Stanford once again the team to beat in Pac-12

Getty Images File PhotoBig shoes to fill: With her older sister graduated

Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer tries to avoid preseason predictions. She wants to focus on getting her team ready for playing into April.

“It’s irrelevant to me,” the Hall of Fame coach said during the Pac-12 Conference media day Monday. “We plan to pick up where we left off.”

Stanford, which has reached the Final Four in each of the past five seasons, is an overwhelming favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champion, receiving the maximum of 11 first-place votes in a poll of conference coaches. Cal, which returns nearly everybody from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, got the other first-place vote and came in second.

“I expected us to be picked second,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Obviously, Stanford is such a worthy champion. They are champions until someone dethrones them.”

The Cardinal has won or shared the last 12 conference titles and owns a 78-game winning streak against conference teams.

UCLA was chosen third, followed by Southern Cal, Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Washington State, Oregon and Arizona.

The Cardinal, who will have both of their exhibition games televised by Pac-12 Networks, also bring a 79-game home winning streak into the season.

“It wasn’t that long ago we had six teams in the NCAA tournament,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “I hope this year we can get four or five teams selected. Lindsay did a fabulous job last year and Cal is in position to have a great year nationally. But they have to do that.”

The introduction of the Pac-12 Networks this year has coaches excited about the prospects of broadcasting their games to the rest of the nation. Other than Stanford, most say the rest of the country doesn’t know how competitive teams are in the conference.

“I had to wrap my head around the fact that in the Pac-12 no game was going to be easy,” Utah redshirt junior Taryn Wicijowski said of the Utes’ first year in the Pac-12.

The Pac-12 Networks are scheduled to televise 61 women’s games this year, including the first three rounds of the conference tournament.

“There are great coaches and tremendous players,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “It’s a great opportunity for our conference to burst out on the national scene.”

Stanford lost All-American Nnemkadi Ogwumike to the WNBA, but returns four other starters including Nneka’s younger sister, Chiney Ogwumike.

“In the old days, you’d maybe get one game on TV and everybody was excited,” VanDerveer said. “Now, when you go to a game and see a TV truck, it makes it all the better. We’re excited that other teams in our conference are getting attention.”

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