This has become one of the great rivalries in women's basketball. Stanford (3-0) and UConn (2-0) have split their 12 previous meetings and six of those have come in the past 48 months. Three of those have been Final Four clashes – from 2008-10. The last meeting, as most fans remember, came Dec. 30, 2010. That's when Stanford won at Maples Pavilion 71-59, ending the Huskies' NCAA-record 90-game winning streak.
Senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, averaging 23.5 points and 12.0 rebounds, is Stanford's top player. UConn has three players scoring in double figures – Tiffany Hayes (13.7), Bria Hartley (12.4) and Stefanie Dolson (10.2).
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who has won 677 games in her 26 seasons at Stanford, held a teleconference call with the media Friday to discuss her program and upcoming game with UConn. The following is a transcript of that call:
On the progression of Stanford's guards:
"We have some young guards that I think are getting better and better each day and this will be a great test for them. [Connecticut] does have outstanding perimeter play with Bria Hartley, Tiffany Hayes and Kaleena [Mosqueda-Lewis]. It's great for them to have Caroline Doty back and Kelly Faris, so they are very experienced and really accomplished guards. That's not to say they don't have good inside play, too. They've got [Stefanie] Dolson, who's playing really well, and Heather Buck has got a lot of experience, and they bring in a young freshman with Kiah Stokes. They seem to be either guards or post players, not the tweeners."
On what she expects the atmosphere to be like in Hartford for Monday's game:
"It feels a lot different to me. Really, when you're playing at the end of December you're at least 10 games into your schedule. It just feels like an early round of a fight. It does not have the same feel but it's a very big game for us and it will just help us know where we're at, what we need to be doing better. And it'll be a very exciting game, I think we're developing a great rivalry."
On freshmen playing in a big game like this:
"You really don't know what they're going to do. I think the advantage for us in playing a big game now is you hope that you're going to be in the NCAA Tournament and that they get used to playing in big games. That they adapt to the crowd, the excitement, being able to focus, keep their poise. I think we need some really good play from our young freshmen. Just going on the road in the first game to Texas, and not having Nneka [Ogwumike], so I was very impressed with how our freshmen got right in there, they didn't seem to bat an eye. But the more we do it I think the more they get used to it."
On the importance of Stanford's extension of defense:
"This is a very different team for us. I think that for the most part, when you think of a Stanford team, it's a big team, it's not kind of water-bug quick. We have some very athletic, quick guards that allow us to do some different things and we're excited about that. I think we're not radically changed, but like you said, a little wrinkle that could pay off for us, where we could pick up defensively full court whereas last year that was not an option for us."
On if she considers it to be one of the premier rivalries/series in the country:
"I definitely think so. We look at ourselves and Connecticut, having been to the last four Final Fours, I think we're the only two teams that have done that. The game last year was obviously a great game with all that was riding on it. We played for the national title the year before. Connecticut has been in the conversation as far as competing for a national championship just year in and year out, and we were in it, we were out of it and now I think we're back in it and that's great."
On if Stanford has been approached by organizers of the Carrier Classic:
"We definitely want to keep playing Connecticut. I see it as a great opportunity for our program, and as far as I know, [the Carrier Classic] is a total separate thing. We're looking at Connecticut coming back here next year, us going back there. We have renewed the contract and we want to keep playing an ongoing home-and-home with them"
"As far as the Carrier Classic, we have been approached. They did not say anything about who we would be playing. I told they were looking to put us in next year's game. But I'm not sure about that. We would love to have the opportunity to play in that game. It's a great game to honor our armed services and we're definitely open to it."
(Question about being approached for 2012)
"Our athletic director asked if we'd be interested in playing this game, I said definitely, we'd be interested, and that's all I've heard. I thought it was for next year. It was announced that Connecticut was looking at '13, so I'm not sure. But we are definitely interested. Because we already play Connecticut here or there, if we got to play in [the Carrier Classic], we'd play anybody, but we want to keep our home-and-home going with Connecticut."
On how the Ogwumike sisters compare to past post combinations Stanford has had:
"We have had a great tradition of post players. Jayne Appel, you can go back to Val Whiting, I think she was one of our greatest post players, played on both national championship teams. Being at Stanford we've had Kayla Pedersen, Jayne Appel, Olympia Scott."
"Nneka and Chiney play really well together. They seem to have a sixth sense because they've played with each other for so long. They bring great athleticism, excellent skill set. If there's one thing that's really special, they bring a sisterhood. The two of them together, what I saw with last year, was they are really unselfish, they really help players understand team basketball and there's this great sisterhood that they have and they bring it to our team. They're great leaders and competitors."
On the amount of urgency there is to get back to the Final Four and win the national title:,
"That's something that when you have the players, the pieces of the puzzle, you always want to put the puzzle together. To be so close and yet so far, there's a sense when you get away from it you're like ‘Wow that was awesome to go to the Final Four' and then you're like ‘We were right there' and you always want to have a shot at it. It's so far down the road it's not something we talk about. We try to work hard every day, enjoy practice, enjoy working with each other and try to improve. To realize that it is so fragile that we're just going to try to put ourselves in the best position and control the things we can to be ready for that. Playing Connecticut helps us get ready for the opportunity so that if you're fortunate enough to go to the Final Four you're not intimidated by crowds or any team you would play, because we've already played at Connecticut and what can be harder than that?"
On her philosophy with using the freshmen so far this season:
"I don't know exactly how Geno's been [managing his freshmen] but I don't think they have a freshman in the starting lineup. And we do. We just play the freshman where we need them, and based on how they're doing. We're fortunate that we have Nneka and Chiney, Toni Kokenis, a young sophomore and Lindy La Rocque, a senior. We play Taylor Greenfield as a freshman, we bring in a freshman, the first person off the bench is Amber [Orrange]. Our first post off the bench is a junior, Joslyn Tinkle, then depending on what we need we bring in Jasmine Camp, or Erica Payne or Bonnie Samuelson. It's all based on what we need. One of our players who could really help us down the road was hurt, but she's coming back. We're fortunate that we have some upperclassmen that can play and to lead the way and show our freshmen what they're supposed to be doing."
On if she anticipates a fast-paced up-and-down type of game Monday:
"I hope so. Connecticut and Stanford are very similar in the style of wanting to run, wanting to play up-tempo, kind of open offense. We're not a pressing team like Miami is a pressing team, that's not our thing. But I think that we will be able to do more. Right now we're trying not to do too much because we don't want people to get confused. We have a lot of young players out there and we want to keep things simple for them and try to execute well and play with high intensity."
On if ending Connecticut's NCAA-record 90-game winning streak last December adds some spice to Monday's game:
"For the most part this is a new year. We have a very competitive, positive rivalry. That might prove to throw something on the fire, an extra log on the fire, but the fire's burning big already."
On the play and production of Lindy La Rocque this season:
"I actually think that adding [assistant sports performance coach] Susan King Borchardt to our staff has helped her a lot. She's really helping Lindy with her work ethic and just being in better shape. Lindy's been playing really well in practice."