For Stanford women's basketball fans, it doesn't get much better than Saturday's first-round NCAA tournament game between the fourth-seeded Cardinal (24-7) and West Coast Conference tournament champion USF (21-11), coached by Stanford grad and former All-American Jennifer Azzi.
Stanford and the Dons play in Maples Pavilion at 6 p.m. (ESPN2), preceded by a game between No. 5 Miami (24-8) and No. 12 South Dakota State (26-6) at 3:30 p.m., as part of the Lexington Regional. The winners will play Monday, also in Maples Pavilion, at a time yet to be determined.
Stanford opens its 29th consecutive (and 30th overall) tournament at home for the 20th time. USF returns to the NCAA party for the first time since 1997.
"It's a nicer sidebar. It adds a storyline," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of playing against the Dons and Azzi. "That's why I thought they'd do it. It is a great story. I don't want it to be a better story. I wish they were playing someone else so I could be rooting for her."
USF won the WCC title as the No. 6 seed, beating the top three teams along the way.
"I've been watching them. I didn't have anything else to do this weekend," VanDerveer said. "They're playing got, they're playing confident. I know they are a hard-nosed team. That's how she played."
What makes this game even more special is that Azzi was VanDerveer's first big-time recruit at Stanford and she helped bring the school's first-ever NCAA women's basketball title in 1990.
"I loved coaching Jennifer," VanDerveer said. "She and her teammates put Stanford basketball on the map. In a lot ways, that's why Karlie (Samuelson) and Erica (McCall) are sitting here with me. They wanted to play for a great program. Jennifer made it a great program with her teammates."
Samuelson acknowledged not knowing much about the relationship between VanDerveer and Azzi, though McCall said she learned a lot about at it.
"Tara always tells the story about Jennifer icing and icing and icing to get ready for one game," McCall said. "It should be a great game against USF."
The Dons advanced after trailing by 17 in the first quarter against top-seeded BYU.
"This is what we set our minds on years ago and to see it become a reality I couldn't be more excited," Azzi told the team's website. "It's a beautiful team. It's built on love. They play for one another and I don't think that happens enough in sports, and I couldn't be happier for them."
While the Dons are coming off a tremendous run through their conference tourney, Stanford still has the loss to the Huskies to consider.
"We played well the weekend before the tournament," Samuelson said. "We had a stumble but we know how we can play."
Said McCall: "We're definitely upset still from that game. We learned that any game could be our last."
The Cardinal is 32-4 all-time in NCAA Tournament games at Maples Pavilion and has won 12 straight. This season will be the 20th in which Stanford has hosted NCAA Tournament games in Maples Pavilion since staging its first in 1989 and the 19th in which the Cardinal has opened up its postseason at home.
Tickets are now on sale by visiting the website or by calling (800)-STANFORD. All-session prices are $50 for lower reserved, $40 for upper reserved, $25 for upper adult general admission and $15 for upper student/youth/senior general admission. Single-day tickets cost $30 for lower reserved, $25 for upper reserved, $15 for upper adult general admission and $10 for upper student/youth/senior general admission.
The Cardinal is a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second time after advancing to last year's Sweet 16 from the same position. No. 4 seeds are 208-136 all-time in the tournament.