STANFORD, Calif. — As the NCAA Tournament begins its 25th season since expanding to 64 teams, the amount of upsets in the first-round pales to compare to the men’s tournament.
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There’s only been one team seeded 14th or higher to ever win a first round game, with that happening in 1998 when 16-seeded Harvard knocked off 1-seed Stanford on their home court. Even below that, there’s only ever been six wins by 13-seeds and 21 wins by 12-seeds.
But in the same Maples Pavilion as the most famous upset in women’s basketball history, it feels ripe for an upset.
The 4-seed Cardinal play host to perennial West Coast Conference contender Gonzaga, who are appearing in their ninth NCAA Tournament in the past 10 seasons and have reached the Sweet Sixteen four times in that run. The one time the Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight, it was Stanford who knocked them off 83-60.
But this current Gonzaga team has found success recently head-to-head against the Cardinal. Up in Spokane in 2015, the Zags were with one point late in the fourth quarter before Stanford pulled away with a late run. In a return trip to Stanford in 2016, Gonzaga pulled off a 68-63 on the floor they’ll be playing on Saturday, led by 26 points from Jill Barta, now a redshirt junior.
Overall, eight players remain on Gonzaga’s roster from the team who pulled off the road win last season, and for head coach Lisa Fortier, getting the program’s first win over Stanford has given the team a better sense of confidence heading into Saturday.
“It’s nice to say that we’ve done it,” Fortier said. “I can certainly now say we can do it again, versus before we’re saying we can be the first team to do this, and it was very exciting for all of us as a coaching staff and definitely one of our highlights for last season, and something that you can kind of talk about in your career.”
But Fortier and multiple Gonzaga players were quick to point out that the two schools are different this year than they were last year, thus making it not be something to dwell upon as the game approaches. Still, there are things Barta remembers from that game that continue to be true about both programs.
“It was a very disciplined game for both of us,” Barta said. “I think that’s what it’s going to come down to this year, is who’s going to be more disciplined on offense and defense. When we played them last year, it was super fun. It was exciting. But it just came down to who was going to get stops and stuff.”
Stanford has a major amount of respect for Gonzaga and remembers what happened last time. But just like the Zags, head coach Tara VanDerveer was clear to emphasize that these teams are different from the last matchup, and that this game is on a completely different stage.
“Lisa does a fabulous job, [and] Gonzaga has an excellent team,” VanDerveer said. “They’re a different team and we’re a different team. We know that we have to play well and I think that they probably know the same thing.
“I think in some ways the last, having lost to Gonzaga, there are some situations where I think some teams — they look at the seed and they just assume the seed is going to take care of the game. And it’s not. Our team knows that we have to play well and I don’t have to remind them of that.”