Something special is brewing in Stanford, California. This Cardinal team entering March Madness is closer and more united than ever before, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
This group of 15 women will try to do what nobody (other than UConn and Tennessee) has done since USC in 1984: repeat as national champions.
Stanford finished the year with a 20-game win streak, bringing their overall season record to 28-3. They finished first in the PAC-12 and had no problems in the Pac-12 Tournament, winning each of their games by 20+ points.
They come into March Madness this year as the #1 seed in the Spokane Region, set to start their NCAA tournament defense on Friday, Mar. 18, against Montana State.
But before we take a look at what this team can do, let’s take a moment to appreciate what it is. A team built around skill, sure — but more importantly, they are a team bonded together by something much stronger: Love.
Although gambling on sports is not legal yet in The Golden State, residents should look out for at least one proposal to make it a reality this Fall. In November 2022 legal sports betting will be put to a vote in CA.
The Cardinal is a team by all definitions of the word
“…We love each other more than just teammates,” said Junior Guard Haley Jones to the Washington Post, and continued:
“We love each other as people, so we want to keep playing together. And I think that adds to the spirit to keep fighting, keep playing as long as we can.”
This theme of unity and love was something that all began last year in the Cardinal’s run for the National Championship. They made it through the first couple of rounds with ease. Winning each game leading up to the final four by double digits.
But once they got to the final four, the going got tough — and nothing brings a team closer than hard-fought battles. They won their Final Four game against South Carolina by one point, narrowly edging the Gamecocks out by a score of 66-65.
Cutting down the nets
The national championship game was no different, as the Cardinal were forced to hold a narrow lead all game. Eventually, they edged out the Arizona Wildcats by a score of 54-53 for the national title.
Two close games in succession like that would be enough to bring any team closer. Add on the fact that they were the two biggest games of the year, and you can understand why this Stanford team is the way they are.
The most amazing thing about it? Eleven of the 12 women on last year’s team returned to play in 2021/2022. The only woman that didn’t was Kiana Williams, who was taken in the second round of the WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm.
One of the most important things to consider when looking at a team’s chances of cutting down the nets is their experience level. Can they handle the pressure? Can they perform under the brightest lights?
Well, this Stanford team proved they could do both, just 365 days ago. So how are things looking this year? Let’s take a look.
What are Stanford’s chances at a repeat?
Stanford shouldn’t face a threat in the Spokane Region until the Sweet 16. Their first game against Montana State should be a trouncing. And their Round of 32 matchup against Kansas or Georgia State should be easy as well.
Both teams struggled against ranked opponents in the regular season, combining for a record of 4-13 against top-25 schools. Stanford also isn’t your typical top 25 school, so I expect the Kansas/Georgia State struggle bus to keep rolling.
Stanford’s Sweet 16 matchup will most likely be against either #4 seed Maryland or #5 seed Virginia Tech. Stanford already owns an 18-point win over the Maryland Terrapins this season, so no concerns should be had there. Virginia Tech, however, poses a bit more of a threat to Stanford’s run for a repeat.
The Hokies went 5-7 against ranked opponents this year. But they remain a dangerous task thanks to the play of Junior Center Elizabeth Kitley.
Kitley has scored an average of 17.4 ppg, grabbing just under 10 rebounds per game as well. She makes her presence in the paint known, swatting away 2.5 shots per game. And standing at 6’6’’ she really is a tall glass of water.
Stanford’s Cameron Brink would likely be responsible for containing Kitley on defense. Brink blocks almost 3 shots per game herself but stands two inches shorter than Virginia Tech’s Kitley. All in all, I think the Cardinal should be able to handle this one, although it may be very close.
If I’m a Stanford fan, I’m rooting for this Virginia Tech team to fall early.
Moving on in March
If Stanford continues to find success through the Sweet 16, then a matchup against the Texas Longhorns is likey staring them in the eyes. This is a Longhorns team that is on an 11-game winning streak of their own. And they have a win over the Cardinal earlier in the year.
It’s around this part of the NCAA bracket where my crystal ball gets hazy. If they can get a win over Texas in the Elite 8, they have a matchup against a strong opponent in the Final Four.
Whether it’s UConn, NC State, or even Indiana, it’ll be no cakewalk. And a win there sets up a championship match, presumably against South Carolina — who have a win of their own over the Cardinal.
But, at the end of the day, it all comes back to the trust and love every player on this Stanford team has for one another. So, if any team were to join the exclusive list of repeat champions, it would be this Stanford team.