During a season in which the Stanford women’s basketball team basically lived out of a suitcase yet maintained sustained excellence, the Cardinal are hoping for an extended stay in Texas that ends in being showered by confetti.
Stanford, which is seeking its third national championship, was one of four No. 1 seeds in the 64-team NCAA Tournament bracket revealed Monday. The Cardinal (25-2), ranked second in The Associated Press poll released earlier Monday, will face 16th-seeded Utah Valley (13-6) in the first round of the Alamo Region on Sunday (7 p.m.).
It is the 33rd straight trip to the NCAA Tournament for Stanford, which won the Pac-12 Conference’s regular-season and tournament championships. The Cardinal, a No. 1 seed for the 10th time, won national titles in 1990 and 1992. Due to COVID-19, there was no NCAA Tournament last year.
The other No. 1 seeds in this year’s tournament are Connecticut (24-1), North Carolina State (20-2) and South Carolina (22-4). UConn, the top-ranked team in the country, will be without coach Geno Auriemma, who tested positive for the coronavirus, the Huskies announced Monday. The school said he must isolate himself for 10 days, per state and federal guidelines. Auriemma has not had contact with any players or other Tier 1 personnel since Friday.
Due to NCAA health and safety protocols, the entire tournament is being played in the San Antonio area and the four regions — Alamo, Mercado, River Walk and Hemisfair — are named after city landmarks. The tournament is being played at five venues in San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos, with the Final Four to be played April 2-4 at the Alamodome.
Balance is one reason why the Cardinal have been so successful this season under Tara VanDerveer, who in December became the winningest women’s coach in NCAA history (currently with 1,112 victories). While four players average double figures in scoring, no one is averaging 15 points per game. Senior point guard Kiana Williams is the leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, followed by sophomore guard Haley Jones at 13.0, junior guard Lexie Hull at 11.5 and freshman forward Cameron Brink at 10.2.
It could be an even more special three weeks for Williams, who went to high school in San Antonio and is hoping to cap her career with a national championship. She was named Most Outstanding Player of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Utah Valley is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance and is representing the Western Athletic Conference. Cal Baptist went 25-0 this season, including winning the WAC regular-season and tournament titles, but the program is in its third season of transitioning to Division I and not yet eligible for NCAA Tournament play. Utah Valley finished second in the regular season and was awarded the WAC’s automatic bid after Cal Baptist won the regular-season and tournament championships, per a vote of conference officials.
The Wolverines are led by two first-team All-WAC selections in sophomore guard Maria Carvalho (9.1 points, 4.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals per game) and 6-foot-5 junior center Josie Williams (14.0 points, 8.2 rebounds per game).
The winner of Sunday’s game will face either eighth-seeded Oklahoma State (18-8) or ninth-seeded Wake Forest (12-12) in the second round.
Stanford could face second-seeded Louisville in the regional final if both teams win their first three games. Six Pac-12 teams are in the field, with UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and Washington State joining the Cardinal.