VanDerveer Keeps Cardinal Among National Elite
Ask Tara VanDerveer the secret to postseason success. Go ahead, ask her and she'll tell you.
The answer isn't rooted in X's and O's or motivational tactics. In fact, it's incredibly simple.
"Good health, good health and good health."
The Cardinal and head coach VanDerveer open the Pac-10 Tournament in the semifinals on Friday on the heels of the program's 11th straight conference title. They are the No. 2-ranked team in the country and widely regarded as a contender for the national championship.
After three straight trips to the Final Four, winning Stanford's first NCAA title since 1992 would have to be considered unfinished business.
But VanDerveer doesn't talk about it in practice. And she doesn't hear her players talking about it, not even after December's electrifying win over Connecticut at Maples Pavilion to end the Huskies' NCAA-record 90-game win streak.
"It's unspoken," VanDerveer said. "I think we are capable of playing with a lot more intensity. I think we are really going to have to stoke that coming into the Pac-10 Tournament. I don't know that it does any good to talk about it. You have to show it in practice and show it on the court."
The postseason is an expectation at Stanford. VanDerveer, one of 12 finalists for the Naismith Hall of Fame, has led Stanford to the NCAA Tournament in 23 consecutive seasons.
In addition to national titles in 1990 and 1992, the Cardinal have made nine Final Four appearances, tied for third-most all time.
But this season, and the upcoming postseason, has a distinct feel. One of great possibility.
The Cardinal celebrated VanDerveer's 800th career victory, putting her on an exclusive list in Division-I women's basketball. They defeated Connecticut on national television. They ran up remarkable win streaks at home and in Pac-10 play.
And the time is coming to cash in on all that regular-season success. Which is why VanDerveer is preaching about good health.
Stanford knows better than almost anyone in collegiate women's basketball what happens when you are not a healthy team coming into the NCAA Tournament. It was back in 1998 that standout forwards Vanessa Nygaard and Kristin Folkl sustained knee injuries in the days before the NCAA Tournament and the result was an historic loss to No. 16 seed Harvard.
Last year the Cardinal made a run to the national title game, but senior All-American Jayne Appel was playing on a broken foot and Stanford couldn't quite finish the job against Connecticut.
Stanford has seen starters such as Mel Murphy, JJ Hones, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, Hannah Donaghe and Sarah Boothe lose all or part of seasons with injuries in recent years.
Since finishing the Pac-10 season against Cal last Thursday night, the Cardinal have taken the opportunity to get a little rest.
"It is important to have people rested, but we are excited about playing," VanDerveer said.
But as it does every year now, the Cardinal will minimize contact in practice and begin to prepare with intense video sessions.
"We want to be really specific with our team," VanDerveer said. "We want to be able to look at video and say 'This is what we need' and 'This looks good' or 'This is a problem right here.'
"We've been watching the Cal game and talking about the fact that we are playing teams that know us and are going to try to do certain things against us and let's take advantage of that."
UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell, who has a long history of coaching against VanDerveer because of her years at Tennessee, said that VanDerveer is one of the top coaches in the nation when it comes to preparing her team.
"Stanford is always diligent in its game plan and her players know what they are going to do going into the game," Caldwell said. "It's her knowledge and how she sees the game. It's very black-and-white and she will look at her players to know the game plan and to know their scouting report and they do. They buy into it."
Caldwell lauded VanDerveer for her ability to maintain Stanford's high level of success.?
"It's a sign of greatness," Caldwell said.
VanDerveer says it takes great players to build the kind of success that she's experienced.
Players who understand what it means to play this time of year.
"I don't know that our teams who have made it to the Final Four are that much different than the ones that made it to the Elite Eight," VanDerveer said.
"People understand what it takes. And we keep reminding them, just because you're ranked, just because you have a great record, everything starts new. It's a matter of who is playing well, who is ready and who is healthy."