This Date in Cardinal Women's Hoops: 3-26-92
It's hard to think of a better assemblage of women's basketball talent than the 1996 U.S. national team, which began this country's ongoing streak of four consecutive gold medals in Olympic competition.
But four years before coaching the likes of Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley to international glory, Tara VanDerveer had been their enemy. She dispatched of the above-mentioned standouts in three successive NCAA Tournament games while the Stanford women marched to the 1992 national crown. The first outing came on this very date 17 years ago as the Cardinal took on Swoopes and her Texas Tech squad in the West Regional semifinals.
Top-seeded Stanford put the clamps on Tech' star guard while earning an emphatic 75-63 decision. The Cardinal led by 18 in the second half after being up 14 (35-21) at the halftime break. Swoopes led the Red Raiders to a national championship the following year, but on this day back in 1992, Stanford's Chris MacMurdo held the future three-time WNBA MVP to just seven baskets in 19 attempts.
''Stanford plays great defense and I was getting a little frustrated because my shot wasn't going down," Swoopes said. "We were looking for other ways to score. We were in a hurry."
It was unlike Swoopes, often referred to as the "Female Michael Jordan" in later years, to lay so many bricks. However, her disappointing experience would be shared by Stanford's next superstar-sporting opponent . Leslie, yet another three-time WNBA MVP and the only U.S. women's player to win four gold medals, was at the time a 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore center who had come in averaging 20 points per-game. She too would struggle against a tenacious Stanford inside presence led by Val Whiting and Rachel Hemmer. Leslie missed all but five of her 14 shots for USC. She went scoreless in the second half as Stanford rolled into the Final Four with an 82-62 regional final victory over the Pac-10 rival Trojans.
On deck was a de facto championship game in the form of the national semis – think Steve Young's 49ers against the Cowboys for the NFC crown, or Massachusetts vs. Kentucky in 1996's men's Final Four. The University of Virginia's Staley, now the head coach at South Carolina, looked like something less than the two-time national player of the year. Stanford, despite being outrebounded by 15, held off the nation's top-ranked Cavaliers by a single point at the L.A. Sports Arena.
Three games, three Cardinal wins, three dimmed superstars sent packing after shooting a combined 19 of 51 among them.
Against No. 4-seed Texas Tech, Stanford (which moved to 27-3 with the victory) downed a team making its first NCAA appearance. The Cardinal earned the West's top seed after entering the regular season without high expectations. Key starters had graduated. Unproven players, five freshmen among them, filled the ranks.
``I constantly heard about other teams, that we weren't going to do as well,'' Cardinal guard Christy Hedgepeth said after the 78-62 title-winner over Western Kentucky "We didn't listen to that. We had our own expectations.''
The veterans held firm. Whiting, who graduated in 1993 as the conference's all-time leader in points and rebounds, kept watch at center. Sweet-shooting junior guard Molly Goodenbour was named most outstanding player of both the Final Four and West Regional.
''Stanford has an awfully good team . . . probably the best pressure we played against all year long," Tech head coach Marsha Sharp said. "I have to give Stanford the nod to go to the Final Four. That's not to take anything away from USC, but I thought Stanford was the most consistent for 40 minutes tonight."
The rough and tumble Hemmer had 14 points. Whiting fought through a variety of double teams to notch 10. Goodenbour scored 15 of her 19 points from three-point range. The Red Raiders' trademark zone defense proved to be no obstacle.
At the other end, Texas Tech showed flashes of what erased an 18-point deficit in a first-round win over Santa Clara.
But when the Raiders clawed within six points (35-29) with a little over three minutes gone in the second half, the Cardinal scored five unanswered to keep a handle on things.
This was a time when popularity was blossoming for the women's college game - well before a professional league took root stateside. The top American talent fled to spots like Italy, but found little sanctuary. Swoopes was routinely paid behind schedule by her pro club. Former Stanford star Jennifer Azzi found herself in a "Roman Holiday" gone awry after spurning the romantic advances of a married official from her Italian club team. The eager Enrico, looking to channel his "inner Gregory Peck", kept vigil outside her apartment for a time.
"They love basketball," VanDerveer said while conducting tryouts for the Olympic team, on which the incomparable Azzi joined former Stanford teammate Katy Steding. "They just hate to have to go overseas to play it." But before uniting all that talent under one American flag, Tara & Co. first had to grab a second national championship banner for the Cardinal.
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