STANFORD — It’s almost a given that the No. 1 seeds will beat the No. 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
But if Stanford needed any reminder of why it’s not a guarantee ahead of its matchup with Sacred Heart on Friday, ESPN gave the current players a history lesson in its Selection Show.
Just after the final bracket was unveiled, ESPN displayed the all-time record for the teams seeded No. 1, 2 and 3 in the women’s tournament: 335-1.
That one? It was 25 years ago Tuesday, when No. 1 seed Stanford lost to No. 16 seed Harvard in 1998.
Current Stanford senior Hannah Jump said she had “no idea” about the fact and junior Cameron Brink didn’t seem to know, either. Though it’s understandable in one sense: None of Stanford’s current players were born when that game happened.
Senior Francesca Belibi did say she knew about that loss before this week, if only because she’s seen it before on the selection show.
“They put that graphic up every time, and every time, I’m like, ‘Ooof,’” Belibi said on Friday.
VanDerveer made sure to note that the circumstances around the 1998 game were “quite extraordinary.” Back then, star senior guard Vanessa Nygaard tore her ACL in the final game of the regular season, just before the Selection Show. Then, after the Cardinal received a No. 1 seed, starting forward Kristin Folkl tore her ACL in the first practice after announcing Nygaard’s injury.
Playing without either key player against a Harvard team that many felt was underseeded, future WNBA first-round pick Alison Feaster had 35 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Crimson to the 71-67 win. It was the only time in either the men’s or the women’s tournament that a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 until UMBC beat Virginia in the men’s tournament in 2018.
That “quite extraordinary” situation is not duplicated here, but there are still lessons to take away.
“You’ve got to play it — you don’t go into a game with a No. 1 seed and get a 20-point head start,” VanDerveer said. “You’ve got to come out, play the whole game and you’ve got to play really well. And our team understands that.”
Stanford’s experience in the NCAA Tournament should help them here, with the key members of the Cardinal all playing in the 12th tournament game of their careers on Friday. But that reminder from ESPN can still reinforce the task at hand.
“Our goal now is to not let that happen again, so we’re going to come in tomorrow ready to go,” Jump said.
Preparing for a star guard
Six of the Stanford players and most of the coaching staff were in Maples Pavilion on Wednesday night to watch Sacred Heart beat Southern 57-47 in a First Four game.
Belibi and Jump were both in attendance and said it felt strange to be in the building without playing in the game themselves.
“I got to leave and go to the concession stands and use my student ID, and I was like, ‘That is so weird, I’ve never done that here,’” Belibi said. “It was cool just to be a part of a game where I’m just here as a basketball fan and just watch and enjoy the environment.”
While they only got to enjoy Southern’s world-famous Human Jukebox band for one night, they will now face Sacred Heart’s star freshman Ny’Ceara Pryor, who both VanDerveer and Jump called the “engine of their team.”
Listed at 5-foot-3, the guard swept all three player of the year awards in the Northeast Conference – Player, Defensive Player and Freshman – and helped the Pioneers reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.
She nearly had a triple-double in the First Four game, tallying 11 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Stanford freshman guard Talana Lepolo was also at the game and is likely to be guarding Pryor.
“We love some smaller player representation, so that’s great,” said Lepolo, who is 5-foot-7. “From what I saw yesterday, she was fast, got to the rim, so definitely I think the game plan will just be to beat her to the house.
“I think, for us, the smaller guards can invite them to our bigger friends in the paint. I think we have the advantage inside, so getting them inside the paint and making them shoot over our bigger girls is definitely where I think we can have an advantage.”
VanDerveer called Pryor a “terrific player,” but she’s hoping her own freshmen guards in Lepolo and Indya Nivar are ready to take her on.
“If I’m a freshman playing against another freshman, I might want to say, ‘Okay, I’m not going to let a freshman outplay me,’” VanDerveer said. “So I hope there’s a little motivation from Talana, or maybe Indya, to say, all right, she’s great, but this is our house, this is our gym. A little pride.
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup.”
Sacred Heart knows it’s a daunting task ahead of them, with coach Jessica Mannetti answering a question about which matchup she’s most concerned about with, “All of them.” But the Pioneers have
“They’re excited about the opportunity to have a David vs. Goliath moment,” Mannetti said. “We’ve been proving people wrong the entire season … I think it’s a great opportunity. Wouldn’t that be a story to tell one day? I mean, It’s going to be tough — 40 minutes to play great basketball against an unbelievable team.”
Pryor added, “Why not Sacred Heart?”