Stanford coach has respect for Southeast

Saturday, March 18, 2006

DENVER -- It might have simply been window dressing, but Stanford coach Tara VanderVeer said Friday she doesn't expect an easy time with Southeast Missouri State tonight.

Asked Friday what specific concerns she had regarding the underdog Redhawks, VanderVeer said, "Everything concerns me about them. They rebound, they defend, they score. We know we'll have to play well."

VanderVeer and several Stanford players, along with Southeast Missouri State coach B.J. Smith and a few of the Redhawks, met the media at the Pepsi Center on the eve of tonight's first-round NCAA tournament game.

The third-seeded Cardinal (23-7) and 14th-seeded Redhawks (22-8) will square off at about 9:30 p.m. The winner advances to a contest Monday against either Louisiana Tech or Florida State.

Continuing to voice caution, VanderVeer said, "You can't pencil in any game. You have to be ready to play. Our team knows that. It's going to be a great game."

While VanderVeer praised Southeast, the Redhawks said they are ready to attack the program's first NCAA Division I tournament game -- and that all of Stanford's gaudy tradition and impressive statistics don't intimidate them.

"This is a wonderful opportunity, and we have a lot of respect for their program. They have a very good team," senior forward Natalie Purcell said. "Our goal was to get here, but not our ultimate goal. We came here to win. That's been our goal from the start."

Said senior guard Tiffanne Ryan: "We're enjoying the experience. We're glad to be here. But we're here to win, not for a vacation."

There is no denying the type of program VanderVeer has built at Stanford over the past two decades, and what the Cardinal -- ranked 13th nationally -- have already achieved this season.

Stanford will be making its 18th straight NCAA tournament under VanderVeer, already a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

VanderVeer, 657-178 in 26 years as a collegiate head coach, is 505-127 in her 20th season at Stanford. She has led the Cardinal to nine Elite Eight appearances, five Final Four appearances and two national championships, in 1990 and 1992.

But it is the current group of Stanford players that has Southeast coach B.J. Smith's full attention. The Cardinal recently captured their sixth consecutive Pac-10 regular-season title, although they lost to UCLA in the conference tournament championship game.

"They've got a great team," Smith said.

Southeast will have to find a way to contend with one of the nation's premier players in 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Candice Wiggins, who is 10th nationally in scoring at 21.2 points per game.

Wiggins, who also ranks 11th nationally in 3-point shooting at 43.9 percent, is just the sixth person to receive two Pac-10 player of the year awards. A second-team All-American last season, she is one of 12 finalists for the Wade Trophy as college basketball's top player.

"Wiggins is so talented on the perimeter," Smith said.

Smith said senior forward Simone Jackson will probably get the assignment -- at least initially -- of trying to slow Wiggins, but several Redhawks figure to have a crack at her.

"It's probably going to be Simone early, but we'll probably vary how we guard her," Smith said. "Maybe Wanika Owsley. There will be a variety of them."

Stanford has another two-time first-team all-Pac 10 performer in 6-3 junior center Brooke Smith, who is averaging 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 57.3 percent from the field.

Southeast senior center Tatiana Conceicao figures to match up with Smith.

"I know she is a very good player," Conceicao said. "I am going to do my best to guard her, and I'm sure she is going to do the same."

The Cardinal also feature a 6-5 center in junior Kristen Newlin (8.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and another sharp outside shooter in 6-0 senior guard Krista Rappahahn (9.2 ppg), tied with Wiggins at 11th nationally in 3-point accuracy at 43.9 percent.

As a team, Stanford is fifth nationally in scoring (78.8 ppg), 11th in field-goal percentage (.468) and third in 3-point percentage (.400).

"There are a lot of tough matchups for us," Smith said.

But the Redhawks -- who have won 16 of their past 17 games -- boast some impressive statistics of their own.

Southeast ranks 27th nationally in scoring with 71.9 points per game, led by Conceicao. She is the No. 18 scorer in NCAA Division I at 19.6 points per game, and also leads the Redhawks in rebounding with seven a contest.

"I think she's really tough," VanderVeer said of Conceicao. "She shoots 3s, she posts up really well."

The Redhawks are ready to see where the chips fall.

"Even though we're the underdog, we're here to win," Purcell said.

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