The No. 7 preseason-ranked Stanford Cardinal women’s basketball team tips off its much hyped season today. Expectations are high for a team returning three starters and 12 players overall from last year’s team that made its 11th straight NCAA Sweet 16.
Last year, Stanford was once again near the top of the conference in defense but sagged in offensive statistics compared to previous seasons. Much of that owed to the team shooting only 31.9 percent from distance and an anemic 64.2 percent from the foul line. The team went 6-6 in regular season, non-conference matches last year with four of those losses coming by more than 10 points.
However, the Cardinal have to be encouraged that they could struggle so mightily in important ways and still have an incredibly successful season.
After leading the team in rebounds and points last season, the team will once again run through senior forward Alanna Smith. Over the summer, Smith gained invaluable experience competing with the Australian national team at the World Cup, leading the team in points in the championship game against the U.S. It should come as no surprise that the Cardinal star was named preseason All Pac-12.
Sophomore guard Kiana Williams, who led the team from behind the arc in her first season, will also be crucial to the Cardinal offense.
The three incoming freshmen, Head Coach Tara VanDerveer’s “triplets,” will have an opportunity to make their own noise over the course of the season. While Head Coach Tara VanDerveer has not committed to a starting five, in the first preseason game against Vanguard, freshman guard Lexie Hull joined Williams and junior Dijonai Carrington in the Cardinal backcourt and led the team in scoring. Junior forward Nadia Fingall and Smith rounded out the Cardinal starting five that handily defeated Vanguard 87-36.
Stanford will start the season with four consecutive non-conference home games before flying to Honolulu for the Rainbow Wahine Showdown. While in Hawaii, the Cardinal will face a FGCU squad looking to avenge their NCAA tournament defeat. Upon returning to the mainland, Stanford will face off against Gonzaga, the second team who had their 2017-2018 season end at the hands of the Cardinal.
The team’s two games after returning from Spokane may be the most important of the season. Preseason No. 4 ranked Baylor will travel to the Farm on December 15, and three days later Stanford will face No. 11 Tennessee in Knoxville. For a team with aspirations of a deep tournament run, these games will not only reveal whether the squad is up to the task but also significantly influence seeding once March comes around.
With the new year, Stanford will turn the page to its conference slate starting January 4 at home against USC. It will be a challenge for the Cardinal to recreate its 14-3 conference record with four other Pac-12 teams ranked to start the season.
Stanford can take out its red pen now and circle back-to-back games against No. 24 ranked Cal. The Cardinal will be in Berkeley January 31 before returning to Maples Pavilion February 2 to take on their rival once again.
While the pens are out, Stanford would be wise to highlight its one game against defending Pac-12 champion and No. 3 ranked Oregon. After losing to the Ducks by 20 in the Pac-12 championship last year, Stanford will have the opportunity to write a new story at home February 10. The Cardinal will finish the regular season with a home series against the Arizona schools sandwiched by road trips to Southern California and Washington.
Although Stanford became accustomed to making deep Pac-12 tournament runs in Seattle, with Commissioner Larry Scott moving the games to MGM Grand Arena, the Cardinal will compete for the conference title in Las Vegas for the first time.
VanDerveer’s squad appears poised to prosper once again. With the coach’s emphasis on improvement, the team the fans see Week 1 may not be the one that is vying for championships in March.