Pac-12 preview: Stanford University

This is the fourth in an annual series previewing the Pac-12 teams.

Last season was nothing but good for the Stanford Cardinal, as the Pac-12 powerhouse won 30 games for the 14th time, and first since 2014. The Cardinal’s 32 wins tied for eighth in program history, and they set a school record with 212 blocks – one better than the previous year’s 211. Stanford won with a balanced attack featuring six different leading scorers and three players (Erica McCall, Brittany McPhee, Karlie Samuelson) averaging over 12 points per game for the first time since 2010-11. Seniors McCall and Samuelson received WBCA and AP All-America honorable mention recognition at season’s end.

The team finished ninth in the country in field goal percentage defense (.350), third in blocks (212), and third in rebounds (1,562). They were 20-3 in games away from Maples Pavilion, second in the country in wins (road/neutral), and third by percentage (.870). To top it all off, the Cardinal made their 13th overall trip to the Final Four and their seventh in the last 10 years. Last year marked their 31st NCAA Tournament appearance and 30th straight. Their 13 Final Four appearances are the third-most by any school, and their overall appearances rank third behind only Tennessee (36) and Georgia (32).

McPhee, a senior this year, was one of the main catalysts in the Cardinal’s run last season, leading the team in scoring during the tournament with 16.8 points per game and shooting 44.4 percent from behind the arc. She said the postseason energized her and other returnees.

“I think going to the Final Four and getting a taste for it left us returners wanting more,” McPhee said. “We want to go back and we want to go further. I think that’s kind of a drive for us. And I think we’re trying to create that culture for our freshmen, too.”

Coach Tara VanDerveer, entering her 32nd season at Stanford, hopes to fill the void left by McCall and Samuelson with the addition of a stellar freshman class. It includes forwards Alyssa Jerome, Maya Dodson, Estella Moschkau, and guard Kiana Williams.

Returnees include sophomore guards Dijonai Carrington, Mikaela Brewer and Anna Wilson; sophomore forward Nadia Fingall; junior center Shannon Coffee; junior guards Marta Sniezek and Alexa Romana; and senior defensive specialist Kaylee Johnson.

Junior Alanna Smith also returns, coming off a season where she averaged 9.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. She also made the Pac-12 All-Tournament Team.

VanDerveer said McPhee’s senior year has come quickly.

“It’s hard to believe. Even (conference commissioner) Larry Scott said to me, ‘Brittany’s been playing forever at Stanford,’” VanDerveer said.

With ten returners and five new faces, the focal point for the Cardinal will be their team chemistry. Last season they didn’t have a superstar, and instead banded together to play team basketball. VanDerveer said they were successful because of they way they functioned as a unit on court.

“Chemistry was a big reason why our team was successful,” she said. “People are unselfish, and they’re very hard workers. If they do that, I think that gives us a chance. We’ll have different stars every night.”

“I think we’re going to be a win by committee. It’s going to be different people doing different things. I’m counting on great chemistry and great leadership and the things that helped us be successful last year.”

The players build this their on-court relationships with off-court get-togethers on the weekends.

“We always try to go somewhere on the weekends during the summer,” McPhee said, “We just try to get out and get in a different atmosphere. We went to Yosemite and Mammoth Lakes last weekend. It’s just fun to get to know each other. It’s a lot of time you don’t have any cell service you can’t even listen to the radio. So you really get to learn a lot about each other that you otherwise wouldn’t talk about like on the court. So it’s a lot of fun.”

VanDerveer feels like the season has already started.

“We have a great group. We’re playing a very competitive schedule, and we’re very, very excited,” she said.