Stanford ready to make run at coveted NCAA title
From the moment last season ended in disappointment, Kayla
Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen made it clear their senior seasons at
Stanford would be incomplete without an NCAA championship.
They reiterated it Wednesday: Another near miss at a national
title won’t do for this star tandem in their final shot at winning
The top-seeded Cardinal (33-2) head off to their fourth straight
Final Four on Thursday riding a 27-game winning streak and gearing
up for an unexpected semifinal matchup Sunday in Indianapolis with
No. 2 seed Texas A&M after its upset of Baylor.
”It’s incredible to make it to four straight Final Fours, but
at the same time we’re not satisfied with that,” Pedersen said.
”I think that determination, that focus that we’re going to bring
this year and that experience that we’ve lost a bunch of times in
the Final Four, is really going to motivate us for one more
Stanford hasn’t brought home the title trophy since 1992 despite
reaching the NCAA final twice in the program’s past three trips to
the Final Four. The Cardinal lost the title to Tennessee in 2008
and to Connecticut last year.
Everybody involved insists it’s time to finally get over the
hump, which likely will mean getting through two-time defending
champion UConn for a second time this season.
”Is this team better prepared? Do I have a sense of it? No,”
coach Tara VanDerveer said of the Cardinal’s chances.
Pohlen, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, and Pedersen already have
done so much to leave their legacy, like that school-record 63-game
home winning streak at Maples Pavilion. They never lost on their
home floor for their careers – a mark no other Stanford senior
class has accomplished.
It was Pohlen’s coast-to-coast drive for the winning layup
against Xavier during last season’s special run that sent Stanford
back to the Final Four.
Now, it’s their final try on the biggest stage.
”For Kayla and I and the other seniors, we’re very focused
coming into this Final Four,” Pohlen said. ”It’s tough making it
that far and not coming away with the national championship. I
think it’s motivating us even more and making us even more excited
because we do know this is our last chance at it. We’ve gone this
far. We’re just going to give it all we have.”
Stanford ended the Huskies’ record 90-game winning streak with a
thrilling 71-59 victory at Maples Pavilion back on Dec. 30, holding
UConn star Maya Moore to 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting. That after
UConn rallied from a 20-12 halftime deficit against Stanford to win
the national title last April – a result that still stings around
Pedersen said after that demoralizing defeat that she didn’t
want Stanford to be remembered as the team that made it to the last
game and never won.
”As a freshman, sitting there with the seniors and hearing them
declare their passion, to hear they feel so strongly, you want to
help them end their senior year right,” said Pac-10 Freshman of
the Year Chiney Ogwumike.
VanDerveer, trying to win her third national title in 25 years
at Stanford, said the loss inspired her to work even harder than
she already does. She took less time off than usual right after
last season ended.
”I would love that for our seniors. I would love that for our
team,” she said about winning a championship at last. ”There was
one team once, and that was 1990 when we went, and they didn’t cut
down the net at the regional because they wanted the Final Four
net. We want the Final Four net. I look at all the great teams that
aren’t at the Final Four. I’m proud of our team and I’m excited for
our team. We’re going to enjoy the whole process. I don’t want to
be a coach who is all about the end. I want to enjoy the process
and I want our team to enjoy the process.”
Starting in January, VanDerveer envisioned a matchup with Baylor
and 6-foot-8 star Brittney Griner deep in the NCAA tournament, and
she started planning for that even then. Assistant Kate Paye
recruited a band member named Andrew – ”I call him Brittney. I
forgot his name,” VanDerveer said – to play as Griner in
Now, Stanford instead must prepare to face an athletic, up-tempo
Texas A&M team (31-5) that VanDerveer compares to scrappy
Arizona State in the Pac-10. These programs have played just once
before, and it was 29 years ago even before VanDerveer arrived on
The Farm. She was coaching at Ohio State then.
And Aggies versatile All-American Danielle Adams, VanDerveer
compares her to Charles Barkley.
VanDerveer knows the 18 turnovers her team committed in its
83-60 victory over Gonzaga in the Spokane Regional final Monday
night won’t cut it in the Cardinal’s next one.
”We might as well just forget about winning a national
championship if you can’t take care of the ball against Texas
A&M,” VanDerveer said. ”If you don’t understand the value of
the ball, you might as well just go down there and see the (Indy
500) racetrack and get on the bus and come back. Because that is
priority No. 1.”