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Stanford, West Coast powers vow to be better

STANFORD, Calif. -- Silence fell over Maples Pavilion last
March when the Stanford women's basketball team made another early
exit from the NCAA Tournament.

That's not supposed to happen to the prominent teams. The
Cardinal had been perfect at home all season, but lost to Minnesota
in the tournament's second round. And the Pac-10's other postseason
representatives didn't fare any better, raising questions about the
state of West Coast women's basketball that had been such a strong
presence for decades on the national stage.

Coaches promise it will be better this season. But postseason
success has to come soon.

"We as a conference didn't play well in the tournament last
year, and that downplayed how we did during the season, which was
disappointing,'' said Stanford guard Susan Borchardt, formerly
Susan King.

"We do need to perform at that time of the year, when everybody
is watching. If you don't show it at the end, that's what people
see.''

Stanford, the three-time defending conference champion, believed
it had the talent last season to reach the Elite Eight, and perhaps
even the Final Four, and the talent to erase several years of
frustrating finishes.

But the sixth-seeded Golden Gophers ended No. 3-seeded
Stanford's 26-game home winning streak, including 15 straight last
season. The Cardinal hadn't been beaten in Maples since losing to
Tennessee on Dec. 16, 2001.

Victories over big-name teams in the preseason could help boost
the fading image of women's hoops on this side of the country,
where Arizona and Washington were NCAA Tournament first-round
losers last season.

Stanford plays Tennessee on Dec. 14, as well as Boston
University and Texas Tech. Arizona plays Virginia in the preseason,
while Washington has Notre Dame, Colorado and Texas Tech on its
nonconference schedule. UCLA travels to Texas and Purdue, and
Arizona State goes to two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut.

"There's no doubt the preseason can go a long way with
nationally being recognized for how strong of a conference we
are,'' Washington coach June Daugherty said. "It's important not
only to schedule great preseason games but also to have success
against those teams, and that's the goal.''

Stanford won NCAA titles in 1990 and again in '92, but hasn't
gone deep in the tournament since losing 83-82 in overtime to Old
Dominion in the 1997 Final Four. Since then, the Cardinal have two
first-round exits, three second-round setbacks and a loss in the
third round in 2002.

Tara VanDerveer, entering her 18th season at Stanford, earned
her sixth Pac-10 coach of the year award and second straight last
season when the Cardinal finished an impressive 27-5 and won the
inaugural conference tournament. Then the Cardinal flopped when it
mattered.

"I think we've had some great teams in the Pac-10,'' said
VanDerveer, a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, who
has the third-highest winning percentage among active Division I
women's coaches (.781, 575-161). "I remember USC with Cheryl
Miller, and Washington had a great team. My first year I lost to
everybody and I haven't forgotten. It all starts with coaching and
we have some good coaches, and some great young players in the
conference.

"We have people who can play out here. The pressure is on all
the teams and coaches not just to play the best teams in the nation
but to win, and go farther in the tournament. We have great players
in the conference who can compete. We have to do it.''

Stanford still gets the recruits it wants, including those from
the opposite coast. Examples are guard Kelley Suminski from
Chester, N.J., and Krista Rappahahn from Lebanon, Conn.

"I didn't know anything about West Coast basketball,'' Suminski
said. "There was very little of it on TV. I was usually sleeping
when it was on. Now I feel lucky to be out West. I love it here. I
look around and see a ton of talent. I think we can go up against
any conference, and I hope we can prove that this year.''

Letter of intent day is Nov. 12. Stanford already has a verbal
commitment from 5-foot-11 guard Candace Wiggins of San Diego, who
also had interest from Duke and UCLA.

The Cardinal heritage is impressive -- two NCAA championships,
six Final Four appearances, seven trips to the Elite Eight, 10
appearances in the final 16, and 16 consecutive berths in the NCAA
Tournament.

"We could lose to anybody if we're not playing well,''
VanDerveer said. "We play against such a variety of defenses, and
against coaches who are creative on offense. The wild west is very
open-minded. The competition in the conference was great, and I'm
proud of last year. We want to build on it.''

Stanford has 11 letterwinners returning with all five starters,
including leading scorer Nicole Powell. The senior forward
averaged 18.8 points and 9.3 rebounds last season, and played at
the Pan American Games. They are committed to having a better
season.

"That wasn't the way we wanted to finish,'' Borchardt said.
"We worked hard over the summer and used that as motivation.''

Then there's UC Santa Barbara, winner of eight straight Big West
Conference titles and a team that has made seven straight trips to
the NCAA Tournament.

The Gauchos, who will be one of 16 hosts for the first and
second round of the tournament next spring, play a tough preseason
that includes home games against Arizona and Illinois and road
trips to Florida, Cincinnati and Purdue. They have four starters
back.

"When you look at the various ingredients that need to come
together to have a really good team -- maybe one of our best teams --
certainly the potential is there,'' 17-year coach Mark French said.
"Whether or not we meet that potential will be the interesting
question.''

The Pac-10 returns 80 percent of its starters.

"I think the conference is outstanding, but we have to beat
people,'' said Southern California coach Chris Gobrecht, whose
team's official athletic site talks about the mission to "revive the great
legacy and tradition of Women of Troy basketball.''