Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer entered the media room in the basement of Gill Coliseum on Friday night with a small ice pack on her hand.
VanDerveer’s young Cardinal team had just held on for a crucial 60-57 Pac-12 win over Oregon State.
“Yeah, my hand swelled, I clapped too much,” the legendary coach explained. “I had a lot to clap about.”
She had even more to celebrate on Sunday when, thanks to a second-half explosion by senior Brittany McPhee (31 points), Stanford completed what many may think is the toughest road trip in the conference these days with a 78-65 upset of then-No. 6 Oregon.
That victory moved the Cardinal (16-8, 10-2) into a tie with Oregon (21-4, 10-2) atop the conference standings with six games to go. UCLA made it a three-way with a win at USC on Monday night.
As it was the only meeting between Stanford and Oregon, the Cardinal hold the tiebreaker with the Ducks for conference tournament seeding purposes.
While the Cardinal appear to be rolling now, the season certainly didn’t start out that way.
Stanford entered the season needing to replace three starters off last year’s Final Four team and also had to deal with several key injuries, most notably to McPhee, who missed nine games.
The Cardinal also had one of the most difficult schedules, facing five ranked opponents in their 12 nonconference games.
That included Ohio State twice, Tennessee, Connecticut and Baylor.
Stanford, which entered conference play 6-6, also fell out of the ASP top 25 poll for the first time in 17 years.
The start to the season could have been disastrous for many teams. VanDerveer said this team understood that it was more important to get better each day and focus on playing well at the end of the season.
“They didn’t get into Stanford because they’re dumb,” VanDerveer said. “They are really intelligent young women who understood who we played and not only did we play them but we played them without Brit. We were, in a lot of ways, going in to fight with one hand tied behind our back and now she’s back.
“Some teams might have come apart, (but) this team is extremely close, it has great leadership, great camaraderie, they are extremely unselfish. … It’s a really fun team to be around win or lose but it’s obviously more fun if you win.”
Stanford has what appears to be the easiest schedule going forward with home games against Utah (6-6) and Colorado (3-9) this weekend, then two games with rival California (6-6) and games at Washington (1-11) and Washington State (3-9).
Oregon heads to the Washington schools this weekend, then hosts UCLA and USC before wrapping up the season at the Arizona schools.
UCLA hosts the Arizona schools this week, heads to the Oregon schools and then hosts Colorado and Utah to close out the season.
No. 4 seed
It appears that the chase for the No. 4 seed to the Pac-12 tournament will come down to Oregon State and Arizona State.
Both teams are 8-4 entering this week and, as it turns out, play the final game of the regular season in Tempe.
The Beavers won the first meeting, 57-54, in a battle in Gill Coliseum.
Oregon State goes to the Washington schools, then closes out the home portion of the conference season against UCLA and USC — teams the Beavers lost to on the road in the second week of the Pac-12 slate — before going to Arizona.
The Sun Devils have won four of five after a three-game slide that began with that loss to the Beavers.
ASU is at the L.A. schools this week, then takes on Arizona twice before hosting Oregon and Oregon State.
Whoever gets the No. 4 seed receives a bye in the first round of the conference tournament, set for March 1-4 in Seattle’s KeyArena.
UCLA moved up one spot to No. 8 in this week’s AP poll while Oregon fell three spots to No. 9. Oregon State remained at No. 16 and Stanford jumped seven spots to No. 17 after the weekend sweep.
California dropped out of the No. 25 spot and Arizona State moved in at No. 25.
Players of the week
Not surprisingly, Stanford players took home the weekly conference honors.
McPhee was named the player of the week after averaging 25.5 points and seven rebounds a game to sweep the Oregon schools. It is McPhee’s first weekly honor.
Kiana Williams averaged 14 points to earn her second freshman of the week honor.
Oregon State remains a No. 6 seed in Charlie Crème’s bracketology on ESPN, though Crème now projects the Beavers to be in the Lexington Regional and heading to No. 3 seed Maryland for the first and second rounds.
Oregon remains the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional and Stanford is the No. 5 seed.
UCLA is the No. 3 seed in the Albany Regional with Cal the No. 8 seed.
Arizona State is the No. 7 seed in the Kansas City Regional to make it six Pac-12 teams in the tournament.