STANFORD — When Stanford is at full strength, it’s hard to find any team in the country that’s as tall and long as the Cardinal.
But it sure would help to have their All-American post player ready for what should be a tough battle for rebounds on Sunday.
Thankfully for the No. 1 seed Cardinal, Cameron Brink was able to practice on Saturday after she missed Friday’s game with a non-COVID related illness.
Brink, who posted on Instagram that she had an IV put in her arm, said she’s ready for Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. second round NCAA Tournament game against the No. 8 seed Ole Miss.
“It was just a stomach bug, and just dealing with that,” Brink said. “As long as I’m ready to play tomorrow, that’s all that matters.”
Stanford was able to do just fine without Brink in its first round game, blasting No. 16 seed Sacred Heart. But coach Tara VanDerveer admitted that “it is really different not having Cam out there” afterwards and would welcome her return to the lineup.
“We need Cam,” VanDerveer said. “We’re really happy that she’s back. I thought she practiced well today.”
VanDerveer said they’ll have to wait until tomorrow to figure out if Brink needs any minutes restriction, saying, “everyone is always day-to-day.”Sunday’s opponent looked especially strong in their blowout win over Gonzaga, actually beating the Bulldogs by a wider margin than Stanford did earlier this year (84-63 on Dec. 4, 2023, although Gonzaga only had seven players that night).
VanDerveer quipped that she “didn’t sleep last night” in preparing for the matchup after the Rebels dominated the Bulldogs on the glass, grabbing 24 offensive rebounds en route to scoring 21 second chance points. For Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, the Rebels reaching the 50-rebound mark for the fourth time this season can be credited to their tough conference slate.
“It’s playing in the Southeastern Conference. Every night, we are playing against elite level talent. We’re playing against elite athletes. And we have to fight,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We did not think that that would be impossible for us to do tonight or any time in the NCAA Tournament – unless we face South Carolina again; they are monstrous.”
But there’s another funny tidbit about those Gamecocks that both Ole Miss and Stanford share: they are the only two teams in the country to take South Carolina to overtime.
Stanford did so back on Nov. 20, when the reigning national champions came back from down 10 points entering the fourth quarter to win 76-71 at Maples Pavilion.
Ole Miss were also home on Feb. 19 when it took the undefeated Gamecocks to overtime and lost 64-57. The Rebels faced them again in the SEC tournament semifinals and lost 81-50.
In those two games, South Carolina’s size led to the Rebels to getting out-rebounded by double digits (by 13 in each game). They’ve only been outrebounded by double digits one time all season.
Could Stanford’s similar size inside to South Carolina present a similar challenge to the Rebels? McPhee-McCuin isn’t sure, if only because of the Gamecocks’ size throughout their entire lineup.
“South Carolina, their front court is 6-6, 6-5, 6-4, 6-3. Stanford’s big, but I don’t remember their 2-guard being 6-3,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I think that they are going to be really good on the glass as well, but even versus South Carolina, we competed. They didn’t just annihilate us on the glass … That’s just who we are. So no matter what, we feel like we can rebound with the best of them.”
The numbers bear that out, too. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Stanford had the fifth-best rebounding average in the country, grabbing 45.6 per game. Ole Miss isn’t far behind, with its 41.7 rebounds per game ranking 21st out of 361 teams.
Stanford’s senior star Haley Jones and the Cardinal watched the first half of Ole Miss’ win over Gonzaga from the stands and left with the impression that the Rebels were “very aggressive.” But that’s not anything Stanford hasn’t dealt with in the Pac-12, either.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s not like anything crazy,” Jones said. “We prepare to rebound every single game, but now it’s just more of an emphasis … We’ve had games to prepare us for this — o-board teams like Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee, we’ve prepped for that in the past. So it’s just really locking into that.”
And the key to the game? That’s an easy question to answer, both for the coach and for the player who didn’t play on Friday.
“Boxing out is what’s going to [matter],” Brink said. “We’ve just got to forearm them and make sure they don’t get an o-boards. Simple.”
VanDerveer added, “You have to rebound against this team. Our team is going to have to be aggressive. Can’t be the nice girls from Stanford.”