Sports

Women’s basketball begins NCAA Tournament on Friday

March 18, 2022, 8:36 a.m.

Stanford women’s basketball (28-3, 16-0 Pac-12) earned a berth in the women’s NCAA Tournament for the 34th consecutive season. The team was selected as one of the four No. 1 seeds for the second consecutive year and will kick off the Round of 64 against No. 16 seed Montana State (22-12, 14-6 Big Sky) at Maples at 7:00 p.m. PT on Friday. Coming off a national championship win last season, the Cardinal certainly have a target on their backs — but they also have the looks of a team that could repeat as champions. 

Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Cardinal in this year’s NCAA Tournament:

Montana State earned its third-ever bid to the tournament after winning the Big Sky tournament with a 75-64 victory over No. 4 seed Northern Arizona (17-14, 12-8 Big Sky). The Bobcats are currently a 32-point underdog, but the Cardinal are also the only team to have ever lost as the No. 1 seed to a 16-seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament. But history does not look like it will repeat itself this year — the Cardinal have not lost since Dec. 21 and have handily defeated nearly every opponent they have come across this season. 

Should the Cardinal take down Montana State, they will either face 8-seed Kansas (20-9, 11-7 Big 12) or 9-seed Georgia Tech (21-10, 11-7 ACC). The Jayhawks were one of the biggest surprises in women’s college basketball this season, finishing fifth in the Big 12 conference after being projected to finish in last place. Kansas has played several ranked teams in the Big 12 with mixed results, although it turned in wins over No. 4 seed Oklahoma (24-8, 12-6 Big 12) and No. 2 seed Texas (26-6, 13-5 Big-12) in the regular season.

Georgia Tech, despite facing adversity early in the season with an injury to guard Kierra Fletcher and a midseason transfer by guard Loyal McQueen — both of whom were starters last season — has powered through, earning a huge win over No. 2 seed UConn (25-5, 16-1 Big East) in early December. The team is not exactly peaking at the right time, however, having lost six of its last nine and bowing out in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. Neither Georgia Tech nor Kansas has done particularly well against ranked opponents this season, and neither are in the conversation of college basketball’s best this season. Barring anything unexpected, the Cardinal should be able to defeat either team to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, which will be held in Spokane, Wash.

In the Sweet Sixteen, the Cardinal could come across 4-seed Maryland (21-8, 13-4 Big 10), a team they handily defeated earlier this season when the Terps were ranked No. 2 in the nation. Maryland was missing several of its top players during that game, which could explain why Stanford was able to pick up its largest win over a top-two team in history in late November. 

Maryland won nine of 10 games to close out the season — including three games against ranked teams in the Big 10 — before losing in the first round of the Big 10 tournament. While the Terps have had a solid season despite injury and COVID-19 disruptions, all eight of their losses have come to teams currently ranked in the Associated Press’s (AP) top 14. Maryland has picked up several wins over ranked teams, though, showing that it can hang with the top teams in college basketball. 

The Elite Eight in the Spokane region is where things could get sticky for the Cardinal. Texas is the No. 2 seed in the region, and the Longhorns are one of only three teams that defeated the Cardinal this season. Granted, that game was in mid-November, and the Stanford squad now looks completely different. Poor shooting, particularly from behind the arc, and turnovers plagued the team in that game and allowed Texas to take the victory on the night the Cardinal celebrated their 2021 National Championship. In that matchup, Stanford missed its first 10 3-pointers and turned the ball over 20 times, compared to the Longhorns’ 10 turnovers. Despite all players seeing time on the floor, the bench only scored 10 total points, and the team as a whole shot just 35% from the floor. 

Texas has now won 11 straight, and its defense is just as scary as it was early in the season. The team has the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in Rori Harmon. In the Spokane region, Texas looks to pose the greatest challenge to Stanford’s bid for yet another Final Four appearance.

This year’s Final Four is likely to be populated with the usual suspects; No. 1 seeds South Carolina (29-2, 15-1 SEC), Louisville (25-4, 16-2 ACC) and North Carolina State (29-3, 17-1 ACC) are all in good position to make it to Minneapolis, although NC State could face some trouble with UConn in its region. 

The Huskies have lost three games to unranked opponents. Seven of nine rotational players have missed at least two games due to injury or illness, while reigning National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers missed 19 games with a knee injury. But with most players back, the Huskies were able to fly through the Big East tournament and seem to be clicking at just the right time. 

