The faces haven’t changed but the teams have.
Though Stanford and Gonzaga played four months ago, the teams that square off Monday night for a berth in the Final Four of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament bear little resemblance to the teams that put on a great show Nov. 21.
At least that’s what the top-seeded Cardinal (32-2) and the 11th-seeded Bulldogs (31-4) were saying on the eve of Monday night’s Elite Eight game at the Arena that will send one team to Indianapolis next weekend.
Stanford held on down the stretch to win the early-season encounter 84-78 before 6,000 fans at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“We might not have had our best game,” Stanford point guard Jeanette Pohlen said. “We didn’t have a set rotation yet. I think we were still finding out who we were, but that can even maybe be said about them as well.
“It was early in the season and teams can really improve. They definitely improved and they have shown that by getting to this game.”
Pohlen hit a couple of clutch 3-pointers down the stretch to save the day and offset Gonzaga point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who had a sensational game with 24 points, 10 assists and just one turnover.
“We a lot different team than we were,” Vandersloot said. “We lost some big players last year so we had players that had to step into new roles that they weren’t really used to at that point.
“Players really have stepped into their role and know exactly what they need to help this team be successful.”
What that game did is get Stanford’s attention even before the Bulldogs got to stay home for this magical NCAA run.
“We are definitely aware of what they are capable of,” Cardinal sophomore forward Sarah Boothe said. “Even though they are the 11th seed, they are not playing at that level.”
More than 11,500 tickets have been sold and very few will be cheering for the Cardinal to run their winning streak to 27 games.
“We’re going to try to make it a non-factor,” Stanford 6-foot-4 senior Kayla Pedersen said. “That’s what makes it fun. When everybody’s kind of rooting against you, I think that’s where we thrive.”
Gonzaga junior Katelan Redmon said the Cardinal’s size is a bigger factor than the size of the partisan crowd.
“They bring a lot of size and they’re incredible basketball players,” she said. “They’ve had a lot of success. They’re pushed to win championships and they’ve all had success with that. They’re riding high, too, just like we are.
“Stanford is used to playing in environments like this,” she added. “For us to play well, I think the crowd will definitely help us but I don’t think that is going to affect them.”
The Bulldogs shot only 35 percent in the first game but matched Stanford with 49 rebounds.
“We had some good looks, but those big bodies come at you pretty quick and they get their hands up,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “But I think we can take some good things from that. We rebounded even with them … but we had 21 offensive rebounds.”
Bulldogs forward Kelly Bowen said: “It was close and it was physical. We were so close, yet so far. We had every opportunity but it was the start of the year and everybody was just finding their feet. I don’t think they played their best game but don’t think we played ours, either.”
Gonzaga has won 21 straight games to become the lowest seeded team to reach a regional semifinal, while Stanford is trying to reach its 10th Final Four.
“We’re not going in thinking they’re any worse than us, we’re respecting them,” Pohlen said. “We know what they can do. … We know how great they can be.
“Even though they’re an 11-seed, they’re not playing like they’re an 11-seed. They have proven that so we’re not taking them lightly at all.”
In fact, considering the location, Gonzaga could be favored.
“We don’t focus on what people think about whether we’re the underdog or the favorite to win,” Stanford junior Nnemkadi Ogwumike said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t say that we’re even the favorite to win. We’re playing in Spokane, Gonzaga’s here, they’re a wonderful team. … I think Coach put it best, people are going to give us their best game no matter what.”