Some luck, huh? Stanford gets back to the NCAA women’s Final Four after a two-year drought and draws topranked and undefeated Connecticut in a semifinal Saturday.
The Huskies, who defeated Virginia 67-63 in Saturday’s East Regional Final, can look pretty intimidating, led by 6-foot-7 center Kara Wolters, 6-4 All-America senior forward Rebecca Lobo and speedy playmaking junior point guard Jennifer Rizzotti.
But Stanford isn’t sending up a white flag. Quite the contrary. Stanford, coming off a confidence-affirming 69-58 West Regional final victory over Purdue, can’t wait to get another crack at Connecticut. Georgia and Tennessee will play the first semifinal at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Stanford and UConn follow.
Those games, along with the national championship game Sunday, will be televised live by CBS.
“We have played them before, so it’s to your advantage when you’ve played the competition,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose teams have knocked off UConn twice in the past two seasons.
In February 1993, the Cardinal played a Friday game at UCLA, took an all-night flight across the country and hit the floor at Connecticut’s Gampel Pavilion for a 1 p.m. game on Sunday. With Lobo on the floor, Stanford won, 68-54.
In December 1993, Stanford played thenfourth-ranked UConn armed with Wolters, Lobo and Rizzotti - at home. The Cardinal won 94-75.
What’s more, VanDerveer knows Wolters and her tendencies well. Extremely well. After all, she taught the athletic center plenty of her moves last summer, when VanDerveer was coach of the 1994 U.S. National “A” team at the world championships in Sydney, Australia, and the Goodwill Games team that played in St. Petersburg, Russia. Wolters was one of her players.
“I hope she doesn’t remember some of the stuff we worked on,” VanDerveer deadpanned.
Self-assurance isn’t something Stanford will have to worry about this week.
“Obviously, they’ve had a great year. They’re undefeated and No. 1 in the country,” VanDerveer said. “So that means we’ll have to be ready.”
But a look at Connecticut’s clawfrom-behind win over Virginia proved something, VanDerveer said. The Huskies trailed by seven points at halftime - the first time they had been behind in a half this season. Considering that the Huskies had won their previous games by an average of 35 points, the letdown was significant.
“I think that Virginia’s comeback showed that Connecticut is vulnerable,” VanDerveer said. “We just need to come out ready.”
Everyone has raved about Stanford’s incredible depth, which proved a huge factor in the Purdue win. Although the Boilermakers fought back to cut the lead to four points in the final 3 minutes, “A lot of their mistakes, a lot of their missed shots, came at the end of the game, in the last 5 minutes,” VanDerveer said.
The fact that the semifinals and final are played less than a full day apart, VanDerveer says, could hurt teams with lesser depth.
“I think the way the national championship is set up, with the two games back to back, and with the hour of sleep that you lose over the national championship weekend (because of the return to daylight savings time), we’re in a great position because of our depth,” she said.
And when VanDerveer looks ahead to the national title game, she likes that the other semifinal pits two bitter Southeastern Conference rivals, Georgia and Tennessee.
“They’ll beat each other up,” she said with a laugh.