It's a crazy scenario that seems to defy description. The Stanford women's basketball team has shown this season it can beat the best, and has also shown it can lose to the not-so-best.
No other women's team in the country has beaten both the top-ranked team in the nation and a power conference champion, and has lost to a pair of teams with losing records in the same season.
The 19th-ranked Cardinal (21-9) owns wins over top-ranked and defending national champion Connecticut and Pac-12 champion Oregon State. Stanford lost to teams seeded 10th and 11th in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, which got under way Thursday in Seattle, Wash.
Stanford, seeded third, plays its first game Friday at 2 p.m. at Key Arena in Seattle. The Cardinal will meet No. 6 UCLA, which beat No. 11 Arizona, 80-62, in the first round Thursday.
"I would not rule out anybody," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of the potential tourney champ. "It's been a competitive season and any team can get on a roll and continue to play well. Last year, USC came out as a 5 seed and ran through the tournament."
It's hard to tell whether the Cardinal is entering the tournament on a roll, or on a down note. Stanford is coming off a 62-55 loss at Oregon last weekend. A few days earlier, the Cardinal toppled Oregon State.
To make matters worse, standout sophomore Karlie Samuelson will miss the rest of the season with a (right) hand injury.
"This team responds well when we're backed into a corner," VanDerveer said. "This is one game and that's it. I like that pressure for our team."
Arizona and the Bruins have been Stanford's tournament opponents more than any other conference team. The Cardinal is a combined 15-1 against them, 8-1 versus UCLA and 7-0 against the Wildcats.
Stanford enters the tournament as something other than the top seed for the first time. Of course, the last time the Cardinal finished out of first place was in 2000, a full two years before the tournament's inception. Overall, Stanford has never finished below third after finishing sixth in 1986-87, the first year the then Pac-10 sponsored women's basketball.
Stanford owns a 34-3 all-time record through the first 13 years of the conference tournament and has never lost a quarterfinal game. The Cardinal is 12-0 all-time in the quarterfinals, 12-1 in the semifinals and 10-2 in the finals.
The No. 3 seed is 18-11 all-time at the Pac-12 Tournament. It's 8-3 against the No. 6 seed and 1-1 against the No. 11 seed.
Stanford is currently 21st in the NCAA RPI and has played the nation's 15th-toughest schedule. Ten of its 30 opponents are in the RPI top 25, something only one other school can claim (UCLA; 12).
In hindsight, the roller coaster ride that has been Stanford's season should not come as a surprise. First of all, Chiney Ogwumike left a void in the All-American category when she graduated and left for the WNBA.
The Cardinal returned solid players in seniors Orrange, Bonnie Samuelson, Taylor Greenfield and Erica Payne but it also had to rely on sophomores and freshmen like Lili Thompson, Karlie Samuelson, Briana Roberson, Erica McCall, Brittany McPhee and Kaylee Johnson.
Orrange was named to both the All-Pac-12 squad and the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team, Thompson earned her first All-Pac-12 nod, Bonnie Samuelson was picked All-Pac-12 honorable mention and Johnson earned a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
Connecticut and Oregon State are a combined 54-4 and Stanford is 2-0 against them. Throw Washington and California into the mix and the Cardinal is 5-1 against teams with a combined 96-20 mark.
Oregon and Arizona are a combined 23-35 this season and Stanford is a combined 1-2 against them.
In other words, when the sophomores and freshmen are good, Stanford is very, very good. Thompson scored 24 points in the win over the Huskies. In fact, she scored at least 24 in four of the first five games she played.
She never did it again afterward, though she hit 21 in a win over USC and reached double figures in all but six games in which she played.
Johnson grabbed 22 rebounds in a game twice in her first eight games. She's reached 17 twice since and had 14 double-digit games. She also has five double-doubles, more than the rest of her teammates have accumulated combined.
"Kaylee has done real well for us, especially rebounding," VanDerveer said. "Brittany is just a high-energy player and that's exactly what we need eight now."
Roberson has reached double figures eight times, McPhee has done so three times, McCall seven times and Karlie Samuelson six times.
It's just been a year of extreme peaks and valleys. Four different underclassmen have combined to score at least 20 points in a game eight times. The talent is evident but the consistency is not.
It should make for an interesting tournament. Stanford could win three straight and capture its 11th conference tournament title, or it could bow out in the quarterfinal.
Against Oregon, Orrange played her 140th game in a Cardinal uniform, just the eighth player in Stanford history to reach that number. She joined Kayla Pedersen (150), Jeanette Pohlen (150), Rosalyn Gold-Onwude (148), Jayne Appel (147), Chiney Ogwumike (145), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (145) and Joslyn Tinkle (142). Should the Cardinal play five more games this season, Bonnie Samuelson would join that group as well.
With 299 rebounds, Johnson is one short of joining Pedersen (329) as the only Stanford freshmen to pull down 300. Bonnie Samuelson hit two more 3-pointers and with 222 in her career is just three shy of the Pac-12's all-time top 10.