SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—If there is one thing Tara VanDerveer and Sylvia Hatchell have learned to do is win.
They have a combined 1,683 career coaching victories. Each are members of the exclusive 800-win club in women’s college basketball and with one more NCAA tournament win, Hatchell can join VanDerveer as one of seven coaches with at least 40 tournament victories.
“These two coaches definitely changed women’s basketball as a whole,” North Carolina guard Italee Lucas said. “Their knowledge for the game, their passion for the game has changed it worldwide.”
So consider it surprising that when the fifth-seeded Tar Heels (28-8) and top-seeded Cardinal (31-2) meet on Saturday night in the Spokane Regional semifinals, it’ll be just the second time the two schools have ever met.
The only previous meeting: the 1995 regional semifinals in Los Angeles and a 81-71 Stanford victory.
“In the NCAA tournament it is kind of surprising too that we only played one time. That’s just I think based on the brackets we have been in and some of the years that they have gone to the Final Four we haven’t been in that mix and then some years we have and they haven’t been,” VanDerveer said. “So we’re excited to play them and they have a great program, but it would be fun to play them more.”
This spot is familiar territory for the Cardinal as they seek a fourth straight Final Four appearance, back in the building where Stanford broke a 10-year Final Four drought back in 2008 led by Candice Wiggins.
But North Carolina hasn’t found itself this deep in the tournament since 2008 when the Tar Heels closed out an impressive four-year run by falling to LSU in the regional finals. North Carolina reached the regional finals in 2005 and 2008, sandwiched around trips to the Final Four—and losses in the national semifinals—in 2006 and ’07.
And while 2011 is a completely different circumstance than 16 years ago when Stanford and North Carolina last met, that previous meeting has remained vivid for Hatchell, who shared a hug with VanDerveer, her longtime friend, when the two teams swapped spots on the court for practice on Friday afternoon.
“I’ve had a lot of flashbacks the last week or so. It was in ’95 at UCLA when we played Stanford and that was the year after we won the national championship,” Hatchell said. “I have that game in my mind very well and basically it was the same time frame and we played late at night on the east coast.”
Of course, Hatchell would like to see a different outcome this time around. To do so would mean pulling one of the biggest upsets in the tournament.
But Stanford has shown itself vulnerable, at least early on in two of its past three games. The Cardinal fell behind UCLA by 11 in the second half of the Pac-10 Conference title game only to rally for a sixth-straight conference crown. In Stanford’s second-round blowout of St. John’s, the Red Storm actually led by eight in the first half, before the Cardinal ran away with the victory.
North Carolina might have the scoring to hang around with the Cardinal. After a late-season swoon of for straight losses, the Tar Heels have rallied with wins in six of seven, scoring at least 78 points in all six victories. Lucas has been the catalyst so far in the NCAAs with back-to-back 22-point games in wins over Fresno State and Kentucky.
The concern for North Carolina is matching Stanford’s size on the interior. While North Carolina ranks an impressive 18th in the country in rebounding margin and fifth in field goal percentage defense, the Cardinal are sixth in rebounding and sixth in field goal percentage defense.
And the question for the Tar Heels is who to stop? Nnemkadi Ogwumike or her sister Chiney? Pac-10 player of the year Jeanette Pohlen or forward Kayla Pedersen.
“I think you have to outscore them or at least keep pace with them,” Hatchell said. “The games people have played them close this year have been able to score points and I think that’s something that you have to do.”
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