By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Tara VanDerveer called an audible Saturday night and then the Stanford women's basketball coach added an extended explanation Sunday during a scheduled session with the media.
Cardinal junior guard Lindy La Rocque may not have meant it the way she said it, but calling Stanford players "more intelligent" wasn't going to sit well with St. John's, the school second-ranked Stanford (30-2) meets in the second round of the NCAA tournament Monday night at 6:30 p.m.
La Rocque, who matched her career high with 14 points in the Cardinal's 86-59 victory over UC Davis on Saturday, was trying to explain how her team overcomes an apparent lack of speed or natural ability.
"We are all obviously student-athletes, and we're all students of the game," La Rocque said after Saturday's win. "We're all intelligent. We know what exactly what to do, but its going out there and actually doing it. I think our concentration level is higher than the average team, so to say. We really help each other with that, and it starts with talking and communicating. I think it's our concentration, just being a little more intelligent, and just knowing what to do."
VanDerveer stepped in a little later and took one for the team, saying she "disagreed" with La Rocque and thought the difference may be in study habits.
"We have to recruit a certain caliber of student and sometimes that is viewed as intelligence," she said Sunday. "That doesn't always translate into basketball IQ. Basketball IQ requires you play a lot of basketball; enough to start recognizing the patterns of basketball and the ability to make decisions on the court."
Sophomore Mikaela Ruef, for example, grasps the concept of every play in the playbook with complete comprehension. Senior Kayla Pedersen is at the same level. Others don't quite get it right away.
"Some people are wired to understand things well," VanDerveer said. "We're not smarter basketball players. I just try to take advantage of their being studiers. In some ways I inundate them with study."
VanDerveer said she sees herself like a Stanford kid in that she thinks the path to success is to outwork people, accentuate the positive things the team does well and limit the negative.
"I need a lot of reps," she said. "I have to watch a lot because it takes me a while to get it."
Pedersen agreed with her coach to the point she acknowledged that the team maintains some of the same ball-handling drills she's worked on since first picking up a basketball.
"Intelligence is not necessarily intelligence," Pedersen said. "We work on fundamentals; we prepare for different defenses. We start out with a zero just like every other team in the tournament. It's what you can do on the court."
Pedersen has avoided seeing Monday's game as her last at Maples Pavilion. She appreciates that she gets to play one more time there.
"It's a little bigger than that," she said. "This is an NCAA game and it's do or die for the seniors."
Pedersen is, however, fully aware of the Cardinal school record 62-game home winning streak. A victory Monday would mean the senior class would become the first Stanford players to never lose a game at home.
The last time Stanford lost at home was to Florida State, 68-61, in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2007.
Pedersen, Jeanette Pohlen, Hannah Donaghe and Ashley Cimino were still in high school when that happened. Since then the seniors have reached two national championship games and three national semifinal games.
"I want it to be a really special game for the seniors," VanDerveer said of facing the Red Storm. "They are not frivolous players. They are serious players. I follow their lead."
What would an undefeated home career mean?
"It would mean a lot," Pedersen said. "We have been thinking about that for the past year and a half. It was something special for the seniors to bond over. We are going to prepare hard to make that happen."