SAN ANTONIO — It is the undercard, Oklahoma and Stanford. It is the game before the game the nation may really want to see.
Between Connecticut’s 76-game winning streak and the curiosity that follows Baylor freshman center Brittney Griner around, one term used to describe today’s 6 p.m. matchup between the Sooners and Cardinal has been “junior varsity.”
“If we’re the JV game, so be it,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We’re going to come out and play the best JV game possible.”
Of course, these things happen.
Everybody wants an angle with legs and it’s hard to get past UConn and Griner. But there’s a story behind OU and Stanford, too.
The clash of styles, Stanford’s size against OU’s athleticism, is a part of it, but only a small part of it.
“That’s a simple way to look at it,” Sooner coach Sherri Coale said.
Look at the game deeply, beginning with what came before, and there are more forces at work.
The last meeting between Stanford and Oklahoma, four seasons ago, the roles were very nearly reversed. OU was the favorite, a No. 2 seed. Stanford was the upstart, a No. 4 seed.
Also, it was played in San Antonio, at the AT&T Center, home of the NBA Spurs. Also, for the third straight meeting between the programs, the Sooners lost.
One of the most painful exits since Coale began bringing the Sooners to the Big Dance in 2000, OU had just run the Big 12 table, going 16-0 in the conference before backing it up by winning the Big 12 tournament (a feat that remains uneaquled by any Big 12 men’s or women’s team).
But Stanford got off to a fast start and Brooke Smith schooled a freshman Courtney Paris, making 14 of 16 shots and scoring 35 points.
“I remember watching the last game with Oklahoma,” Stanford center Jayne Appel said. “I remember how well Stanford looked like they had prepared. I remember watching Brooke Smith do particularly well.”
That was 2006. Two years earlier, Stanford bounced the Sooners out of the tournament in Tempe, Ariz., winning 68-43.
Of OU’s victories in the series, one was a NCAA Tournament game, but played in Norman, OU prevailing 67-50.
Though it happened in the regular season, the first meeting of the Coale era between Stanford and OU remains a classic, the Sooners prevailing 102-98 in overtime on Dec. 27, 2001.
For some, it’s enough to call the series a rivalry.
“I think we’ve had a good rivalry with Oklahoma,” VanDerveer said. “They started out and got us down, and then we’ve kind of come back at them. But they have a great program and I think they’re a great matchup for us.”
For others, it isn’t.
“I don’t sense any special rivalry with Stanford over the years,” Coale said, “especially with these kids because we haven’t played them. So, sorry to bust your story.”
Coale, however, neglected to check with her players. Amanda Thompson, seated next to Coale, made it clear the history’s meaningful to her.
“I’ve heared about games in the past and it was against Oklahoma, and I feel I’m part of that family,” she said. “So I think it’s going to be a rivalry however long it goes on.”
Thompson, though, was even more clear the day the Sooners left for San Antonio.
“No, no, no, no, we remember everything,” she said. “We’re all family around here, we know what happened in the past. It's definitely going to be like payback again. Our coaching staff was there, too, (so) we’re a part of it.”
Also, though she would only elaborate when asked Saturday by saying, “I just didn’t feel that (Stanford) was the right fit for me,” there is an item in OU’s media guide on Danielle Robinson’s page that reads, “Not my team: Stanford.”
Robinson did offer this: “I could say it’s somewhat personal for me, being from California.”
Archbishop Mitty High School, Robinson’s alma mater, is 17.2 miles from the Stanford campus in Palto Alto.
Tonight’s winner, of course, will be determined on the court this evening rather than by history over time. And still, the history’s relevant. People remember the games and that helps shape the way they’re feeling about this one.
Even if it’s only the game before the main event.
Stanford or OU will still be standing after tonight. History will maintain or a new chapter will be written.
“We have to speed them up, use our athleticism to our advantage,” Robinson said. “We definitely have to block out. They’re really good on the boards … We know we have an advantage with our athleticism.”
On the court, it might be that simple.
Clay Horning 366-3526 firstname.lastname@example.org