VanDerveer tries to keep Stanford focused

March 21, 2009

Michelle Smith, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Stanford got asked about Connecticut again Friday, another question this week about whether this NCAA Tournament is an exercise in inevitability because the Huskies are 33-0 and no team has come close to beating them this year.

The Cardinal coach, whose team was the last to beat the Huskies when they knocked them out of the Final Four in April, refused to be baited on the eve of her team's first-round game against 15th-seeded UC Santa Barbara tonight at Cox Arena.

"Just based on the numbers, you think you might as well just hand one team the trophy," VanDerveer said. "But that's not how it's done."

No, it's not. How it's done is the way the second-seeded Cardinal (29-4) almost did it last year, playing with poise, confidence and a ruthless efficiency - the same qualities, incidentally, Stanford showed last weekend in running through the Pac-10 tournament.

"I could care less about what anyone in the rest of the country is doing," Stanford junior center Jayne Appel said. "I just care about us and Santa Barbara."

The Gauchos (22-9) are a team both familiar and similar to Stanford. UCSB coach Lindsay Gottlieb knows the Cardinal well after three years as the lead assistant at Cal under Joanne Boyle. Assistant coach Evan Unrau was Stanford's video coordinator.

"Evan knows our plays, our play calls and our players," VanDerveer said.

And UCSB also runs the same triangle offense as Stanford, albeit with different "options," Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb, the Big West Coach of the Year, said familiarity doesn't necessarily breed success.

"I don't think there's a secret formula," Gottlieb said. "Just because you know what they do, doesn't mean you know how to stop it."

The Gauchos will be outsized - as most teams have been against the Cardinal this year - but they're long on experience.

Santa Barbara's starting lineup includes two fifth-year seniors and a sixth-year senior in center Jenna Green, who was on the Gauchos' roster when the team made its best-ever NCAA Tournament run, a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2004.

Green, a San Jose native, is averaging 11.4 points and 5.9 rebounds a game and will have the unenviable task of matching up inside against Appel, who is coming off an underwhelming Pac-10 tournament after being named Conference Player of the Year. The Gauchos' leading scorer is senior guard Lauren Pedersen, a transfer from UCLA who is averaging 13 points a game.

Gottlieb said her team will need to rebound, cut off Stanford's transition game and contain Appel if there's a chance at the upset.

"We have the utmost respect for Stanford, but we came here to win," Gottlieb said. "We are happy to be here, but we are here to compete."

Stanford today

Who: Stanford vs. UC Santa Barbara

Where: San Diego

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Story line: Stanford wants to get back to the Final Four, and that run starts here. The Cardinal won't be a surprise to UCSB, whose first-year head coach, Lindsay Gottlieb, coached at Cal for three years under Joanne Boyle. UCSB rebounded from a 3-6 nonconference start to go 15-1 in the Big West.

STANFORD SNAPSHOT

Vitals: No. 2 seed, 29-4, 17-1 Pac-10, 1st

Coach: Tara VanDerveer, 23rd year

Top players: C Jayne Appel, F Kayla Pedersen, G Jeanette Pohlen

UC SANTA BARBARA SNAPSHOT

Vitals: No. 15 seed, 22-9, 15-1 Big West, 1st

Coach: Lindsay Gottlieb, 1st year

Top players: C Jenna Green, G Lauren Pedersen

STANFORD'S KEYS TO VICTORY

1. Stanford has an overall size advantage, but the most interesting matchup will be inside between 6-4 Green and Appel, who didn't have a great Pac-10 tournament.

2. The Cardinal will need to be able to control the boards with Kayla Pedersen and Jillian Harmon.

3. Defensively, they will need to get out and guard the Gauchos' best shooter, senior Lauren Pedersen, who has hit a team-high 52 three-pointers.

E-mail Michelle Smith at msmith@sfchronicle.com.

View: Mobile | Desktop