STANFORD, Calif. — For each of the past two summers, Penn State coach Coquese Washington has visited Tara VanDerveer at the Stanford coach’s New York home to talk basketball and, specifically, gather tips on the triangle offense.
“It’s almost like going to graduate school of coaching in six hours,” Washington said with a smile.
There will be no such trading of secrets come this afternoon, when second-seeded Stanford (31-3) plays host to Washington’s No. 3 seed Lady Lions (24-7) in the NCAA tournament Stanford Regional semifinals at Maples Pavilion.
In her efforts to learn from coaches “who have had sustained excellence,” Washington reached out to VanDerveer and hoped the Hall of Famer would say yes. Then, Washington and an assistant made the four-hour trip from State College to VanDerveer’s summer residence in Chautauqua, N.Y., for a day the last two years.
They studied video and discussed their likes and dislikes regarding schemes.
“I’ve met with her in the offseason and we’ve talked about ‘X’ and ‘O’ things,” VanDerveer said Saturday before her team’s practice. “She’s a great young coach, up-and-coming coach. It was really fun to get to know her and have a chance to visit with her. Obviously we never dreamed last summer that we’d be playing each other. I don’t feel that gives us or them an advantage. It’s a just a situation I’ll be glad to see her. I really admire her and respect the job that she’s doing.”
Not that Washington expects any extra edge today.
“I wouldn’t say it gave us any specific insight into the Cardinal,” she said. “It really was an opportunity for me and my assistant coach to pick the mind, pick the brain of one of the legends in our game. I was just appreciative she gave her time to me and really was an open book and there wasn’t anything that was off limits.”
Stanford’s players realize their coach offers a wealth of knowledge even if it means she might be helping out an occasional opponent.
“It’s pretty funny. It’s neat because we know how great Tara is, we witness that every day,” Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike said. “All of a sudden we’re reminded that she is big time.”
The Penn State players didn’t even know their coach had sought out VanDerveer.
“She has some secrets,” center Talia East said. “She’s a brilliant woman.”
Here are five things to watch during today’s game:
DEFENDING THE PERIMETER: Most of Penn State’s scoring is generated from the perimeter, with do-everything Maggie Lucas leading the way. Among the best players in the nation, Lucas shoots 36.5 percent from beyond the arc and is supported by Dara Taylor in the Lady Lions’ starting lineup featuring four seniors.
“It will give us a good challenge, a good opportunity to show how hard we’ve worked this year defensively,” said Ogwumike, two-time reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.
HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE: After being forced to leave the West and hit the road for Iowa in the first two rounds of the tournament, Stanford is back home as it hoped for all along — with that raucous crowd and dancing tree mascot ready to do its part.
The Cardinal will gladly accept their home-court advantage now. Ogwumike would like to carry this team to one last Final Four after the program’s streak of five straight was snapped last March.
“We had to earn that by going the first and second rounds in Iowa,” Ogwumike said.
Stanford went unbeaten in 15 home games this season and is 28-4 at Maples in NCAA tournament play. The Cardinal last lost a tournament game here in 2007 in the second round to Florida State, and has won eight straight.
FAST START: The Cardinal have been slow getting going in their first two tournament games, and realize they can’t afford for that to happen again.
While Stanford wound up rolling to wins over South Dakota and Florida State, playing every possession for 40 minutes is the plan moving forward.
“One of our focuses this game is to relax at the start,” senior forward Mikaela Ruef said. “We’re a great team.”
ONE-WOMAN SHOW? Washington is quick to point out there’s more to Stanford than Ogwumike and her 26.6 points per game, though nobody else scores in double figures.
“They don’t win all those games with only one player,” she said.
TAYLOR’S STRIDES: Taylor cautions against people expecting her to keep topping her recent accomplishment — a career-high 22 points in a second-round win against Florida.
“I’m not looking to keep scoring career highs,” she said. “It’s not what I go into the game looking to do.”