By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Stanford women's basketball team was officially awarded a No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA tournament as revealed on ESPN Monday.
Baylor, Connecticut and Tennessee are the other No. 1 seeds.
Stanford opens on Saturday against UC Davis, making its first NCAA appearance. That game will be contested at Maples Pavilion, where the Cardinal has won 61 straight games. Game time is 3:30 p.m.
"Honestly, it's hard for me to believe this is really happening," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. "This year has gone by so quickly. As a team, we know we can only play six more games together . . . It's really a special team and we're going to give it our absolute best shot."
Said Stanford senior Jeanette Pohlen, who is counting down the days to the end of her college career: "All four of the regionals will be tough. Either way, it'll be a long road ahead. No team in the NCAA tournament is going to be a piece of cake."
There was some other good news involving Pohlen on Monday. For the second consecutive year, three Stanford players were named John R. Wooden Award finalists. Pohlen and forwards Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Kayla Pedersen are among the 20 players on the final ballot.
Stanford, with three finalists, boasts the most of any school, and is one of only two schools with multiple players listed. Xavier is the only other school with at least two candidates.
Stanford, 12-2 against the field, looks to make its fourth straight trip to the Final Four.
Stanford has played seven games and gone 5-2 against teams seeded 1, 2 or 3.
The second-ranked Cardinal (29-2) earned the No. 1 seed in the Spokane Region. Stanford is riding a 23-game winning streak since losing consecutive road games in December at DePaul and Tennessee.
If the Cardinal gets through its opener against the 16th-seeded and Big West Conference champion Aggies, it will play the winner of Saturday's first game between eighth-seeded Texas Tech and ninth-seeded St. John's on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
UC Davis (24-8) is coached by Sandy Simpson, who announced his retirement at the conclusion of the year after 14 seasons on the Aggie bench. Simpson graduated from Hillsdale High in San Mateo.
All 63 games of the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship will air on ESPN networks for the eighth consecutive year.
It was the second straight No. 1 seed for the Cardinal, which fell to UConn in the title game last season. Stanford, however, ended the Huskies' historic NCAA record-breaking 90-game win streak this season and is hoping for a repeat performance in a few weeks.
"I think if it's a four-horse race, there are some darkhorses," VanDerveer said. "I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite. We're not a cleaer-cut favorite. Tennessee is not a clear-cut favorite. Baylor's not and neither is Connecticut."
Unlike the men's bracket that expanded to 68 teams this year, the women decided to stick with 64. Indianapolis will host the Final Four on April 3 and 5.
The last time the Final Four was in Indianapolis, Baylor won the championship as a No. 2 seed.
UCLA (27-4) earned a No. 3 seed in the Spokane Region, possibly setting up a fourth meeting between the top two teams in the Pac-10. That would take place in the Elite Eight. The Bruins meet Montana (18-14) in the first round.
"I really had no idea that UCLA would be in our bracket," said VanDerveer, whose team beat the Bruins twice during the regular Pac-10 season and then in Sunday's tournament finale.
Other top seeds in Spokane are No. 2 Xavier (28-2), which Stanford beat following its loss at Tennessee, No. 4 Kentucky (24-8), No. 5 North Carolina (26-8), No. 6 Iowa (22-8) and No. 7 Louisville (20-12).
Iowa and Gonzaga (28-4) meet in the first round. The Bulldogs played Stanford tough at home earlier in the season and is one of the top scoring teams in the nation.
"Gonzaga -- we barely beat them -- they're an 11 seed but probably will work their way back to Spokane," VanDerveer said.
Should the Cardinal continue to advance, it might meet the Tar Heels or Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
Arizona State (20-10) was the only other Pac-10 team named to the tournament. The seventh-seeded Sun Devils meet Temple (23-8) in the first round, with a possible meeting against Notre Dame (26-7) in the second round.