STANFORD — Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer didn’t have to worry about a spot in the NCAA tournament bracket considering the No. 6-ranked Cardinal (28-5) had earned the Pac-12’s automatic bid as its tournament champion.
But she was still left in suspense during Monday’s broadcast on ESPN, with Stanford announced as the last matchup in the hour-long selection special.
“If we didn’t know we were going, I would have been really nervous,” VanDerveer said.
“I was really excited just to see Stanford go across that billboard,” senior Erica “Bird” McCall said. “It was also really nerve-wracking, because as Tara said, we were the last team to be announced.”
It’s the 30th consecutive appearance for Stanford, which is seeded second in the Lexington Region and must travel to Manhattan, Kansas, to play No. 15 seed New Mexico State (24-6) on Saturday. This is the first meeting between these two programs, with the Aggies riding a 17-game winning streak after claiming their third consecutive WAC tournament title.
“They played Bird’s dad’s team,” said VanDerveer, noting that New Mexico State played twice against Cal State Bakersfield, where McCall’s father is the women’s basketball coach. “So we’ve got a little family scouting going on.”
A scheduling conflict with the Pac-12 women’s gymnastics championships, which take place this weekend in Maples Pavilion, precluded the Cardinal from staying home for the first two rounds.
“We would like to host just because this is dead week and finals week,” VanDerveer said. “But our team has played so well on the road. And we knew we were going on the road all year. We’ve known it for two years. So we’re ready for it and we’re really excited about the opportunity.”
It will be almost two weeks since Stanford last played a game, with the players enjoying a couple of days after the 48-43 victory against Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament championship on March 5. But it wasn’t long before the team was back on the practice court.
“We got people rested up and then we did focus a lot on our offense,” VanDerveer said. “Moving the ball, setting better screens, making some tweaks with what we’re doing and just keeping everyone fresh. I’m really thankful that right now we have everyone healthy and everyone’s excited. What we want to do is we want to keep growing as a team.”
“Most definitely we’re going to be preparing,” senior Briana Roberson said. “But we do get a little antsy, just wanting to be on the floor and play.”
The foundation of the Cardinal is its three seniors, with McCall, Roberson and Karlie Samuelson only freshmen the last time Stanford reached the Final Four.
“This is a team that is very close,” VanDerveer said. “They play hard with and for each other. They’re a very unselfish team and every day I feel like our leadership and our commitment by these three, I’m going to miss them a lot. So we just want to keep it going. We want to play six games, obviously you would like to win six games, but each game winner gets to stay on the court. And they like playing with each other, I like coaching them, so let’s keep it going.”