Women’s basketball roundtable: Can Tara VanDerveer win a fourth championship?

March 7, 2024, 12:02 a.m.

The No. 2 Stanford Women’s basketball team (26-4, 15-3 Pac-12) secured the outright Pac-12 regular season title last week. The program now boasts 27 Pac-12 regular season titles over the past 38 seasons, a rare display of dominance in college sports. The team arrived in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament this week. 

The Daily’s Kaushik Sampath, Erin Ye, Hawe Adugna, Isaac Sullivan and Charis Charitsis delve into personal perspectives on the team’s accomplishments and its postseason outlook.

From a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the season so far?

Erin Ye (EY): Given the consistent excellence of Stanford WBB, it’s hard to rate each season relative to another. That being said, this year has been historic with Coach Tara’s record-breaking win against Oregon State and it has been so entertaining watching Kiki Iriafen grow into the star that she’s become. I’ve also been impressed by Stanford’s freshmen this year, who promise many more winning seasons to come. With all this being considered, absent of a national championship, I would rate this season an eight.

Charis Charitsis (CC): I think the team is not as strong as the ones we had in previous years, especially two or three years ago. Thus, in terms of strength, I would give the team an eight. They are still good, don’t get me wrong, but having said that, I think that the team has over-performed so far. Not to mention that even some of the team’s four losses, like the loss to USC, were preventable. Thus, in terms of performance as a team, given the current roster, I would give the team a nine.

Hawe Adugna (HA): I give this season an eight. It was a lot of fun being on the sidelines for moments like Tara’s 1203 and Kiki Iriafen’s 36-point game, but I can’t say I didn’t have doubts on whether we’d make it far in-season and postseason. It was hard to imagine how Stanford could recover from all the players lost after last season, but Tara found a way. 

Isaac Sullivan (IS): I understand Stanford WBB strives for excellence each year, so four losses may seem disappointing, but how can I not rate this season a 10? Coach Tara became the winningest college basketball coach while winning Pac-12 COTY, Cameron Brink won DPOY and player of the year and Kiki Iriafen was awarded most improved player. We cruised our way to another Pac-12 title while obliterating Cal both times we faced them, which is always satisfying. What’s not to like?   

What do you expect from the team in the final Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament?

KS: Stanford should probably be the odds-on favorite to win since they’ve been the most consistent team in the Pac-12 this season. But at the same time, the conference is so deep that I can’t put Stanford’s chances over 50% to win the whole thing. Besides Stanford, I think USC has the best chance since guard-oriented teams tend to do better in March.

CC: Does Stanford have what it takes to beat every opponent in the Pac-12 and win another conference title? Absolutely. Having said that, their biggest opponent is lack of concentration and underestimating the opponent. In knockout games, you must take it one step at a time and come to every game with a game plan. You have just 40 minutes at a time to prove it on the floor, and ideally you want to clinch the win before the final two minutes, when anything can happen in a close contest. 

HA: Watching Juju Watkins take down Stanford live was ridiculous, especially on our own court. I see USC as the biggest obstacle to the Pac-12 title and honestly one of many to the national title. My hope is that Stanford enhances its defense strategies to handle savvy guards like Juju to avoid getting knocked out of either tournament.

IS: I fully expect Stanford to come out on top with the conference title, but the path won’t be easy with the likes of Colorado, USC and Oregon State, who played Stanford close in both affairs. Adding to the concern Hawe brought up regarding Stanford’s sometimes vulnerable defense against guards, Oregon State guard Talia von Oelhoffen dropped 27 in their meeting last week. Defense should be a major focus for the Cardinal heading into the tournament.

What seed do you expect Stanford to be in the NCAA tournament?

EY: If Stanford wins the tournament, they’re firmly a No. 1 seed. They can’t afford an early upset in the tournament, but could get away with a 1 seed even if they don’t win outright in Las Vegas. It will also depend on the performances of the current top 10 teams across the NCAA.

HA: I’d say it depends on how the Pac-12 tournament goes, as Stanford will be up against two other top-10 teams, USC and UCLA, for the title. If one of these teams gets the title over the Cardinal, and other teams in contention for No. 1/2 seeds win their respective conference titles, I could see Stanford at a lower rank in the bracket.

