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Asked to remember the last time they talked on the phone before they found out they would be matched up in the NCAA tournament, both Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and University of San Francisco coach Jennifer Azzi came up with the same answer.

"Probably just a few weeks ago," Azzi said.

"Not that long ago," VanDerveer confirmed. "We talked about some things she was dealing with."

There will be no talking this week.

In one of the best early storylines of the tournament, Azzi -- who won a national championship at Stanford with VanDerveer in 1990 and an Olympic gold medal with her in Atlanta in 1996 -- is returning to Maples Pavilion with her own team to face the fourth-seeded Cardinal on Saturday.

Azzi's 13th-seeded Dons (21-11) beat the Nos. 3, 2 and 1 seeds to win the West Coast Conference tournament last week, earning a spot in the NCAA field for the first time since 1997 and the first time since Azzi took over the program six years ago.

"I am really happy for her," VanDerveer said. "There is already a lot of enthusiasm for this game. It's been on the front page of the paper, fans are coming down from San Francisco for the game to support their team. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

It's an atmosphere that Azzi is familiar with from her time at Stanford, where she carved out a career as one of the best players in the history of the program, winning the Wade Trophy and the Naismith Award as the national player of the year in 1990. And one that she hasn't had much opportunity to experience in San Francisco.

Azzi won nine games in her first two years combined on "The Hilltop," as they call the university with a basketball legacy that includes Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Bill Cartwright.

"There is already a lot of enthusiasm for this game. It's been on the front page of the paper, fans are coming down from San Francisco for the game to support their team. It's going to be a great atmosphere." Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer

VanDerveer admits that when her former All-American called and told her that San Francisco was going to be her first coaching job, she was not sold that it was a good idea.

"I think I told her, 'Don't take that job. It's a big challenge,'" VanDerveer said.

Azzi didn't listen. She remembered the pep talk she got from VanDerveer back in 1988 when Azzi, the Oak Ridge, Tennessee native, came across the country to Stanford to play for a team that barely needed to pull the bleachers out for home games and spent more time learning from losses than celebrating wins in her first season.

Azzi wanted to go home, and VanDerveer convinced her to take the long view.

She's needed the long view at San Francisco -- where her teams had four straight losing seasons before turning the corner last year -- and now, after a gritty season, that view finally includes a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Azzi said she knew the moment that her team won the WCC title game that she would be matched up with Stanford.

"I told our team this would [happen] and to be prepared for it," Azzi said. "The stars had to be perfectly aligned for this to happen. For our first time to make it since I've been here and to end up in this spot, it's just a little ironic. And a little strange. But it's going to be very fun for my players to be on this stage."

Azzi said her team, which has won seven of its past eight games heading into the NCAA first round, has been determined all season, and she doesn't expect anything different now.

"They have just wanted to win and they are doing things that have amazed me," Azzi said. "I thought we had more talent last year, and we lost three senior starters and that's hard no matter how you slice it."

Senior forward Taylor Proctor leads USF in scoring and rebounding at 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and senior guard Zhane Dikes is averaging 14.2 points a game.

"Our best players are our hardest workers and that's a good thing for a team," Azzi said.

Azzi feels like she has changed the culture of a program, the biggest thing she learned from VanDerveer.

"This program was so run down when we took over," Azzi said. "Changing a culture takes a long time. It's so cutthroat now. And in certain situations, I don't think that coaches get enough time. I have so much respect for Tara and what she's done. She's been so successful for 30 years. It's so hard to do."

But Azzi said she has no special insight about what VanDerveer's team will do on the floor.

"She's definitely different than when I played for her," Azzi said.

VanDerveer said she's impressed with Azzi's team.

"They don't give up," VanDerveer said. "There were some games where they seemed really out of it and they have come back. I feel like our team has done that, too."