STANFORD, Calif. (AP) – That missed chance in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals cost Tara VanDerveer’s Stanford team a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
And a short flight – and that’s what hurts most for VanDerveer considering fewer Cardinal fans will make the Midwest trek.
Sixth-ranked Stanford (29-3) earned a No. 2 seed and will face 15th-seeded South Dakota (19-13) in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday – rather than staying close in its own time zone and fly to either Seattle or Los Angeles, with VanDerveer saying, "the people who are punished the most by this are our fans."
South Carolina captured the top seed in the regional. Still, Stanford had the NCAA’s third-highest RPI rating based on strength of schedule and results.
"I think it will be good for our team. The 1 seed didn’t help us last year," VanDerveer said. "The seeding doesn’t really matter to me honestly. We’ve got to play well. If this is a slap in the face that you won the Pac-12 but you didn’t win the tournament … let it be a chip on people’s shoulder. I think it can all be good for us."
Stanford – which enters the tournament with a second seed for the first time since 2009 – could face host school and seventh seed Iowa State in the second round, with a chance for Stanford to return to its home floor at Maples Pavilion in the regional from March 30-April 1.
The Cardinal lost 72-68 to USC in the conference tournament semifinals, the first time the program hadn’t reached the championship game in the event’s 13-year history.
"If things continue to go according to plan, it will be us on our home court the next round. That’s how the tournament works," senior Chiney Ogwumike said. "Losses are definitely a slap in the face. You re-evaluate yourself. Losing in the Pac-12 tournament has really taught us a lot. It made things more real."
VanDerveer insists that rare early exit inspired an impressive week of practice and newfound focus.
"We’ve not been in this situation before and I think our kids really took it to heart," the Hall of Fame coach said. "We’ve won a lot, a loss gets our team’s attention, it gets our coaches’ attention. We didn’t just brush it off, we have to fix things."
Ogwumike prepares for her final March run, a year after the Cardinal fell short of a sixth straight Final Four. She wants to make it special before she’s through, and the No. 2 seed is fine with her.
"As an athlete you want as much fuel (added) to the fire," she said.
A Stanford team with something to prove may not be the ideal opponent for the Coyotes in their first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
"Stanford is extremely experienced and they have played a ton of tournament games," coach Amy Williams said in a statement Monday. "They are going to be a tough foe. We understand that. But we are excited to game plan …. and to have this opportunity to go and dance."
South Dakota, which made the jump to Division I in 2008-2009, topped Denver 82-71 on March 11 to capture its first Summit League crown after knocking in-state nemesis South Dakota State off its five-year throne a day earlier in the semifinals.
In 2013, the Coyotes advanced to the Summit League championship game but lost to the Jackrabbits 56-53. South Dakota received a bid to the Women’s Basketball Invitational, and as a sixth seed knocked off third-seeded Utah and No. 2 seed Lamar before losing in the semifinals to McNeese State.
The Coyotes will again look to Nicole Seekamp to lead the way after she averaged 22.0 points and shot 53.7 percent in the Women’s Basketball Invitational last season.
The junior guard tops South Dakota with 15.3 points, 3.9 assists and 1.9 steals per game this season while also averaging 4.0 rebounds.