After three years in which Stanford "only" won 39 out of 54 conference games -- sub-par compared to those Kate Starbird-led teams of the mid-90s that ran roughshod annually through the conference -- coach Tara VanDerveer has the second-ranked Cardinal back in the national spotlight again. And by beating Washington tonight at Maples Pavilion, Stanford can clinch outright the PAC-10 regular season championship, taking that small first step towards a Final Four return -- their first since they went 34-2 and 29-3 in back-to-back appearances in '96 and '97.
There's no question that the Huskies are playing the second-best ball in the conference right now -- a testament to their own current five-game winning streak (which, incidentally, began after their earlier defeat to the Cardinal). But that streak pales in comparison to what Stanford has done so far this season. Their last (and only season) loss was December 16 -- a 68-62 home loss to fourth-ranked Tennessee. Since then, the Cardinal has reeled off 16-straight, including all 14 of their conference games.
"At this point in the season, we had hoped to be unbeaten (in conference)," remarks coach VanDerveer. "Our team chemistry is back."
However, the Huskies did give Stanford their toughest conference game of the season earlier in Seattle. In that January 19th contest, Washington trailed by 17 at the half, closed it to five with under three minutes left before succumbing by eight. The margin was the closest Stanford has faced during their current streak since beating Rutgers by four points on January 2.
"We're playing extremely confident right now," Husky coach June Daugherty said after dispatching Arizona State by 18 last Saturday. "We're having a lot of fun right now, and you can see it in the results."
Led by probable PAC-10 Player-of-the-Year Nicole Powell, the Cardinal are leading every offensive category in the conference. Powell, a sophomore, is seeking to become the first player in PAC-10 history to lead the conference in both rebounding and assists. Senior guard Lindsey Yamasaki led Stanford with 19 points in the teams' first meeting, and 6-7 senior post Cori Enghusen from Bothell chipped in 13 points and five rebounds in 11 minutes in her homecoming. Powell was held to eight points, but added 12 boards and six assists.
The Huskies were led by the 19 points of Loree Payne and 17 from Andrea Lalum. Giuliana Mendiola added 11 points and eight caroms for Washington, who was hurt early by their inability to hit the home run, eventually going 6-25 from behind the arc.
The Cardinal will also get plenty of minutes from 6-foot senior Lauren St. Clair (4.6 points per game) and 5-11 freshman Sebnem Kimyacioglu (6.2 points).
Washington last won at Maples Pavilion three years ago, a 74-62 victory.
STANFORD CL HT PTS REB WASHINGTON CL HT PTS REB Nicole Powell SO 6-2 15.4 9.8 Emily Autrey JR 6-0 10.1 4.2 T'Nae Thiel FR 6-1 6.6 5.7 Andrea Lalum SO 6-4 11.9 6.5 Bethany Donaphin SR 6-2 8.3 4.3 Loree Payne JR 6-0 14.2 2.7 Kelley Suminski FR 5-9 8.7 2.1 Kristen O'Neill FR 6-0 6.5 3.7 Lindsey Yamasaki SR 6-1 16.6 4.8 Giuliana Mendiola SO 5-11 11.1 5.6