By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Stanford senior Kayla Pedersen makes her final visit to her home state this weekend and Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer doesn't want to even think about playing without her.
"I'll be crying my eyes out when she graduates," VanDerveer said. "I cherish every moment I have with her. She's an extraordinary player."
The fourth-ranked Cardinal (9-0, 18-2) plays at Arizona State (5-4, 13-6) Thursday in a 5:30 p.m. start. Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe is just a couple of exits west on Highway 202 from Mesa, where Pedersen attended Red Mountain High.
Pedersen's teams have never lost to the Sun Devils and Stanford will be the prohibitive favorite to make it 11 straight this week.
Pedersen leads the team in rebounding (8.2 per game) and is among the top in nearly every other statistical category. She averages 12.3 points (third best) on 47 percent shooting in 31.6 minutes. She's second with 57 assists, third with 12 blocked shots, third with 21 steals and is a 77 percent free throw shooter.
Her stats barely begin to tell the story of her worth as Stanford looks to continue to improve in every facet.
"She has all the intangibles," VanDerveer said, "in her work ethic, her poise, her maturity and her versatility. Lately she's been playing like the old Kayla. She's the rock of this team."
Pedersen missed Stanford's disappointing lop-sided loss at DePaul (a team the Sun Devils beat earlier in the season) and was 3-of-16 from the field in the overtime loss at Tennessee.
The Cardinal hasn't lost since, winning 12 straight entering Thursday's contest.
"She's got her 3-point shot working, she defends and she scores on the block," VanDerveer said. "She's not a point guard but she can handle the ball. She's not necessarily a post player but she'll post up. She's intelligent and a hard worker."
The game at Arizona State opens the second half of the conference season.
"We're excited about going on the road," VanDerveer said. "We like the challenge of that. We know we have to play well."
VanDerveer thinks there is still room for improvement. Stanford can't afford to take a night off if it wants to finish off conference play unbeaten. Besides, UCLA remains a game behind the Cardinal and can make things very interesting for Stanford when the teams meet at Pauley Pavilion in a couple of weeks.
"We want to play better," VanDerveer said. "Sometimes the score is not the relevant thing. We look at what we're doing on our goal sheets and there are goals we have not met yet. We try to challenge ourselves and to bring our best."
Pedersen averaged 13.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in her three previous visits to Tempe.
As a team, Stanford outscored its opponents by 321 points (35.7 per game) over the first nine games of conference play, the largest point differential in program history.