Stanford gearing up for another NCAA tourney run
AP Sports Writer
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) – Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer and Lisa Bluder of Iowa stood in a hallway Friday reflecting on a game, a school and a conference that ties these three successful women’s basketball coaches together.
It was 25 years ago when VanDerveer’s Ohio State team beat Stringer’s Iowa squad in a matchup of Big Ten power programs witnessed by a record 22,157 fans. Both women have great memories of that day. Bluder eventually took over the Iowa program in 2000 from Angie Lee, Stringer’s successor.
“It’s hard to believe that was 25 years ago,” VanDerveer said while preparing top-seeded Stanford (31-1) to face No. 16 seed and Big West Conference Tournament champion UC Riverside (17-15) in the Cardinal’s NCAA tournament opener Saturday.
Also Saturday, Bluder and Stringer will coach against each other when eighth-seeded Iowa (19-13) takes on No. 9 Rutgers (19-14) at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion. That means there could be a second-round matchup between VanDerveer and Stringer.
Everybody expects Stanford to roll into the Sacramento Regional next weekend, then ultimately reach the Final Four and a potential rematch with undefeated defending champion Connecticut. The Huskies are the only team to beat the Cardinal this season, while Stanford is the last team to beat UConn – in the NCAA semifinals two years ago.
All this reminiscing is making Stringer a little uncomfortable. Quite frankly, the intense coach would rather not be facing her old school in the first round or any time.
She still has a lot of love for the Hawkeyes and Iowa City.
“I’m going to be a professional, I can’t help it,” Stringer said of her Iowa tenure from 1983-95. “It’s like playing your cousin or your sister. I have a deep love for the Hawkeyes. I always will.”
Stringer’s son played soccer in Iowa City alongside the son of current Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby, the former Iowa A.D. Stringer led the Hawkeyes to their only Final Four appearance in 1993 and owned an impressive overall record of 269-84 at the school.
“It’s all like a little family reunion,” she said of this trip to Northern California.
It was also in Iowa City on Thanksgiving Day in 1992 when Stringer’s husband, Bill, died suddenly of a massive heart attack at age 47. She was left as a single parent of three young children. Years later, when Bluder’s husband was in a bad car accident, Stringer was the first coaching colleague to call and offer her support when Bluder was on edge in the hospital waiting.
Bluder still feels a connection to Stringer. An appreciation, too.
“I think it was easier for me because I didn’t have to follow in her footsteps,” Bluder said. “It’s always hard following a legend.”
While VanDerveer enjoyed thinking back to that remarkable game against Stringer and Iowa on Feb. 3, 1985, she has a 12-year-old memory that’s not nearly as nice.
In 1998, Stanford was a No. 1 seed and became the only team ever – in the men’s or women’s tournaments – to lose to a 16th seed in Harvard.
Riverside’s Amber Cox has heard about the Harvard debacle.
“Part of me thinks they are overlooking us because we are a 16 seed and there’s not much to think about,” Cox said. “But they are a great team and I would think they take all their opponents seriously no matter what their rank.”
VanDerveer’s players insist that result from 12 years ago doesn’t affect them in the least – even if the coach brings it up every so often at this time of year. A few on this team were part of a stunning 68-61 second-round NCAA tournament loss to Florida State on their home floor in 2007.
“I guess that comes up because now we’re the No. 1 seed, but it’s too distant from us to think about Harvard,” senior guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said. “What’s more relevant to us is the loss we suffered to Florida State three years ago on our home court. That’s something we want to avoid happening this year.”
Jayne Appel is still nursing a tender right ankle that kept her out of practice this week. She came off the bench for two games at the Pac-10 tournament last week before returning to the starting lineup against UCLA in the championship game. She expects to be at nearly full strength Saturday.
The Cardinal are riding a 22-game winning streak since losing at No. 1 UConn back on Dec. 23. They have won 10 straight Pac-10 regular-season titles and the last four conference tournament crowns.
“The more I watched tape the more I wanted to call in sick for Saturday,” Riverside coach John Margaritis said. “Every coach wants his team to get better. We’re in a situation where we get to see what better looks like.”