Zimmerman: A must-win March for women’s basketball

March 7, 2012, 1:40 a.m.

There’s home-court advantage, and then there’s what the 2012 class of Stanford women’s basketball accomplished in its four years on the Farm.


Before we laud our departing players for what has been one of the most dominant runs by a group of seniors in the history of the sport, it’s important to put Stanford’s accolades in context. The fact that this information isn’t widely known speaks volumes to the distance women’s sports still needs to travel, but it doesn’t downplay just how unbelievably remarkable this team has been under head coach Tara VanDerveer.


With a road win over California this past weekend, Stanford captured the inaugural Pac-12 championship, a fitting reward for the team that has won the past 12 conference titles. In fact, the last loss to a league opponent took place Jan. 18, 2009, when the Golden Bears bested the Cardinal in Berkeley. The squad hasn’t lost to its most hated rival in the eight meetings since. On a larger scale, Stanford has reached the NCAA tournament every year since 1988 and has made the Final Four 10 times since 1990.


It’s safe to say that things could be worse.


Now back to the elder stateswomen. In their 64 games in Maples Pavilion since arriving on campus in the fall of 2008, the Stanford seniors have won 64 times. For those sabermetricians at home, that is a grand total of zero losses. Those 64 contests are part of a 79-game home wining streak that dates all the way back to the 2007-08 season. In the past four seasons, the seniors have notched a ridiculous regular-season record of 108-8, an astounding mark by any measure.


With three consecutive Final Four appearances and more individual awards than can fit into any respectably sized trophy case, Stanford is once again primed to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and make a compelling run at a national title, the only achievement missing from an otherwise flawless four years in Palo Alto.


Although basketball is traditionally a male-dominated sport, this group of seniors has kept Maples from deteriorating into a lifeless venue. The women regularly attract more fans than their male counterparts, and although the faces in the crowd may be a bit more wrinkled, you’d be hard pressed to find more knowledgeable and passionate fans in the Bay Area. For all the attention (deservedly) devoted to the success of Cardinal football, women’s basketball has quietly remained the premium model of athletic consistency, more so than any other contributor to the oft-mentioned 17 consecutive Directors’ Cups.


Yet despite all their success, the fact of the matter is that the absence of a competitive men’s team has demoted basketball into the role of second fiddle on this campus. While this is a ludicrous thought for any pre-Harbaugh student, it’s something that’s accepted as universal truth by all others. Has the recent lack of hoops awareness cast an all-too-unfair shadow over the illustrious careers of some of the school’s best athletes? You tell me how many other 800-game winners have failed to make national headlines.


But this year can be different. It has to be. Four straight agonizing trips to the Final Four must amount to more than just free T-shirts and unrelenting disappointment. Cardinal fans can’t bear another Fiesta Bowl moment, where a victory sure to resonate throughout the country was ripped out of our hands. Stanford women’s basketball can’t be relegated back to the shadows, not when surrounded by a fan base begging for an injection of elation.


Maybe it’s inappropriate to demand a title this year. After all, it’s impossible to knock a coach with a quarter-century of service under her belt and a team that has made a permanent home atop the AP standings. Plus, even if the Card can’t get it done this year, we know that any and all vacancies will be filled with the best talent that legacy can find.


Good luck telling that to the women who will be playing for the final time in their careers.


It has been 20 years since the program won a national championship. In that magical year of 1992, the current Stanford seniors weren’t yet old enough to hold a basketball. They are now, and they’ve been put in a position to leave a lasting mark on the sport.


Will the fourth time finally be the charm?



More than anything, Zach Zimmerman never wants to see Geno Auriemma smile again. Share your opinions of the UConn coach at zachz “at” stanford.edu or tweet him @Zach_Zimmerman

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