IS: I gave this season a perfect score and I expressed extreme confidence in Stanford’s ability to win the league title, so of course I expect them to possess the No. 1 seed. However, the loss to USC earlier in the season looms large because if USC outplays Stanford, there is the possibility that they snag the No. 1 seed from us.

Besides Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen, which player needs to step up for Stanford to make a sustained tournament run?

KS: For me, the answer is Nunu Agara. While she’s just a freshman, the six-foot-two forward is a very versatile player who can punish mismatches in the post while also keeping teams honest from the outside. I think she’s a future star, and there will be one game in this tournament where I believe she’ll be the difference between winning and losing.

EY: In contrast to the importance of the freshmen stepping up, I’m going to shout out Hannah Jump. She’s a fifth-year grad student who’s won a national championship with the team. Along with her sharp shooting abilities, her leadership will be pivotal to the Cardinal’s postseason success.

CC: I’m gonna go with Elena Bosgana. Besides Cameron, Elena is our best defender. She and Iriafen are the two most improved players. With Bosgana on the floor, Arizona would not come back and score 31 points in the fourth quarter to win the game. Her defensive presence will be key against some of the better guards Stanford will go up against. 

IS: I’m going to name a player who hasn’t been mentioned yet: Talana Lepolo. We all understand the dominating paint presence Stanford has with Brink and Iriafen. Opposing teams will work to contain the paint, which may not be possible, so the outside shots will be available. I believe it will be incredibly important that Lepolo, as the floor general, reads the defense and finds Stanford’s three-point shooters.

Finally, where do you think the team finishes in March Madness?

KS: Without seeing the bracket, this is a very difficult question to answer. Stanford doesn’t have the dynamic scoring guards typically associated with March Madness success. However, they do have the best frontcourt in the nation, and I think the team goes as far as they take them. If they have to match up against a dynamic lead guard like Caitlin Clark, Hannah Hidalgo or Juju Watkins, I would be scared just because of what happened against Watkins last time. There are also a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 seeds that I’m scared of as well. For that reason, I’ll say their season will end in the Elite Eight, but certainly wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the Final Four or title game. 

EY: It’s obvious that the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks are the team to beat. Like Kaushik said, without seeing the bracket it’s hard to predict where Stanford will end up and what teams they’d be better suited to win against. I’m optimistic that the Cardinal will go deep in March, but women’s basketball across the country has been elite this season and it will certainly be a tournament full of surprises.

HA: Hard to say without an official bracket out, as I think it comes down to how early in the tournament Stanford faces difficult opponents. I agree that the team’s backcourt will have their work cut out for them if they want to see another championship, but they could still make it far depending how early Stanford crosses paths with teams like Iowa, USC, UConn and Virginia Tech. My vote is the Elite Eight, but I hope they leave Cleveland as national champions.

CC: On paper, Elite Eight is a fair goal. However, I cannot rule out a trip to the Final Four. Especially if they are locked in, stay healthy, keep in mind that underestimating an opponent will likely cut their run short, come with a clear game plan and make the necessary adjustments.

IS: Without knowing who Stanford will match up with throughout the tournament, this is impossible to predict, but I am not counting out the idea of the team bringing home its fourth national title. There is no doubt in my mind that Coach Tara wants to cap off this historic season with another title, and with Brink’s days at Stanford limited, there has to be extra motivation to capture a fairy tale ending to the season. Stanford has a lot to play for and even Iowa’s superstar Catilin Clark may not be enough to stop the Cardinal.

Kaushik Sampath is a desk editor for the sports section. He is a sophomore from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who's undecided on his major. You can catch him watching and ranting about his beloved Arkansas Razorbacks or hanging out with friends on campus. Contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.Erin Ye '26 is the Managing Editor for The Grind. She also writes in Sports and Arts & Life. Erin enjoys black coffee, exploring the Stanford experience, and live music.Charis is a senior staff writer and recent alum (Ph.D.’23). If CS is his hobby, sports is his passion. Firm believer that the coach is the most important position in every team sport. A member of the sports section but not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination.Hawe is a staff writer for the sports section.

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