All four of these teams could easily give Stanford a run for its money in the Final Four or National Championship game should the Cardinal make it that far, but South Carolina is the one team Stanford definitely does not want to see. 

South Carolina was another team that put a blemish on the team’s resume this season and is the primary reason the Cardinal have never held the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll after spending much of last season there. Stanford led by as many as 18 points in the late-December game in Columbia, but Destanni Henderson was able to take control of the game in the second half, while the Cardinal’s shots stopped falling. The Gamecocks took advantage to complete the largest comeback in school history. 

South Carolina recently lost in the SEC Tournament title game after No. 6 seed Kentucky (19-11, 8-8 SEC) completed a 15-point comeback from late in the third quarter to take a 64-62 victory. The game showcased the team’s one weakness: defensive inconsistency. The Gamecocks’ offense is usually good enough to bail them out, however. If both Stanford and South Carolina play up to their potential, there very well may be a rematch of last year’s Final Four game.

Stanford by the numbers:

20 — the national ranking of sophomore forward Cameron Brink’s field goal percentage. She is shooting .562 from the field this season and averaging 13.6 points per game.

19 — number of games played by fifth-year guard Jordan Hamilton, the Cardinal’s first-ever graduate student transfer.

18 — the number of consecutive NCAA Tournament games the Cardinal have won at Maples, where the first and second round games are being held.

17 — the total number of first-, second- and third-team AP All Americans the Cardinal have had in the last 20 years. Junior guard Haley Jones, Brink and senior guard Lexie Hull have the best shot at AP All-America honors after their standout performances this season.

16 — the number of Pac-12 regular season games the Cardinal won this year, equating to a perfect conference record and their second-consecutive Pac-12 regular season crown. The team also went 3-0 in the Pac-12 Tournament to win the conference tournament championship.

15 — the number of Pac-12 titles the Cardinal have won, including their second-consecutive victory this year.

14 — the number of times the Cardinal have reached the Final Four (1990-1992, 1995-1997, 2008-2012, 2014, 2017, 2021).

13 — the number of Cardinal players named to the NCAA Women’s All-Final Four Team. Most recently, Jones and Hull were honored at last year’s Final Four in San Antonio. 

12 — the number of times the Cardinal have earned the No. 1 seed in tournament history.

11 — the number of double-doubles Brink recorded this season, earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 team and third-team All-America honors by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. 

10 — the total number of Coach of the Year awards won by head coach Tara Vanderveer, who recently picked up her 1,000th career win at Stanford. 

9 — the number of home conference games the Cardinal won this season to turn in a perfect record at home against conference opponents.

8 — the number of times the Cardinal have reached the Final Four as a No. 1 seed (1990, 1992, 1996, 1997, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2021).

7 — the margin of victory in the Cardinal’s final Pac-12 regular season game against Washington (7-16, 2-12 Pac-12). The Huskies led until there were two minutes left in the fourth quarter, giving the Cardinal one of their biggest scares of the season before they were ultimately able to avoid an upset on Senior Night and regroup in time to win the Pac-12 Tournament title.

6 — the number of blocks per game the Cardinal are averaging this season. Brink is a large part of that, averaging 2.4 blocks per game with 72 total blocks on the year.

5 — the number of seniors, fifth-years and sixth-years the Cardinal honored on Senior Night against Washington. 

4 — the number of Cardinal players this year named to All-Pac-12 teams. Jones, Hull and Brink were named to the All-Pac-12 team, and sixth-year guard Anna Wilson and Hull were named to the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team. Jones was the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Brink was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

3 — the number of national championships the Cardinal have won (1990, 1992, 2021).

2 — the number of times the Cardinal has defeated Montana State, the team they will face in the first round. The Cardinal hold a 2-0 all-time record against the Bobcats.

1 — the number of times a No. 16 seed has defeated the No. 1 seed in women’s NCAA tournament history. In 1998, No. 16 Harvard took down No. 1 Stanford in the first round 71-67 with two of the Cardinal’s top players out with injuries.

Sofia Scekic '22 is the managing editor for the sports section. She is from Wisconsin and is studying Public Policy. An avid Green Bay Packers fan, she has watched nearly every game for the past nine years. Contact her at sscekic 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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