Stanford looks to repeat in wide-open Pac-10 tourney

Updated: March 5, 2004, 12:28 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer faces a predicament on how to play Nicole Powell to maximize the star forward's production down the stretch.

VanDerveer believes the Cardinal (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today; No. 12 AP) need more from Powell to make a strong postseason run, but at the same time the 18th-year coach realizes Powell is just plain worn out from carrying the load all season.

"In order for our team to even go to the next level, we need more from Nicole -- helping us run our offense, keeping things going and being a strong defender,'' VanDerveer said. "I also think we have to play her less. For our team to be really successful, she has to not be pacing herself.''

Powell is averaging 20.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in a team-high 32.8 minutes per game, and leads top-seeded Stanford into the Pac-10 tournament this weekend.

The Cardinal (21-6, 14-4 Pac-10) are hoping to defend their title and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, but there is more parity in the conference this season than there has been in years.

"There are probably six to seven teams that could win this, and that wouldn't surprise any of us,'' said USC coach Chris Gobrecht, whose Women of Troy are seeded third. "The champions didn't clearly separate themselves from the rest of us, either.''

This is the tournament's second year in San Jose after its debut in Eugene, Ore., two years ago.

Seventh-seeded Oregon State plays the tournament's first game Friday night against No. 10-seed Washington State, followed by No. 8 Oregon and No. 9 California.

"I think it'll probably end up being an ugly game having just played one another,'' Cal coach Caren Horstmeyer said, referring to the Golden Bears' 77-62 loss in Eugene on Saturday.

"It's different when you've just played in the regular season and now it's the postseason.''

Arizona, which tied with Stanford for first place in the Pac-10, has won four straight games and is the second seed based on a tiebreaker. The Wildcats' 6-foot-5 sophomore center Shawntinice Polk provides a challenging matchup for every team and has done plenty to give her team a realistic shot of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

Eight Pac-10 teams have 14 or more wins, the first time that's happened since 1990-91.

"There's no doubt the Pac-10 is better than it has been in a long time,'' Washington coach June Daugherty said.

Stanford led the conference in scoring at 71.8 points per game, and is outscoring its opponents by a Pac-10-leading 12 points per game. The Cardinal also have the top scoring defense, holding opponents to 59.8 points per game.

But they haven't been as dominant as in past years.

Stanford's final road trip last weekend was a frustrating one. The Cardinal lost 67-66 at Oregon on Thursday, then escaped Corvallis with a 67-66 win over Oregon State on Saturday on Powell's game-winning shot with 5.4 seconds left.

Then, Stanford couldn't get a flight out Saturday and had to fly early Sunday. VanDerveer gave her players two days off to recover and get re-energized.

"It's important for our team to be healthy and excited about playing, and we'll have a great shot at doing well in the Pac-10 tournament and the NCAA Tournament,'' VanDerveer said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press