Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Feature: Home Sweet Home
Feb 6, 2021
STANFORD, CA - The first thing that Kiana Williams did when she arrived back in her campus apartment was take a look at her shoe collection and smile.
“I don’t like to wear the same pair of shoes in the same week, so it was really hard for me. I took four or five pairs with me and I rotated them,” said the Stanford senior guard. “There were some of my favorite shoes that didn’t make the trip. When I got home, I realized how much I missed my shoes.”
Not to mention her bed, her pictures on the wall, her refrigerator. Yes, even the fridge. Meanwhile, at head coach Tara VanDerveer’s house, the dogs are a little clingy, following her around the house. But they settled when they saw her put her luggage away.
“I cannot tell you how nice it is to be home,” VanDerveer said.
To say nothing of how nice it is for the sixth-ranked Cardinal to be on their home floor. On Tuesday, they took to the practice courts adjacent to Maples Pavilion, back on campus for the first time since Santa Clara County health orders sent them on a nine-week road trip that included 12 flights, 14 different hotels and 17 games. It included bonding nights with movies in hotel ballrooms and hair-cutting sessions, standing in line everyday for testing, ordering food delivered to hotel rooms. It included VanDerveer’s milestone win to become the winningest coach in the history of women’s basketball and back-to-back losses that knocked Stanford out of the nation’s No. 1 ranking.
It even included one practice in the dark when the wind knocked the lights out of the practice gym the Cardinal was borrowing in Santa Cruz.
On the court at Maples Pavilion for the first time since November 25, 2020, Stanford clamped down early and held on late against a Colorado team that handed them their first loss of the season just three weeks ago and finished with a 62-54 win.
Williams led the Cardinal (16-2, 13-2) with 16 points. Freshman Cameron Brink finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots and Anna Wilson added 11 points and four steals.
Defensively, the Cardinal forced 18 turnovers and held Colorado (6-9, 4-8) to 36.4 percent shooting from the floor, leading by 23 points heading into the fourth quarter, but the Buffaloes went on a 17-0 run that stretched much of the fourth quarter and pulled within 55-51 with 1:28 to go. The Cardinal needed strong free-throw shooting down the stretch (making 9-of-10 from the stripe in the final 1:45) to salvage the win.
“We had enough cushion to ride that one out,” VanDerveer said, disappointed in her team’s fourth-quarter effort.
Asked whether the emotions of returning home might have drained her team of some energy, VanDerveer said, “You have to be a wizard to know what teenagers are thinking sometimes. I think we started out well and we were focused and then instead of being focused, we were fouling.”
It was just last week in Pullman, Washington when Stanford players and coaches got word that Santa Clara County health orders had relaxed enough for them to return to campus.
“When Tara told us, everyone was just yelling,” Williams said. “It felt like we won a championship, everyone was so excited. We were just so happy and thankful to be going back.”
Williams said she told the freshmen that she couldn’t wait for them to experience the “Maples Magic.” With or without the fans. Or the band.
“This is a big game for us,” Williams said of the Colorado rematch. “We want to win a Pac-12 championship. We were really locked in at practice this week. That focus has been there.”
VanDerveer said the focus has been there all along.
“It was very challenging and I’m really proud of our team,” VanDerveer said. “Just the maturity and the cohesiveness. We didn’t have people showing up late to things. Everyone did their testing. We had things to deal with, but people handled everything really well. It showed me a toughness that gives me great hope for the rest of the season. We need to transfer that determination and focus to the court.”
The Cardinal are still in a “soft” quarantine, players unable to leave their living units for anything other than practice, games, food, testing and medical appointments. And with so many teams in the Pac-12 experiencing a pause in their season in the COVID protocols, the Cardinal are aware that getting too comfortable at home could have some big repercussions with seven regular-season games left to play before the Pac-12 Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament, where Stanford are positioned to be a high seed and title contender.
“We need to stay in our bubble,” Williams said. “Nobody wants to be the reason the season has to shut down. We have a lot of important things coming up.”