Slow starts and fast finishes have been the pattern for the Stanford Cardinal women’s basketball team in the postseason.
In Stanford’s Sweet 16-qualifying win Monday, Stanford built a 38-30 halftime lead before smothering St. John’s 37-19 in the second half.
In a 64-55 victory over UCLA in the Pac-10 Conference tournament final, Stanford trailed 30-21 at halftime before pulling away 43-25 in the final 20 minutes.
It’s a trend Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer wants to end beginning Saturday night when the top-seeded and No. 2-ranked Cardinal (31-2) meet the fifth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (28-8) at the Spokane Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 8:30 (ESPN2).
“It’s going to be really important for us to come out and get right out of the gate fast, not have a lot of turnovers, not give them second and third shots,” VanDerveer said. “We need to really be ready to play. I can’t really explain why in the last games we haven’t been. Sometimes I just feel like our team just doesn’t want to get in foul trouble early. We’re not as aggressive as we need to be in the beginning of the game as what I think it’s going to take. So hopefully we’ll come out and be aggressive without being overly aggressive.”
Stanford’s players are well aware of the pattern, too.
“More than anything I think we just need to come out and just be more aggressive,” Stanford senior Jeanette Pohlen said. “I mean we don’t want to foul obviously early, but we definitely need to get our hands more active. And maybe make more adjustments, maybe quicker. See kind of what they’re doing and giving us and read the defense maybe a little bit more.”
The game marks just the second time that the storied programs have faced off. Stanford, which snapped two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut’s winning streak at 90 in late December, won the first game back in 1995.
NC lost four straight to end the regular season. The Tar Heels fell to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final and earned an at-large berth.
“They have an experienced and a very successful coach in Sylvia Hatchell and then they have terrific players,” VanDerveer said. “They are extremely athletic and extremely talented. Their leading scorer, Italee Lucas, takes the ball to the basket. They really get out in transition well, they rebound really well and they have a lot of weapons. This is a really big challenge for our team.”
Stanford, which is seeking a fourth straight trip to the Final Four, has won 25 straight since suffering back-to-back losses to DePaul and Tennessee in mid-December.
North Carolina and Stanford average nearly the same amount of points, but the Cardinal get theirs by being efficient while the Tar Heels get theirs by getting more possessions than their opponents.
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell is looking forward to the challenge of knocking off Stanford.
“We know we have got a tough assignment,” Hatchell said. “They’re a great, great team. (They’re) big, can shoot (and) experienced. We’re hoping to give them a game and give them some competition and pull off an upset victory.”
For NC, combating Stanford’s size will be critical.
“We really haven’t played anybody that has the depth with height,” senior Jessica Breland said. “They’re really big.”