Maples Pavilion is no stranger when it comes to hosting championships.
The no. 4 Stanford Cardinal, the host of the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I Women's Championships, have a combined 36 of them (23 Pac 10/12 regular season, 11 conference tournament, and 2 NCAA).
However, there are three other teams coming to town who are all looking to make their way to Lexington, KY for the Sweet 16.
No. 5 Miami (FL) (24-8), no. 12 South Dakota State (26-6) and no. 13 San Francisco (21-11) are all in town with the same goal, and all of them feel that they have a chance at doing so. So here at Swish Appeal, we're going to preview each game for you.
#5 MIAMI vs #12 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (6:30 p.m. EST)
The Miami Hurricanes come to Stanford fresh off a semifinal loss to eventual ACC champion Notre Dame, while the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, winners of the Summit League, are in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last six years and hoping to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time.
Miami, who got bounced last season in the second round, are not taking the Jackrabbits lightly. Head coach Katie Meier has had the team watching film from the Summit League tournament, and says that South Dakota State reminds her of a well-known team she faced over the summer.
"The closest team to South Dakota State was the Netherlands national team that we played," Meier said. "They had a very similar style with their post players that can stretch the floor so much. They run, and pass the ball so quickly. Their pace of play is similar to some European teams.
Miami guard Jessica Thomas also thinks South Dakota State is a team that no one should sleep on.
"We know South Dakota State is a hard-nosed, hard-fought team," Thomas said. "We’ve watched a lot of film on them on their conference tournament. They can shoot the three-ball like crazy from all around the roster, and we know defensively, they like to get in on it on defense as well."
The Jackrabbits readily admit that they shoot a lot of threes (734 as a team), and as coach Aaron Johnston will tell you, it creates an advantage for them (the team only has four players 6'1" or taller).
"Traditionally, we probably take as many threes as a lot of teams. Perimeter player-wise, what separates or changes things for us is that a lot times our post players can play on the perimeter," Johnston said.
"So I think that creates match-up problems for other teams. Miami’s posts are going to be more traditional defensive players around the basket, and we’ve got players that will play in all five spots within our offense. Our guards will post up as much as our posts do."
For South Dakota State, their strength comes in the fact that they are the underdog. Sophomore forward Ellie Thompson, who has started every game this season, looked at the Albany-Florida game as an example of what her team could do. Albany, who was the no. 12 seed, beat no. 5 Florida in the opening round of the tournament on Friday.
"It’s good to be seeded as a #12 seed. It was definitely what we were hoping for," Thompson said. "I think that will give us a good look going into the postseason. We were watching that game [#12 seed Albany defeat #5 seed Florida] and that was definitely a good game. They were down by 17 at one point and made a comeback. I think that the possibility of a #12 seed upsetting a #5 seed definitely has us motivated."
#4 STANFORD vs #13 SAN FRANCISCO (9 p.m. EST)
Stanford has been literally lights out at home, going 13-2 on the season, including only one home loss against conference opponents (a 63-61 overtime loss to Arizona State on Feb. 14).
San Francisco, on the other hand, went 9-6 on the road, but won the game that mattered the most, a 70-68 victory over Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference Championship and enter the NCAA's for the first time since 1997.
Zhane Dikes, San Francisco's second leading scorer (14.2 ppg), didn't express any doubt in the Dons, and feels that they have what it takes to take down Stanford, since another WCC team, Santa Clara, beat theCardinal earlier in the season.
"[The comeback wins in the WCC tournament happened because of] determination and staying with it. I was really proud of my teammates because no matter the deficit, no matter how much we were down, we continued to fight," Dikes said.
"Watching the film on the Stanford vs. Santa Clara game does give our team a bit of hope because we have played against Santa Clara, who is also a very good team. Seeing a WCC team also take [Stanford] down gives us more fire inside and get us really excited for tomorrow evening."
San Francisco head coach Jennifer Azzi, a Stanford alum, is proud of how her team has truly connected, but also shared some memories of her time as a Cardinal.
"I’ve shared often with my team, and this was before we even knew we were coming to Stanford, what it was like as a player building a program," Azzi said. "When I see [Zhané Dikes and Taylor Proctor] as seniors earning their way to the NCAA Tournament, it’s exciting to me because I know what that feels like. Being here with them, I couldn’t be with a better group."
Stanford, who is coming in with a bit of a slight after losing to Washington in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, knows that they cannot just brush San Francisco aside. Guard Brittany McPhee was very literal when it came to her honest opinion on this first-round game.
"We know that USF just came off a big tournament win so they’re going to bring a lot of energy," McPhee said. "So
we have to match that and key in on what we need to do defensively."
For head coach Tara VanDerveer, who is as legendary as Elvis in the women's basketball world, she's not surprised to see San Francisco in the tournament. She coached Azzi when the Cardinal won their first national championship in 1990, the same year Azzi won the Naismith National Player of the Year award.
"[Jennifer Azzi] means so much to our program, I'm so excited for her," VanDerveer said. "Jennifer put Stanford women's basketball on the map. She was to women's basketball in the Bay Area what Steph Curry is to men's professional basketball. Her style, her passion, her work ethic."
At the end of the day though, this game is business, and Stanford has to prove to the rest of the NCAA that they are no joke.
"I have confidence in our team and how well we played down the stretch. We just have to use the fact that we didn’t play well at the Pac-12 Tournament to our advantage. And learn from it, and play better this time. Our team got the message. You get one game and you’re done."