SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The reigning NCAA champion Stanford women's basketball team was picked to win the Pac-12 regular-season title in a preseason poll of conference coaches.
Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer's team captured the NCAA title last spring for the first time since 1992 and third in program history, topping fellow Pac-12 opponent Arizona in the championship game by a single point, 54-53. That's after the Cardinal held off South Carolina 66-65 in the national semifinals.
And after Stanford spent nearly 10 weeks away from campus given Santa Clara County health restrictions banning sports practices and games during the pandemic.
“I think we're the only team to win a semifinal and a final game by one point, so maybe there's some karma for that. It is very challenging," VanDerveer said. "I think we probably had 10 teams that could have won and this team did win. And this team won because they really stuck together and we made plays down the stretch that we had to make, we made defensive stops that we had to make. Obviously it wasn't a given. I think it was really good that we had these masks because you wouldn't have wanted to know what I was saying.”
The Cardinal earned 11 first-place votes for 121 total points in the poll announced Tuesday.
Oregon was chosen second after a run to the Sweet 16 and received a first-place vote from VanDerveer. She can't pick her own team. UCLA was third in the poll, while Oregon State was picked fourth and Arizona fifth. Washington State is predicted sixth after the Cougars reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years.
“I’m proud of our team and I’m proud of the whole Pac-12,” VanDerveer said. "We represented the West Coast really well.”
UCLA will play at Connecticut on Dec. 11 during the non-conference schedule — a common theme for Pac-12 coaches who regularly have their teams face top opponents in the country during the preseason to prepare.
“But make no mistake about it, the Pac-12 is our focus and we know that if we're able to survive and thrive in the Pac-12 grind, that the NCAA Tournament will be, I'm not going to say a walk in the park, but a whole lot easier,” 11th-year Bruins coach Cori Close said.
Rounding out the poll are: Colorado at seventh, followed by Arizona State, USC, Utah, Washington and California.
Stanford is back atop the preseason poll after Oregon held the spot the past two years. The Cardinal were picked first for 15 straight years from 2000 to 2015.
“This conference somehow found a way to get tougher in the two years I was gone,” said first-year USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb, the former Cal coach who spent two seasons as an NBA assistant with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Arizona has something to prove after a special season that ended up just short.
“It was a magical run but that was last year,” coach Adia Barnes said. “The reality is, we didn’t win.”
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