Stanford women’s basketball (28-3, 16-0 Pac-12) will begin its quest for a second straight national title when it hosts Montana State (22-12, 14-6 Big Sky) on Friday at 7 p.m. PT in Maples. The Daily’s sports staff discuss whether the team will win another national championship and give their predictions about how the NCAA tournament will end for the Cardinal.
Jibriel Taha: I have Stanford repeating as national champions. This team is incredibly deep and can beat teams in so many ways. You could have a dominant performance from sophomore forward Cameron Brink, a stellar three-point shooting day from the team, junior guard Haley Jones is clutch down the stretch to lead the Cardinal to victory, or all of those things at once. And who can forget about Stanford’s lights-out defense? The Cardinal enter the tournament riding a 20-game win streak and should roll through the opening weekend at Maples. A potential Elite Eight matchup with Texas, who beat the Cardinal early in the year, is a game to circle, but I am confident the Cardinal will avenge that loss in which they shot 4-for-27 from deep and turned the ball over 20 times. Stanford would likely face either North Carolina State or Connecticut in the Final Four, both of which are tough matchups, and Connecticut could prove particularly daunting if they manage to continue on a roll with their newfound health. I expect to see Stanford and South Carolina in the final, and while I see this as a toss-up, the Cardinal should feel confident after holding an 18-point lead on the road against the Gamecocks earlier this year. Stanford is a much better team now than they were back in December.
Noah Maltzman: I predict and hope that the Cardinal will win another national championship. Like Jibriel said, Stanford has an incredibly deep roster that is anchored by a National Player of the Year finalist in Jones and a National Defensive Player of the Year finalist in Brink. In addition, the Cardinal are coming off a 20 game win-streak and have all the momentum for the Spokane region. The first big worry comes in Minneapolis (should they make it, I would hate to jinx that) where Stanford will most likely face either one-seed NC State or two-seed UConn in the Final Four. I think this will be a Stanford versus UConn game, however, I really do not want that. Sophomore guard Paige Bueckers is impressive, and while I am optimistic that our roster can handle the UConn team, it is truly a scary premise. After that, Stanford would most likely face South Carolina. The Cardinal were already bested by these aviary foes, but I am optimistic. In addition to it being the game with the highest stakes, Stanford wants revenge for their loss. It will be a tough road, but I’m confident head coach Tara Vanderveer and her squad can pull it off, bringing another championship to Palo Alto.
Drew Silva: Similarly to Jibriel and Noah, I have the Cardinal repeating as national champions. Stanford’s road to Minneapolis will most likely go through a Texas team that defeated them earlier in the season, but as Jibriel mentioned, this will be a very winnable game for Stanford, which has improved drastically since their early season loss. Moving on to the Final Four, I would expect a matchup with the UConn Huskies. I could see Jones and Bueckers trading clutch buckets down the stretch, but I expect Stanford to come out on top and move on to the national championship game. Although South Carolina is the tournament’s first overall seed, I would not say that Stanford should necessarily expect to face them in the national championship game, assuming the Cardinal get that far. I could see the Gamecocks being upset in the Elite Eight by Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes. However, even if Stanford does meet South Carolina, I am confident that Brink will be able to contain Aliyah Boston and that the Cardinal will prevail.
Gavin McDonell: I hate to be the contrarian predicting Stanford to lose as I did for Big Game. However, I don’t foresee the Cardinal repeating as national champions this year. I believe Stanford won’t have much trouble getting through the Spokane region, even with a potential Elite Eight matchup against No. 2 Texas looming. However, I see the Cardinal’s real test — and the game of the tournament — coming in the Final Four against UConn. As has been previously discussed, the return of Bueckers is a scary sight, and the Huskies are fresh off a Big East Tournament title. In that tournament, they won the championship game over Villanova by a cool 30 points. The Cardinal will need to play stellar defense, and Brink will have to stay out of foul trouble for the Cardinal to advance. If the Cardinal do these things and manage to get past the Huskies, then I would bet on them to win it all. The championship game would likely be against No. 1 overall seed South Carolina. Stanford split its previous two games against the Gamecocks, narrowly edging past them in the Final Four last year and blowing an 18-point lead to them in the regular season this year. If the two teams meet for a third time, the matchup will be close, but Stanford will emerge as national champions.
Ells Boone: Unlike Gavin, I think it will be another trophy-laden season for Stanford. The Cardinal are simply too talented for the teams they will face in the early rounds, and a projected Sweet Sixteen matchup against Maryland would be a rematch of Stanford’s 18-point win over the Terrapins earlier this season. Texas would be a test in the Elite Eight, but I would never bet on Tara VanDerveer to lose to the same team twice in one season. The Final Four will be the true test for this team, and while UConn is dangerous, they have not had the benefit of playing the season fully healthy, so the Cardinal should have much better chemistry than their east coast counterpart. Finally, a potential National Championship game against South Carolina would provide a chance for the team to avenge their early season loss to the Gamecocks. That was a game that Stanford should have won, and again, never bet on Tara to lose to the same team twice in one season. The Cardinal have so many options to turn to on the offensive side of the ball, and three players that can turn in a “Most Outstanding Player” performance on any given night in Jones, Brink and Lexie Hull.
Zach Zafran: When Stanford is the defending national champions and returned all but one player this season, it would be common sense to pick them to repeat. Having watched this team throughout the entire season, I’ve grown inclined to predict them to win every game they play — when it happens 20 times in a row, there’s no other result to expect. So while I, along with everyone else except Gavin, have them repeating as national champions, it’s not without hesitation. The team’s Pac-12 regular season concluded with three single-digit victories, one of which saw the Cardinal trailing with a minute to go versus a Washington team that was dead-last in the Pac-12. Although they returned to dominant form in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Cardinal showed their capacity to play down to an opponent’s level, which is a recipe for an upset, particularly in March. Beyond that, just to get to the title game, Stanford will have to face off against teams that will present serious issues. My main worry is a potential Elite Eight matchup with Texas, which is the only team not named Stanford to come into Maples Pavilion and walk away victorious this season. Texas is peaking at the right time, coming off of two upset wins over Iowa State and Baylor to win the Big 12 Tournament. If the Cardinal can beat the Longhorns, they’ll likely face a UConn team that has won seven of its last eight games by 30+ points and just got back last season’s National Player of the Year, Bueckers, who was out for 19 games due to a knee injury. Needless to say, the road won’t be easy for Stanford. But, this team’s depth is something special, and the sheer amount of talent they possess can’t be ignored. I predict Stanford will prevail in the title game, but unlike everyone else’s prediction of South Carolina, I think it will be Baylor on the losing end of that one.