Stanford.
Now, this program expects to reach the Final Four every season.
While VanDerveer joined the elite 800-win club back on Dec. 22 with a victory at San Francisco, a team coached by former Stanford great Jennifer Azzi, she has always been all about her players and preparing them to have success at the right time.
Is this finally the year?
''I love the similarities between the '90 and '92 teams with this team, and I'd love that to continue,'' VanDerveer said. ''Honestly it's hard for me to believe this is really happening. This year has gone by so quickly. As a team, we know we can only play six more games together.''