MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Stanford's Tara VanDerveer has been doing this a long time -- 37 seasons as head coach, to be exact -- and so when she gets a feeling a player will have a big game, she's usually right.
And she had a feeling about guard Brittany McPhee on Monday. The 6-foot junior set the tone for No. 2 seed Stanford in an NCAA tournament second-round matchup with No. 7 Kansas State. By the time she'd finished a 21-point, seven-rebound, five-assist night, McPhee had helped break down the Wildcats' zone, and her team's post players had done their thing, too.
The Cardinal's 69-48 victory sent Stanford to the Sweet 16 for the 24th time overall. Speaking of history, this year's group kind of reminds VanDerveer of one of her favorites: the 1992 national champions. She always has referred to that as her "bucket of bolts" team, meant quite affectionately.
That was a group that had talent but still had to grind for everything it got. This team had to grind here at Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday in the first round to beat New Mexico State. The Cardinal trailed after three quarters, and the Aggies guards had gotten to Stanford.
But a switch seemed to flip in the fourth quarter. McPhee and Alanna Smith each had nine points in the final period, while Erica McCall grabbed six rebounds. That 72-64 victory propelled Stanford into Monday's game on Kansas State's home court, but it was the Cardinal who looked at home.
"I think we just realized how bad we wanted it; we called it 'Code Red,'" McCall said in regard to the Cardinal's mindset since that fourth quarter Saturday. "We knew that we had an opportunity ahead of us, and that fired us up. 'Code Red' is kind of our 'Let's get going, and do this by any means necessary,' saying."
McCall said this while standing in the very purple locker room that normally belongs to the Kansas State men's team. She joked that it just reminded her of playing at Pac-12 rival Washington.
Stanford wasn't able to host these early-round games because the Pac-12 gymnastics championships were being held at Maple Pavilion over the weekend. No matter. When seniors McCall, Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson were freshmen, the Cardinal were also sent to the Midwest for the early rounds.
That was when the NCAA tournament was still using the pre-determined sites system, and Iowa State was hosting. The Cardinal didn't have to face the home team then, because the Cyclones lost in the first round to Florida State, but Samuelson remembered Stanford made the most of the bonding experience on that trip.
"I think it's even easier to focus on the road, and we do well there," she said.
That 2013-14 team, led by then-senior Chiney Ogwumike, made it to the Women's Final Four. The past two years, Stanford has met Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, losing to the Irish in 2015 and beating them -- but then falling in the Elite Eight to Washington -- last year.
Notre Dame is potentially in Stanford's path again this year, too, as they are the top two seeds in the Lexington Regional. Up next, though, for Stanford is No. 3 seed Texas, which had a decidedly different experience in the second round than the Cardinal did.
While Stanford controlled its game Monday throughout -- outrebounding the Wildcats by 14 and holding them to 38.3 percent shooting -- the Longhorns went to the wire vs. NC State on Sunday before prevailing 84-80.
Stanford and Texas met back on Nov. 14 at Maples Pavilion, with the Cardinal winning 71-59. McPhee had a huge game then, too, scoring a career-high 28 points on 11-of-15 shooting.
"It was a long time ago, and we've grown so much as a team and are sharing the ball so well," McPhee said of that game. "It will be fun to play them again."
The Longhorns have grown a lot, too, of course, especially with the development of freshman post player Joyner Holmes. But Smith has really improved a lot for Stanford, as well.
A 6-foot-3 sophomore from Australia, Smith said her parents were back home following Monday's game online, when it was Tuesday morning Down Under. They have to be happy with how well she has played in her past three games, scoring 18 against Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament final, 19 against New Mexico State, and 19 against Kansas State.
"She's really coming into her own," VanDerveer said of Smith. "She's playing with a lot of confidence, and she gives us another big body in there that has experience. She can stretch defenses with her 3-point shot. She rebounds, runs the floor. We were able to play four posts tonight, and all four contributed."
So for however shaky things looked for the Cardinal after 30 minutes on Saturday, it has been the exact opposite since. Once again, Stanford is in the Sweet 16.
"There is some pressure coming here, knowing about the legacy," McCall said of the Cardinal's longtime success. "It's an amazing feeling to keep it up."