What the "brain drain" term is to academics, perhaps the "fame drain" applies to Northern California sports. Where have you gone, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Terrell Owens, and Chris Webber?
Examining their respective legacies however reveals the painfully
obvious. These players' charismatic qualities were matched only by their
spectacular playoff failures. When it comes to defining moments in the
postseason, the teams they defined – the BALCO-fueled Giants, Billy Beane's
star-crossed A's, Steve Mariucci's flawed 49ers, and the freewheeling-but-doomed
Sacramento Kings – offered a how-to in heartbreak.
Where is the local
counterpoint? Where are the stars who deliver down the stretch? Look
no further than Arco Arena, site of one of the above-referenced meltdowns.
Credit the winning moxie of Stanford women's basketball, which again in
Monday night's buzzer-beater over Xavier, got exactly what it needed when it
needed it most.
Even in not playing its overall best, the Cardinal again
showed why they provide the antidote to the aforementioned chokers.
Consider the Stanford women a collective Lady Liberty in high-tops, calling out
to the huddled masses of Bay Area fans who yearn to breathe free of
Make it three straight Final Four berths for Stanford. Not
since 2000 has the Cardinal failed to win a Pac-10 regular season title.
When Jayne Appel and company stomped Georgia to reach Monday's tilt with Xavier,
it allowed for making their sixth Elite Eight appearance in seven years.
It's easy to
dismiss these streaks, given that women's college basketball will always trail
the men in the fanfare department. Arco Arena was basically two-thirds
empty for Monday's coronation. At Stanford, football and men's basketball
have a hard enough time drawing outside attention. The major pro sports are king
in this region.
But the latest in a series of major accomplishments for
the Cardinal women is cause for reflection. The mirror shows wins.
It also shows scissors, ladders, and championship nets. The snapshots beg
comparison with more familiar – and far less-jubilant – moments in recent
The Warriors are consistent the way Ralph Wiggum is "special," as
in one appearance in the bloated NBA playoffs since 1994. Your 49ers and
Raiders remain mired in streaks of seven straight postseason-less seasons.
The Pac-10 finally became a women's basketball conference way back in
1986-87 – the last time the Stanford women missed the NCAA tournament.
Let's play word association. The term is "playoff collapse."
I see Jeremy Giambi not sliding and Dusty Baker handing Russ Ortiz a souvenir
ball, among others. With Kansas' second-round exit from this year's NCAA
men's tournament, the Jayhawks became the first top-ranked team since 2004 to
leave so soon.
Does 2004 ring a bell? Pity the No.1 Stanford men,
who after winning their first 26 games of the year, couldn't even survive the
tournament's second weekend. "The Magic Hour" had a longer run in late
Days after Mike Montgomery's last Stanford team tripped all over
themselves, the Stanford women provided a lesson in the clutch. With her
team trailing by one in the closing seconds, Kelley Suminski's three-pointer
gave the Cardinal women a 57-55 win in the Sweet 16 over Vanderbilt. Tara's team
hasn't missed a regional final since.
On an otherwise ideal Sunday
afternoon in June eight years ago, the host Sacramento Kings bricked on 14-of-30
free throws in a Western Conference finals Game 7 overtime loss to the
Too bad the Kings couldn't channel Stanford's focus in the NCAA
women's tournament first round from two years earlier. The Cardinal
drained nine of 10 free throws in the overtime session to down No.25
Michigan. After making only 47 percent of her foul shots during the
season, Sarah Dimson went 6-for-7 from the charity stripe in the
Arco Arena was a fitting, yet bittersweet, setting for Monday
night's heroics. Four months ago, the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs – the one pro
franchise to bring the city a championship – announced they were no
longer. Former Stanford star Nicole Powell was the star rookie on that
2005 WNBA title-winner. She's now a member of the New York Liberty, her
former Sacramento teammates having been scattered all over the league in a
But Tara VanDerveer's team is once again elevating
under pressure, fine-tuning their efforts when it matters most. Watching
them this time of year brings to mind one of ESPN's better commercials from
years past. The visuals were teams in the NCAA women's tournament, the
soundtrack provided by a punk band's version of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show"
theme song. These girls have made it, after all.
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Celebrating The Stanford Women
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