STANFORD, Calif. – Tara VanDerveer loved the atmosphere in jam-packed Maples Pavilion: two Northern California teams in the NCAA tournament and all kinds of story lines for a first-round matchup that very well could have been a rollover.
VanDerveer wouldn’t have chosen to open against neighbor UC Davis and retiring coach Sandy Simpson, whom she counts as a friend.
Turns out those NCAA first-timers gave VanDerveer’s seasoned Stanford bunch a nice early test – for a half, anyway.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds and the top-seeded Cardinal took their initial step toward a fourth straight trip to the Final Four by beating UC Davis 86-59 in the first round Saturday.
Kayla Pedersen added 11 points and seven assists, Jeanette Pohlen had 11 points and eight assists as the Cardinal (30-2) ran their school-record winning streak at home to 62 games at Maples, where an impressive contingent of Aggies fans was among the crowd of 6,515 after making the two-hour drive.
Paige Mintun scored 17 points and Heidi Heintz (Central Valley) 11 in their final collegiate games to lead UC Davis (24-9), which sent its 14th-year coach out in style.
“It’s been a long stretch and a fun run for us,” Heintz said. “We’re all pretty emotional right now. It was an honor to play for Coach.”
Stanford will play Monday night against ninth-seeded St. John’s (22-10), a 55-50 winner over No. 8 Texas Tech in Saturday’s first game. Pedersen, Pac-10 Player of the Year Pohlen and the other seniors will try to wrap up a perfect record on their home floor over their four-year careers.
“This is huge for us,” VanDerveer said.
“That’s our main goal,” guard Lindy La Rocque said. “I want it just as bad because they deserve it. It’s an enormous accomplishment for our seniors.”
That streak would be plenty special. Yet this is a group that will settle for nothing less than capturing that elusive national title for a program that hasn’t won it all since 1992.
It took the Cardinal until well into the first half to get comfortable on offense against UC Davis’ unconventional zone defense, which pressures on the perimeter in an effort to disrupt outside shooters and make it tough to pass inside. But once Stanford started hitting from long range, it quickly became a long day for UC Davis.