STOCKTON, Calif. — After receiving the game ball, Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer slipped on the large black fleece pullover, a gift from her team, with the seldom-used nickname “T-DAWG” scripted across the back.
Of course, the T stands for Tara, but on Tuesday it could have another meaning: as in “Top Dawg”.
Earlier, VanDerveer stood on the sideline of a nearly empty gym. There were other players, coaches, officials and arena staff. But there were no fans cheering at Alex G. Spanos Center, Stockton, as No. 1 Stanford defeated the University of the Pacific 104-61 and VanDerveer became the all-time winningest coach in women’s college basketball.
VanDerveer’s 1,099 wins eclipsed by one legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summit.
“This is special because of I think the magnitude of that many wins,” VanDerveer said. “I never thought, ‘Well, I am going to try to win 1,000 games.’, or anything like that. This is special. Having currently the No. 1 team. Being undefeated. Playing in a pandemic. I will never forget this, for sure.”
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The Cardinal outscored Pacific (0-1) by 32 points in the second half, after the Tigers shot 40% from the field to keep within single digits throughout most of the first half.
Pacific seniors Brooklyn McDavid and Lianna Tillman combined for 27 points, but Stanford’s five double-figure scorers, including Lexi Hull (17 points) and Kiana Williams (14 points), were too much for the Tigers.
“There were a little nerves because we know how big this game was and we didn’t want to chunk it and let Tara down,” said Williams, who created the “T-DAWG” nickname. “For the game Tara just told us to get out there and go play. Obviously it is a huge accomplishment and I’m glad we came out with the win. But like you said, I think that first half we were a little out of sync for a little bit. We got it together at halftime, made some adjustments and we did this for Tara.”
The Cardinal’s lead grew to as much as 32 points in the third quarter.
For sixth-year Pacific coach Bradley Davis, focus has shifted to how his team can improve for Saturday’s matchup against LSU in Las Vegas. But he said he also recognizes the magnitude of VanDerveer’s win.
“I am the son of a diplomat, so I think in those terms,” Davis said. “And Tara’s the premiere ambassador of women’s basketball. To be a part of this moment, it doesn’t hit you right away because you are still thinking about missed rebounds and transitions and that kind of things. I think down the line, to be part of that moment, you’ll sit back and reflect on it.
“I think one of the great things that Tara does is that she doesn’t over coach. Which is an indication of a lot of hard work and the planning and prepping that goes on in practice, and trusting the players on the floor. Watching her teams, that’s something I try to pick up and incorporate.”
Throughout VanDerveer’s 42-year coaching career, there have been many memorable moments.
She has won two NCAA National Championships at Stanford. She has been named National Coach of the year four times. She has been the Pac-12 Coach of the year 15 times.
And Stanford has produced 12 WNBA first round draft picks under her watch.
VanDerveer’s coaching career began back in 1978 with two seasons at Idaho. Then came five years at Ohio State, before arriving at Stanford in 1985. Since then she is credited for 947 of Stanford’s 1,123 wins since women’s basketball became a varsity program in 1975, and has taken the Cardinal to 31 NCAA Tournaments and 12 Final Fours.
VanDerveer’s relationship with Summitt dates back to the 1980’s when the two coaches started an annual series between Stanford and Tennessee.
VanDerveer credited the late Summitt with helping her improve as a coach.
“We were friends and obviously competitors,” VanDerveer said. “She would tell me, ‘Tara your team needs to rebound better.’ I think all in all, she had great passion for the game and I think she sees that with me. She loves unselfish basketball, which I think she would see with our team. More than anything she helped me get better as a coach because you really had to work hard to prepare. We lost more games than we won against Tennessee. Unfortunately we are not able to play them this year. She was a great mentor and a great friend and I think she would be proud of us.”
VanDerveer, who tied Summitt after the Cardinal’s 83-38 victory over Cal, on Dec. 15, holds the third-best win percentage in women’s college basketball history, and has more wins than 344 of the NCAA’s 351 D-1 programs.
Following the game, VanDerveer watched on a small screen as a number of sports figures congratulated her. The video included messages from Warriors coach Steve Kerr, NFL Hall of Famer John Elway, tennis star Billie Jean King and one of her former players, Nneka Ogwumike.
And as it often does, VanDerveer’s attention shifted to her teams, players and others who have worked with her program.
“I do think back about all the different players I have coached,” VanDerveer said. “I just want to thank every player I have coached. Every administrator I have worked for. Assistant coach that I have worked with. Trainers.
“Everyone has just made this a great ride.”
Record reporter Justin Frommer covers prep and college sports. Follow him on Twitter @JustinbFrommer.