Tara VanDerveer becomes winningest coach in college basketball

Jan. 22, 2024, 12:08 a.m.

For Tara VanDerveer, it was another home game in the Pac-12. But for the crowds at Maples Pavilion there was a huge elephant in the room: she was about to surpass Mike Krzyzewski’s all-time wins record for a college basketball coach.

In front of a packed house, Stanford women’s basketball (17-2, 6-1 Pac-12) defeated the Oregon State Beavers (15-3, 4-3 Pac-12), even without the assistance of star senior forward Cameron Brink.

After she achieved the record with 1,203 career wins, the 70-year old head coach, who is known to put the team first, tried to avert attention from herself to the performance of her players. 

“How about Kiki?” VanDerveer exclaimed post-game to the crowd, in reference to the junior forward offensive explosion during the game. 

Without Brink, the chance of VanDerveer breaking Krzyzewski’s record at home felt up in the air. However, the Cardinal found stability by leaning on their other star forward: Kiki Iriafen.

Iriafen had her work cut out for her matching up against Beavers star forward Raegan Beers. While Beers put up a respectable 18 points and 10 rebounds, Iriafen stole the show: the Los Angeles product put up 36 points on an efficient 16-of-26 shooting to help pace Stanford for four quarters. 

It was a back-and-forth first half. With both offenses struggling from the field, neither team could pull comfortably ahead. The Cardinal came out of the gates sluggish, at one point missing 10 consecutive shots, but a 3-pointer from junior forward Brooke Demetre finally ended the scoring drought, and the game was tied 10-10 at the end of one quarter.

The game remained close during the second, but Iriafen’s offensive dominance and key defensive plays from the Cardinal allowed them to build a lead. Redshirt sophomore guard Jzaniya Harriel had a steal followed by a breakaway layup at the 4:44 mark to give the Cardinal a 20-18 lead. Iriafen’s 14 first half points helped the Cardinal extend that lead to 28-22 at the half. 

Oregon State got off to a hot start in the second half, with a layup from Beers and a 3-pointer from junior guard AJ Marotte giving the Beavers a 29-28 lead. The Cardinal’s offense, however, began to pick up some steam.

Sophomore guard Talana Lepolo hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Later in the quarter, Iriafen, zero for two in 3-pointers on the season, nailed back-to-back corner threes to the delight of Stanford’s bench. The Cardinal dropped 22 points in the quarter on their way to a 50-43 lead heading into the final quarter.

A Stanford guard rushes past an Oregon defender.
Sophomore guard Talana Lepolo, who hit back-to-back 3-pointers. (Photo: TYLER WONG/The Stanford Daily)

Iriafen continued to produce baskets, and the Beavers were never able to threaten Stanford’s lead. With the game clock winding down, shouts of “Tara!” echoed throughout Maples.

The historic 65-56 win over Oregon State was not just witnessed by Stanford fans, but also many most successful alumni from the program.   

WNBA stars Chiney Ogwumike ’14, Jayne Appel-Marinelli ’10 and Jennifer Azzi ’90 were all in attendance. Former Stanford quarterback and former NFL No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck also made an appearance. 

A postgame ceremony was held with former players to celebrate VanDerveer’s historic career. Speakers included ESPN broadcasters Ogumike and Ros Gold-Onwude ‘10, along with Azzi. 

All three speakers shared stories about how VanDerveer affected their lives on and off the basketball court. Ogumike told a story about how VanDerveer encouraged her to study abroad in order to complete her international relations major, a choice that other head coaches would have likely deterred.

Azzi told the crowd that after an unsuccessful frosh season on the Farm, VanDerveer asked her to imagine winning a national championship during her senior season. And, she turned the vision into a reality. The Cardinal cut down the nets during the 1990 season, Azzi’s senior season and VanDerveer’s first of three career championship victories. 

In her post game press conference, the 70-year old head coach shrugged off her historic feat while looking ahead this season.

“I’m more interested in seeing what our team can do. I’d like to build on this and get better,” VanDerveer said. 

Next up, Stanford goes back on the road to face Arizona State (9-10, 1-6 Pac-12) at 5 p.m. on Friday. VanDerveer will look to add yet another win to her legendary career. 

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