Stanford seeking to cement itself as class of Pac-12 women's basketball
SAN FRANCISCO — Six and a half months removed from a disappointing loss to Connecticut in the national semifinals in Minneapolis, Stanford is back to construct what they hope is a very hard ceiling at the top of the Pac-12 Conference, to keep the rest of the conference at bay while they make a run at the program’s second NCAA title in three years.
The Cardinal is the overwhelming favorite to win another Pac-12 title, the No. 2-ranked team in the country and with a roster that features a pair of national stars in senior Haley Jones, junior Cameron Brink, a supporting cast of veterans such as Fran Belibi, Hannah Jump and Ashten Prechtel and the top recruit in the nation in Lauren Betts. This is a team with size, depth, experience, athleticism and motivation.
And, as always, a team at which every other team in the Pac-12 is taking aim.
“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Jones said of the UConn loss last spring. “It’s difficult, and losses are part of the game, but we were able to take our individual time with it. We didn’t play our best, but there’s more basketball to be played, to take it and turn it into a positive. We have goals and aspirations and more to accomplish.”
To have Jones and Brink on the roster is a great head start toward another national title. Both are working on expanding their games, Jones preparing to play more point guard, Brink readying herself, playing over the summer with NBA star Pau Gasol, to move to the perimeter, to shoot 3-pointers and play on the wing.
“If nothing else, we are going to be big this year,” said Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer.
That should scare the rest of the country, particularly when senior players like Belibi, Jump and Prechtel are “glue players” with big-game experience, who have a national championship under their belts.
“Our seniors are going to have to be our leaders,” VanDerveer said. “We have nine young players, so it’s really important that our upperclassmen led the way. We lost a lot (with the departure of the Hull twins), but we have a lot coming back.”
VanDerveer talked about the improvement of last year’s freshman class, specifically Kiki Iriafen and Brooke Demetre, and the early play of freshmen guards Talana Lepolo, Indya Nivar and Jzaniya Harriel. She called Lepolo “as good a freshman point guard we have ever had at Stanford."
“I don’t even think of them as freshmen,” VanDerveer said. “It’s very competitive out there in practice.”
And the ceiling gets harder every minute.