With a weekend sweep of the Washington schools, head coach Tara VanDerveer became just the fifth Division I basketball coach to reach 900 victories at one school. No. 6 ranked Stanford (16-1, 6-0 Pac-12) was unrelenting in a 91-54 win over Washington (8-10, 1-5 Pac-12) on Friday in anticipation of a career performance by senior forward Alanna Smith on Sunday to defeat Washington State (7-11, 2-5) by a score of 85 to 64.
“It’s a little mind-boggling just to think how quickly it’s gone,” said VanDerveer, now in her 33rd season as Stanford head coach. “We’ve had a legacy of great players, great people, great assistant coaches, and an administration that supports women’s basketball – great fans,” explained VanDerveer. “It’s not a one person thing at all. It’s a team sport.
“It happens because you have players like Alanna,” said VanDerveer. “Alanna is part of a great legacy of outstanding players, and I think she is having an All-American or All-Australian senior year.”
Smith scored a career high 34 points in the milestone victory. “When you’re playing for Tara’s 900th win, you got to go as hard as you can,” said Smith. “Not everyone gets to say they were coached by a hall-of-famer. I’m just trying to soak it in while I can. I wish I could stay here for more than four years.”
The Cardinal never trailed in their dominant rout of the Huskies. The success of the big three of Smith, sophomore guard Kiana Williams and junior guard DiJonai Carrington meant VanDerveer was able to rotate more freely and dig deeper into her bench.
“I was really happy with how our team came out tonight and I was really excited about how our bench finished,” said VanDerveer. “I think the best thing is from my perspective, no one got in foul trouble, no one got hurt and no one played more than 30 minutes. I think we’re just getting better and better.”
Smith dropped 27 points on an “awesome” 12-for-18 shooting, “but she rebounds,” VanDerveer said. “A double-double machine. Thirteen and 27. How can a coach complain about that?”
Williams added 22 points while shooting 9 of 17, also earning the praise of her head coach. “We’re led by the best point guard in the league,” said VanDerveer. “Kiana is a winner, a leader. She plays at both ends of the floor.”
“I just stayed with the flow of the game. My shots weren’t falling in the second quarter, but other people picked up the slack,” explained Williams. “As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”
Smith was also happy with the play of her point guard.
“She knows where open players are. She has a great handle, she has great vision, and she knows to find players who are hot at the time,” Smith said.
For a standout senior on a young team, Smith might have expected a trying year. Instead, she has led the Cardinal to their best start since 2013-2014. “Our freshman don’t play like freshman,” said Smith. “It’s making my job easy, I don’t have to do that much to lead in this team, I just try to lead by example and encourage.”
Smith’s encouragement was working on Friday. “Confidence comes from working hard and my teammates,” said Williams. “Alanna’s telling me to just keep shooting.”
However, it was Carrington who led the team in assists with five, to go along with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The defense of the Cardinal was also much improved over last season. “Last year when we played [Washington’s] Amber Melgoza she had 40 on us, so I think we really focused on playing better defense,” said VanDerveer.
Stanford did, preventing Melgoza from making much of a dent in her quest for 1,000 career points by holding her to eight points and forcing five turnovers. The Cardinal held the Huskies without a double-digit scorer and limited the team to 34.5 percent from the field.
The scoring output and the shutdown defense meant Stanford went into the fourth quarter with a 30-point lead. VanDerveer felt confident to hand the game over to her second team, including junior guard Mikaela Brewer, senior center Shannon Coffee and sophomore forward Estella Moschkau, who won the fourth quarter 22-15.
“It was really fun for some people who work really hard in practice, someone like Mikaela Brewer, to come in and hit big threes,” said VanDerveer.
“Mikaela did an outstanding job, and she pushes us in practice,” added Smith. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do in games without Mikaela, Estella and Shannon.”
Freshman forward Lexie Hull also saw additional playing time, with her 23 minutes the most since returning from a leg injury that caused her to miss nine games. Hull tallied three points and five boards on 1 of 2 from behind the arc. “A real key getting Lexie back,” said VanDerveer. “she’ll really help our team.”
VanDerveer also praised freshman Alyssa Jerome.
“Jerome does a lot of dirty work in there,” said VanDerveer, calling her “the unsung hero.” Jerome was perfect from the field with five points and two rebounds as she has grown into a starting role.
“This year you can feel it,” said Smith. “There’s something special about this team.”
Alanna Smith’s massive day propelled the Cardinal to resounding victory over Washington State to remain perfect all time against the Cougars. Smith’s 34 points came on 13 of 17 shooting, including four of five from deep. She contributed 15 rebounds, two blocks and three assists to tie for the team high.
“It wasn’t just Alanna tonight,” said VanDerveer. “Kiana Williams had a great game. Dijonai had a great second half. Lexie and Lacie were playing some awesome defense.”
Williams added 19 on an efficient 8-14 with three assists. Carrington did most of her damage in the third quarter, scoring nine of her 11 points on a perfect four of four from the field. Carrington also secured five rebounds and assisted thrice.
Sunday was also the school’s first Human Trafficking Awareness Game, an initiative that Smith helped start. Last quarter, Smith took a class on human trafficking and became involved planning Sunday’s event, working with public address announcer Betty Ann Hagenau. Hagenau, who is also the founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition, was a guest lecturer in Smith’s class. “This is all by Alanna Smith’s leadership,” said Hagenau.
“As an athlete we have a platform that others don’t have,” explained Smith. “People were really excited to get on board. I’m just super happy that I can be a part of raising awareness for something like this.
“I was just hoping to do it at some point in this season,” said Smith of the awareness game. “I’m not just about basketball and that’s our whole team, too. Our whole team is really caring and we love to give back, and as athletes that’s something I think is really important to do.”
“That’s kind of Alanna as a quintessential Stanford student,” said VanDerveer. “She’s not just about basketball, she’s not just about academics, she’s into her studies and I think it’s a great statement that she cares about more than just dribbling and shooting.”
Stanford only had nine bench points, while the 64 from Smith, Williams and Carrington tied the entire Wazzu output. The Cardinal had a 31-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but the Cougars went on a 9-0 run that forced VanDerveer to put most of her starting rotation back into the game. “Our big three are really dependable,” said VanDerveer. “Hopefully we can get some more contributions in our next game.
“I like the fact that our team is not complacent. They want to get better, they know that it’s a tough road.”
The next stop on Stanford’s road trip is at Colorado on Friday.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu