Women's basketball starts NCAA Tourney

After securing the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament last week, the Cardinal will return home to kick of the Road to San Antonio. The Card will begin their NCAA adventure against the UC Riverside Highlanders at Maples Pavilion on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

With the Cardinal completing an undefeated Pac-10 tournament season and breezing though the conference tournament, they appear to be playing some of their best basketball of the season heading into the Big Dance. But before Stanford tips off on Saturday, they might find themselves asking they question a certain British band asked years ago – Who are you?

Scouting UC Riverside

The Highlanders nabbed a spot as the No. 16 seed in the Sacramento regional after they upset UC Davis to grab the Big West tournament championship with a 71-67 win at Berkeley's Haas Pavilion last Saturday. Riverside's 17-15 record isn't stellar on paper, but upon closer inspection, their season's story might give the powerful Cardinal reason for pause.

UC Riverside's women's basketball team has lived out basically two different seasons all in one this year. The Highlanders started the season 3-12, and their prospects looked dim heading into conference play.

However, they beat Cal-State Northridge on January 14th to earn their first conference win, and have not looked back since, ripping off a 14-3 record since that night.

For the Highlanders, the difference was simply in their shooting, as during their terrific stretch run they shot the ball very well, including several games where their 3-point shooting was well over 50 percent.

Offensively, the Highlanders are no slouch, with four players averaging point totals in doubles figures this season. Junior guard Alyssa Morris leads the way with 13.4 PPG, but is closely followed by junior forward Rheya Neabors and senior forwards Amber Cox and Marissa Rivers, with 11.0, 10.4, and 10.0 PPG, respectively.

This is the third NCAA tournament in the last five years for Coach John Margaritis' squad, as they captured the Big West's conference championships after the 2005-06 and 2006-07 season, and added a third trophy this season. Their last two appearances resulted in first-round losses, falling to No. 1-seed North Carolina in 2006, and No. 3-seed Arizona State in 2007.

Obviously, the Cardinal cannot afford to Highlanders lightly, and it looks to be another interesting first round matchup to start the Cardinal's trip back to the Final Four.

The Capital Bracket

While it's never a good idea to look too far ahead, the Sacramento bracket looks to be a stern test for the Cardinal if they plan on ending up in the Alamodome. The biggest threat looks to be the Texas A&M Aggies, as Coach Gary Blair's team won the Big 12 championship on their way to the No. 2-seed in the Sacramento region.

The Aggies' offensive numbers are quite a sight to behold, as they improved in every important offensive category from last year to this year, and with a 45.8% field goal percentage and a 35.9% success rate from beyond the arc, the Aggies average 75.4 PPG. How does Stanford stack up to these impressive numbers? The Cardinal slightly manage to edge out the big dogs of the Big 12 in two of these categories – with a 47.5% field goal percentage, a 34.1% percentage from three, and an average of 77.1 PPG (good enough for 11th in the nation).

The Aggies also ended the season on an impressive 80-70 victory over the 30-0 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Championship game. The Aggies pummeled the Huskers on the boards, grabbing 46 to Nebraska's 32, and held the Huskers to a miserable shooting day, as they were just 22-of-59 from the floor.

Other than the Aggies, there is another Big 12 team which could give the Cardinal plenty of trouble because of a supreme individual talent. Senior guard Andrea Riley for the Oklahoma State Cowgirls could give Stanford some trouble – mainly because she can make the net dance like few in the game can, averaging 26.6 PPG, the third best in all of the NCAA. The 23-10 Stillwater stalwarts are the No. 4-seed in the Sacramento region, but they will have to get past Chattanooga and Georgia or Tulane if they look to face off with the Cardinal.

Should the Cardinal make it back to the Final Four, they could theoretically have to face off against three Big 12 teams in a row, with potential matchups against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Nebraska in the national semifinal.

Texas Two-Step

The Cardinal may not have a simple task ahead, but once again, the NCAA tournament is shaping up to be a good one already, with perennial powers and surprising risers making for a compelling three weeks ahead. If you've been paying attention to ESPN, you'll see that even our President has joined in on the fun of the Women's version of March Madness.

President Obama picked Stanford to make it back to the Final Four, and he thinks the Cardinal will defeat Iowa, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Nebraska, then fall to UConn in the finals. The Commander in Chief showed an extensive amount of knowledge about the women's game, as he knew that the Cardinal were the last team to defeat the Huskies before they reeled off their historic winning streak.

Only a few hours left before the fun begins, so make sure you keep it here on the Bootleg for all the best NCAA women's tournament coverage and analysis!

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