Stanford and Arizona women raise the bar for Pac-12 credibility

The Pac-12 Conference once lacked depth when it came to women’s basketball.

As much as Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer used to vigorously defend the quality of competition, others had good reasons to scoff.

Season after season it seemed like West Coast basketball was Stanford and no one else.

“Maybe 20 years you could write in a W with certain teams,” VanDerveer said Saturday. “You can’t do that anymore.”

Not Sunday when the Cardinal will face Pac-12 rival Arizona in the NCAA Tournament finale at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Top overall seeded Stanford (30-2) was expected to reach the finish line at the Final Four. Third-seeded Arizona (21-5) was not.

“This is honestly a dream come true,” VanDerveer said. “For so long the conference hasn’t gotten the respect it deserves.”

Stanford had lost four consecutive games in the national semifinals until overcoming South Carolina on Friday. It last played in the NCAA championship 11 years ago, also at the Alamodome. The Cardinal fell to Connecticut 53-47 primarily because Stanford All-American Jayne Appel played on an injured right ankle.

The lack of recognition for the Pac-12 has bothered Arizona coach Adia Barnes, who in five years has turned the Wildcats into a sensation.

The team made an exclamation point Friday night in stunning perennial power Connecticut 69-59. UConn ended the regular season as the Associated Press’ top-ranked team.

Arizona coach Adia Barnes gets a hug from guard Aari McDonald (2) as the Wildcats upset Connecticut at the Alamodome. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) 

After the victory, Barnes, 44, used a middle finger and an expletive in a postgame huddle with her team. Barnes said Saturday she would not apologize for her actions.

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“I honestly had a moment with my team and I thought it was a more intimate huddle and I said to my team something that I truly felt and I know they felt,” she said. “I’m not apologizing for it because I don’t feel like I need to apologize. It’s what I felt with my team at the moment. And I wouldn’t take it back.”

The emotions spilled out because the Wildcats felt they were not seen as good enough to reach the Final Four. They also upset No. 2 seeded Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.

NCAA officials did not include Arizona in a Final Four highlight video, an oversight that led to an apology from the organization.

But the slights have been part of the Pac-12 psyche.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer watches from the bench during the first half of a women’s Final Four against South Carolina on Friday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) 

Barnes said she has seen it throughout her playing and coaching career. Barnes was a three-time all-Pac-10 selection and the league’s player of the year in 1997-98.

She also was a first-team All-American and played professionally for 12 years. Barnes became an assistant coach at the University of Washington in 2011 and eventually took over a down-on-its-luck Arizona program in 2016.

She said the Pac 12 has zero respect nationally and that dismissive attitude affects the players.

“It shows with Aari (McDonald) being second-team All-American and it …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Sports


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