What to say about the Stanford Women’s Basketball team’s 29th time in the NCAA tournament? Fans all said what a shame we had to play USF, coached by the beloved Stanford alum who started it all, Jennifer Azzi. Well, you can say head coach Tara VanDerveer likes to win. Heck, Tara said it herself after her team handed Jennifer’s team their worst loss of the season (85-58): “I love Jennifer but I love winning more.”
Tara VanDerveer and Jennifer Azzi share a lot of history
Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP.
First some context. Before the game, Jennifer Azzi sat alone on the opposing team’s bench at Maples, a very different view than one she was used to, in a place where she has so many memories. In her line of sight was a list of two National Champions. The team she led in 1990 when she was a senior was listed first. Winning a national championship must hold special memories for a player. To build a program from 12 fans and no NCAA appearances, in Jennifer’s freshmen year, to a national championship with sold out crowds in her senior year, well, let’s just say not many players can claim that sort of impact. And here she sat getting ready to face the woman who got here there, perhaps the biggest influence in her life, the woman who thought so much of her that she asked her to be her emotional captain on the 1996 Olympic team that won Gold in Atlanta.
How weird was it for Azzi, coaching her first NCAA game? She said she was unsettled that her parents were at this game, not in their usual Stanford gear, but in yellow USF shirts. She and Tara shared a long and sincere hug at midcourt during player introductions. Don’t think Tara would hug Geno for that long…or at all. Afterwards, Tara’s mom, Rita, was crying for Jennifer. Even Tara had enough of the sentimentality, scolding her mom, “But I’m blood!”
About the game, Jennifer said they were not used to that level of physicality, and the rest of the NCAA field might have politely snickered, as Stanford is usually known as “the Good Girls.” Do keep in mind this is Jennifer’s first NCAA game, so if she keeps up the success and comes back, she will need to know her players will face this level of physical play, or more, in subsequent years.
And they don’t call them Trees for nothing. When USF’s 6-3 center went to the bench with foul trouble, they didn’t have anyone on the floor over 6 feet. Stanford had Erica McCall, Kailee Johnson and Alanna Smith, all 6’3. At one point Stanford had more rebounds (43) than USF had points. The rebounding total was doubled in Stanford’s favor, 49-24.
Lili Thompson scored 17 points, Erica McCall had 14 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, plus a three-pointer for the big! Karlee Samuelson had 11, on 2-4 shooting beyond the arc, her specialty. Starter Kaylee Johnson was more aggressive going to the rim and scored 13. Add in her 9 boards and she almost got herself a double-double. Stanford will need her to score in double digits every night to advance in the tournament. It was good to see bench players Marta Sniezek and Aussie Alana Smith score as well, eight and nine points respectively. Marta had a game, giving out nine assists and hitting her first collegiate three! She’s only a freshman! Throw in Brittany McPhee’s eight and you have everyone contributing.
Speaking of our Aussie player, we thought we were hot stuff having our first international recruit from down under. Well, here Jennifer has beaten her former coach. She has seven players on her roster representing five different foreign countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia and Sweden.
See all the pretty Stanford assists!
Next game for Stanford is Monday night at 6PM, against the upstart #12 seed South Dakota State’s Jack Rabbits. They beat #5 Miami 74-71. C and R only caught the last 5 minutes of the game, but from what we saw, Miami played listless and with no energy, compared to SDS intensity. It didn’t hurt that they had a whole section of fans right next to the court action and were very rabid. C and R are worried those fans will be louder than the polite Stanford fans. So please get off work and come on out!