Preview: It’s test time for No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 11 UCLA

Syracuse v Stanford: Greater Victoria Invitational
Kiana Williams and Stanford are ready to be tested by UCLA. | Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Kiana Williams, Lexie Hull and Haley Jones are set to lead the Stanford Cardinal into battle against Michaela Onyenwere, Charisma Osborne and Natalie Chou of the UCLA Bruins. Can the Cardinal keep their No. 1 ranking?

Things couldn’t be going much better for the Stanford Cardinal right now.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer recently became the winningest coach in NCAAW Division I history and the Cardinal are the No. 1 team in the nation with an unblemished record. In their most recent game on Saturday, they picked up their biggest win of the season, besting a solid USC Trojans team by 20 points.

But Stanford is far from satisfied. VanDerveer’s record means a lot, but there is a more important task at hand — winning the national championship for the first time since 1992, and this season’s team may have enough talent to get it done.

The quest begins in earnest at 3 p.m. Monday (Dec. 21) when the Cardinal take on the No. 11 UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles.

The Bruins aren’t doing too bad themselves, having rattled off four straight wins, including three straight blowouts, two of which came against Pac-12 opponents: the Trojans and the California Golden Bears. And UCLA’s victory over USC one-upped Stanford’s blowout of the Trojans — it came by 21 points.

The Bruins have a lot of players who can step up in the scoring column on any given night, but Charisma Osborne (17 points per game) and preseason All-American Michaela Onyenwere (16.5 points per game) have been the most consistent. In addition to them, there’s sharpshooter Natalie Chou, who dropped 18 points in UCLA’s most recent game and Emily Bessoir, an ultra-talented freshman, chipped in 13.

Stanford’s core lacks an All-American, but is a more heralded group overall that features the usual suspects: upperclassmen Kiana Williams (senior) and Lexie Hull (junior), as well as the No. 1 Hoop Gurlz recruit from 2019, Haley Jones, who leads the team with 16.7 points per game.

Sophomore dunking phenom Fran Belibi and 2020’s No. 3 recruit Cameron Brink join that trio as players averaging double-figure scoring. Hannah Jump, seeing the fourth-most minutes per game (18.8), is averaging 8.7 points.

Stanford is the deserving favorite in this one with its star-studded rotation and abundance of positive energy.

As for the Bruins’ prospects, their one loss came in a nail-biter against the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats on Dec. 4 and they had a close-call win against the Arizona State Sun Devils on Dec. 6. But if the past three games are any indication, UCLA should be worthy competition for Stanford.

Game Information

No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) vs. No. 11 UCLA Bruins (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12)

When: Monday, Dec. 21, at 3 p.m. ET

Where: Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA

How to watch/listen: Pac-12 Network/TUNEIN (Stanford) or UCLA’s athletics website

Key to the matchup: Stanford’s execution on offense. As long as Stanford plays its game and maintains its flow on offense, it should be able to win. The Cardinal, who average 93.2 points per game (sixth in the country entering Sunday), are going to share the ball and rely on Haley Jones to make a play if things break down. If UCLA wishes to come away with the victory, it will need to disrupt Stanford’s offensive execution and play to its strengths on defense. The Bruins force 20.3 turnovers per contest.

Reason to watch: It’s a Top 15 matchup and Stanford’s first true test.

Interview: Tara VanDerveer praises Haley Jones’ talent