Women’s basketball: Schedule preview

Nov. 2, 2017, 2:18 a.m.

There will be no easy games against D-III opponents for Stanford women’s basketball. No time for the young nucleus of this team to adjust to the college game against inferior opponents. Not even a chance to get some wins under their belts before facing the big dogs later in non-conference play. No, the Cardinal are going to be put to the test early and often throughout their non-conference schedule, something that coaches and players think will be beneficial down the road.

Two early tests against Connecticut and Ohio State, as well as a later battle with Baylor, give Stanford a total of three non-conference games against preseason top-10 teams. Couple this with another grueling conference schedule in the perennially strong Pac-12, which may be the best conference in the country, and the Cardinal have their work cut out for them this season. The bright side? If they can escape this gauntlet of tough games, there will be nothing they haven’t faced as they look to return to the Final Four. Here are some key games to pay attention to:

Stanford at Ohio State: Nov. 10

Head coach Tara VanDerveer returns to Columbus, where she coached from 1980 through 1985. This may be one of the strongest Ohio State teams in recent memory, as it enters the season ranked eighth in the Coaches’ Poll. The Buckeyes are led by senior guard Kelsey Mitchell, who will challenge the Cardinal’s young guards with her ability to drive and score and to shoot from the perimeter. The added emotion of VanDerveer’s return, though, should give the Cardinal an extra spark.

Stanford vs. Connecticut (in Columbus): Nov. 12

There’s nothing quite like a tilt against the best team in the country to see how good a team truly is. Stanford will get this opportunity when they face the Huskies in a neutral site game. Anyone who follows college basketball knows how dominant Geno Auriemma’s teams have been over the past decade. This year should be no different. The Huskies are going to be angry this season after losing to Mississippi State in the Final Four last season to end their streak of four consecutive national championships and Stanford will be their first real test of the season. Stanford can compete with anyone in the country, but this UConn game will be its toughest test. Many teams could be intimidated by such a daunting early season stretch, but the Cardinal players seem to be embracing it.

“I think having two hard opponents is good for us in the beginning, because we don’t get to March for three or four months, so I think it’s good to have it so we’re prepared down the road,” sophomore guard Anna Wilson said.

For VanDerveer, the early trip to Columbus may prepare the Cardinal for a return to Ohio in late March.

“I think it will be great for us to play in Columbus against Ohio State – that’s where the Final Four is, and we want to go to the Final Four,” VanDerveer said. “Let’s get there and learn – it’s real early, I think it’s a win-win.”

Stanford at Baylor: Dec. 3

With all the hype about the first two games of the season, this nonconference road battle in Waco may be getting overlooked. The Bears, a perennial contender, start the season ranked third in the Coaches’ Poll. Led by 6-foot-7 junior center Kalani Brown, the Bears are bigger than the Cardinal, so this game will be a challenge for the Stanford frontcourt. They will need their guards to shoot well from the outside to have a chance to win.

Stanford vs. UCLA: Dec. 29

UCLA seems to be the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12, led by Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. VanDerveer, while acknowledging the Bruins’ strength, is wary of any sort of preseason hype.

“They have a great team, a great program, but we’re not really thinking about that right now. We want to do really well,” VanDerveer said. “They were picked last year to be first and we won it, so we want to win again.”

This battle between the Pac-12’s elite should be an intense, high-scoring affair. If the Cardinal can get an early conference win, it will put them in the driver’s seat as they dive into conference play.

Stanford at Oregon State: Feb. 2

No road games in conference are sure things, especially not against the Beavers, who start the season ranked 17th in the Coaches’ Poll and are coming off a couple of seasons where they competed for Pac-12 titles. The fact that a trip to Corvallis is a big game for the Cardinal signals how competitive the Pac-12 conference has become.

“The Pac-12 conference was the No.1 RPI conference last year and we know it’s going to be challenging this year so we have a lot of respect for all the opponents in our league, and we are just going to work really hard to be ready come conference play,” assistant coach Kate Paye said.

VanDerveer and her staff will prepare their team for all challenging road games, but anything can happen away from the Farm.

Stanford at Cal, Stanford at Washington, Stanford at Washington State: Feb. 17, Feb. 23, Feb. 25

This brutal three-game road trip ends the Cardinal’s regular season, and can define their seeding in both their conference tournament and the NCAA tournament. All three of their opponents are Pac-12 contenders, and the Washington schools have especially tough venues to get a victory in. The Cardinal should enter this final stretch as one of the top teams in the conference, but a few slip ups and they could fall out of the top of the conference standings, and perhaps out of contention for a first- or second-seed in the NCAA tournament.

 

Contact Gregory Block at gblock ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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