Without a senior starter for the first time in 13 years, the No. 12 Stanford's women's basketball team needed to look elsewhere for leadership. The past four games, including the Cardinal's 83-41 victory over Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday, featured an all-junior starting lineup.
So far, it's proven to be a winning formula.
Team captain Erica McCall and third-year starter Lili Thompson, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week, set the tone and they lead by example more than by vocalizing. The three other starters -- Karlie Samuelson, Briana Roberson, Kailee Johnson -- bring plenty of experience.
When the Cardinal returns from its holiday break, the schedule may not look so friendly.
Stanford hosts Chattanooga (8-4) on Monday night, its final nonconference game before opening Pac-12 play on Saturday, Jan. 2 at Arizona.
"I hope we're well-rested and ready to go," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "There are no more easy games. Chattanooga beat us last year, so we remember them. Arizona beat us, Arizona State beat us twice, we remember them."
Stanford is No. 2 in the NCAA RPI and has played the nation's third-toughest schedule.
Pac-12 teams have won 79 percent of their nonconference games, playing at least 10 games against top-10 teams.
USC (11-0) and Oregon (10-0) head into the weekend unbeaten. Oregon State's lone loss has been to Tennessee. Washington, Washington State, California and Stanford each has two losses. Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and UCLA also have winning records.
The Bruins lost at Cal in a nonconference game, 108-104, in double overtime on Monday night. Their only other setbacks were to No. 2 South Carolina by three points and No. 3 Notre Dame in overtime.
The Sun Devils beat No. 10 Florida State and lost to the Gamecocks by two.
The Lady Mocs come in on a three-game winning streak, though they will have been idle for nine days.
"We have some key players down right now, but we can't focus on that," Chattanooga guard Keiana Gilbert said. "They've learned to be vocal leaders since they can't be on the court with us. They help us see what we don't see. They lead us from there."
For Stanford, meanwhile, not only has no seniors but the first four players off the bench are sophomores Kaylee Johnson and Brittany McPhee, and freshmen Alanna Smith and Marta Sniezek.
Smith has recorded double figures in scoring in back-to-back games for the first time and is averaging 7.5 points a game.
"She's going to have to play a lot more for us," VanDerveer said.
If Dorian Pickens has a say in things, he'll make sure Stanford won't suffer a drop-off without Reid Travis in the lineup.
In the two games Travis has missed due to a stress reaction in his left leg, all Pickens has done is score a combined 44 points.
Pickens will be back in the starting lineup when the Cardinal (6-4) hosts Carroll College in the final nonconference men's basketball contest Sunday night at 6 p.m. He earned the start after scoring a career-high 24 points coming off the bench in Stanford's 75-73 loss to Texas on Saturday night.
He followed his career best with a 20-point effort to help the Cardinal return to the win column with a 70-60 victory over Sacramento State on Monday night.
"Our game is to be aggressive," Pickens said. "We want to come out and lock in defensively."
The Cardinal has won four of five entering its game against the Fighting Saints, who play in the NAIA Frontier Conference.
"We have a lot of confidence in Dorian," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "I told him to be ready for anything we throw at him. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he has to provide a spark."
Pickens has scored 60 of his 130 points in the past three games and reached double figures for the seventh time. It was also his third 20-point game.
Pickens was 6-of-7 from 3-point range and made all six of his free throws in the game against the Longhorns, who won at the buzzer. He was 3-of-11 from long range against the Hornets.
"He showed good poise," Dawkins said. "He missed his first few shots and a lot of younger guys might have stopped shooting."
Pickens also has 11 rebounds the past two games and added five assists on Monday night. Something clicked for Pickens, who is shooting just over 55 percent from the field (16-for-29) over his past three games after going 9-of-36 (25 percent) in the previous five games.