Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer did nothing but praise upstart UCLA during her teleconference with reporters Tuesday. She'll get a closer look Thursday night when No. 4 Stanford (14-2, 5-0) hosts No. 8 UCLA (15-1, 5-0) at Maples Pavilion.
UCLA, off to its best start since the 1976-77 season, last beat Stanford in 2008. It was quite an upset -- Stanford was ranked No. 2 nationally, while the Bruins' claimed their first-ever win against a top-two team.
The following is a collection of VanDerveer's comments:
On having another top-ranked team in the Pac-10 Conference:
VanDerveer: Well, I think it's great. We need it, we need more than two. We need three or four in the top 25, at least. Especially next year when we're getting 12 teams (in the conference). We want to get the attention of the East Coast and Midwest and say, "You know, we play basketball out here too.' I think one of the best things that happened was UCLA beating Notre Dame, Arizona State beating DePaul, (Stanford) beating UConn. We need more of that. I'm hoping that will happen.
On what concerns her most about UCLA:
VanDerveer: Their athleticism and their aggressiveness. They really get their hands on balls, they disrupt you. You're not just going to be able to come to the gym and go along and run your offense any way you want. But I think we're prepared for that. We've played against Tennessee, we've played against UConn, Arizona State -- these are teams (whose) bread and butter is their defensive aggressiveness. I think another thing (UCLA) does is rebound well. They run the floor well. They're really an opportunistic team -- they take advantage of what you give them. They put the ball on the floor and go to the basket well.
On UCLA's progress the last few years:
VanDerveer: I think the good thing for us is we've played against these kids time and time again. I don't know that we're going to be surprised. We know Darxia Morris is an outstanding player; Doreena Campbell; they've got (Jasmine) Dixon, we've played against her three times. We know what they're capable of. They're a very aggressive team and they've had another year together with Nikki Caldwell as their coach. Doreena Campbell and Darxia Morris were great as freshmen. They don't have the big body inside that they had last year, but (Atonye) Nyingifa is playing really well for them. They have a lot of the same cast of characters and they're very experienced.
On the importance of having a competitive conference:
VanDerveer: When we look at women's basketball, one of the biggest criticisms of it is the current lack of parity. It's all the same teams, it's Stanford in the Pac-10, it's UConn or it's Tennessee. Yes, those teams are really good -- but there are other great programs. And they are in the Pac-10. Whether it's for fan interest or to broaden our game, to bring it to more places. I watched the USC-UCLA game -- they had a great crowd at that game. We want to spread the enthusiasm for women's basketball -- not just in these limited places but throughout the country.
On UCLA's development:
VanDerveer: I always felt UCLA was a basketball goldmine. It's a great university, it's a beautiful school, beautiful place. USC, too, down there. They should be great programs. It's very exciting that they are.