Stanford senior Mikaela Ruef likes to think of herself as Alfred Pennyworth, Batman's noted assistant, friend and confidant.
"I like to be more behind-the-scenes," Ruef said. "I'm not the super athletic Dark Knight wearing sunglasses."
Ruef leaves that role for fellow senior Chiney Ogwumike, the leading candidate for national Player of the Year in women's basketball who is athletic and seems to come to Stanford's rescue time and again. Check out 'Nerd Nation' on YouTube and she wears sunglasses, too.
The dynamic duo will be action this weekend when the NCAA tournament returns to Maples Pavilion for regional action. The sixth-ranked and second-seeded Cardinal (31-3) meets 14th-ranked and third-seeded Penn State (24-7) on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. (ESPN2) in the Sweet 16.
Top-seeded South Carolina (29-4) and fourth-seeded North Carolina (26-9) meet in the other regional semifinal at 4 p.m., with the survivors engaging in the regional final on Tuesday for the right to advance to the Final Four in Nashville.
"It's an exciting bracket and there's an exciting weekend ahead," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "You have great teams representing great conferences like the Big 10, Pac-12, ACC and SEC. We're looking forward to bringing this caliber of basketball to the Bay Area."
Stanford hosts the only regional where the top four seeds advanced unscathed. They've combined to win over 82 percent (110-23) of their games this season.
Like the Cardinal, Penn State won the Big 10 regular-season title only to lose in the conference tournament.
"They are an experienced team," VanDerveer said. "They have an excellent coach."
VanDerveer, who has a summer home in New York, and Penn State's Coquise Washington have gotten together and talked "X's and O's for hours and hours."
She also pointed out, no matter how well the coaches know each other, it will come down to the players on the court.
Ogwumike, the Pac-12 all-time leader in both scoring and rebounding, will be the focal point of the Stanford offense.
"There's no me without Mikaela Ruef," Ogwumike said. "She's the best post passer in the nation. I feel so guilty when I miss a shot since she makes it so easy. She's definitely the heart and backbone of our team."
Ogwumike and Ruef have a lot of nicknames for themselves, though "Batman and Robin" seems to be trending this week.
Ogwumike insists Ruef is the Batman to her Robin, but Ruef scoffs at the idea. Chiney comes around to the 'Alfred' moniker easy enough.
"She's like a coach to me," Ogwumike said. "We vent a lot to each other. When we're watching games she'll throw things out like, 'what happens if' questions regarding certain situations."
Ruef qualified her role with Ogwumike, saying, "I just try to make sure the things she does are smart."
Ruef, who scores an average of 6.7 points a game, is second to Ogwumike in rebounding with a 9.4 average and second in assists to Amber Orrange's 4.6 (156) with a 3.2 average (110). She's third on the team with 33 steals and 13 blocked shots.
Ruef is also on the verge of having one of the top 10 rebounding seasons in school history. She has 318 boards thus far, nine from matching Nicole Powell for 10th and 11 from tying Kayla Pedersen for ninth.