Exactly one month after the Stanford women’s basketball team appeared to fall off the edge of basketball planet, the Cardinal vaulted back into relevance.
And Tara VanDerveer, with apologies to Bill Walsh and Bob Ladoceur, reminded us she is the greatest coach in Bay Area sports history.
Stanford won the Pac-12 tournament — for the 13th time in the event’s 18-year history — pulling off a 64-57 stunner Sunday over regular-season champion Oregon.
The same Oregon team that on Feb. 10 drubbed the Cardinal 88-48 at Maples Pavilion, the worst defeat of VanDerveer’s 33-year Stanford career.
In that one, Oregon shot 57 percent, had a 41-26 rebounding edge and pounded the ball inside to Ruthy Hebard, who dominated with 18 points and eight rebounds. The Ducks won at Maples for the first time since 1987.
Was a changing of the guard now complete in the Pac-12, where Stanford had ruled for decades? Oregon won the conference title a year ago while the Cardinal lost 11 games for the first time in 17 years.
How did the team respond after the defeat?
“When you take a loss like that, you’re forced to look at the mistakes you make,” star senior Alanna Smith said. “You’re forced to. Sometimes when you win and you make mistakes, you’re not looking at those. But when you take a loss like that you learn from it better.”
Obviously, they did. VanDerveer and her players identified what worked against the Ducks and associate head coach Kate Paye devised a game plan to maximize their advantages.
Stanford used a tag-team approach on Hebard, with Smith and center Maya Dodson taking turns. Oregon coach Kelly Graves said the Cardinal defused the pick-and-roll game that All-American point guard Sabrina Ionescu executes.
The Cardinal held the Ducks to 34-percent shooting, outrebounded them 41-35 and held them to a season-low point total.
“We won with defense,” VanDerveer said.
Yes, but it starts with VanDerveer, as it always does. Now the owner of 1,064 career victories (912 of them at Stanford), she is the thread that weaves through everything the Cardinal accomplishes.
Stanford (28-4) will take a nine-game win streak into the NCAA tournament it hasn’t missed since VanDerveer’s third season in 1988.
The Cardinal won’t be the favorite to win the NCAA title, but over the past 11 seasons has reached the final twice and the Final Four five other times. Stanford also advanced to one Elite Eight and three Sweet 16s.
After what just happened in the span of one month, it’s foolish to underestimate this team. Or its coach.
Bears get new life: Heading into their Pac-12 tournament opener against Colorado on Wednesday, Cal sophomore Justice Sueing said he and his teammates are feeding off the momentum of their three-game win streak.
On the heels of a program-worst 16-game losing skid, Sueing said, “Right now, it’s probably as fun as it’s been all season.”
And while many fans have grumbled about the job done by Wyking Jones, Sueing said the Bears’ second-year coach should get some credit for maintaining team unity the team through all the losing.
“Coach has done a great job of keeping us together so that we all know we’re a family,” said Sueing, the Bears’ leading scorer and rebounder. “That’s the biggest factor in us sticking together.”
Sueing said the players told themselves, “We’re all that we’ve got. Everyone at practice is always motivating one another. Even off the court, nothing changes. We’re always having fun.”
Jones, with a five-year contract that pays him $1 million annually, is 16-46, including 5-31 in Pac-12 regular-season games. Athletic director Jim Knowlton has said he will evaluate Jones’ performance after the season.
The Bears (8-22) ended their 16-game slide with an upset of conference champion Washington two weeks ago, then defeated Washington State and Stanford to close the schedule.
Sueing said Jones has never addressed his job status with the players. When asked if the Bears want their coach back next season, he said, “Of course.”