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How Stanford women’s basketball built a national championship team

This is how coach Tara VanDerveer assembled a championship team.

The No. 1 seed Stanford Cardinal won their third national championship in program history and their first national title in 29 years by knocking off an elite Arizona Wildcats squad that shocked many in the tournament with their tenacious defense and will to win.

What makes this win even sweeter for Stanford is that head coach Tara VanDerveer led the Cardinal to each of their three national titles in 1990, 1992, and 2021. VanDerveer and her staff built each team from the ground up, and this year’s team was no different. Putting the pieces together of talented players spanning multiple positions and classes, VanDerveer continues to add to her illustrious coaching career, her Hall of Fame resume, and further cement her name in Stanford’s history books.

For the Cardinal, nearly every player had an outstanding resume heading into this tournament and even before signing to become part of the Stanford team. With that said, it’s no surprise they were in contention for a national title, but the fact that they were able to win it all despite this season’s ups and downs was impressive. Here is a look at how Tara VanDerveer built this year’s Stanford team and led them to a national championship.

Kiana Williams, Guard, Senior

Kiana Williams was one of Stanford’s three seniors and the heart and soul of this Cardinal team. A San Antonio native, Williams returned home for her last hurrah in the NCAA tournament and came out as a national champion.

Arizona v Stanford Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Throughout her career, Williams had made her mark with the Cardinal, averaging 12.9 points in the regular season and 15.9 points per game in the postseason. From those stats, it is evident that Williams was a true gamer, raising her level of play when the games mattered most.

Like many on the Stanford Cardinal, Williams arrived at The Farm with more than a few accolades. She was a 2017 McDonald’s and Jordan Brand Classic All-American, ranked 8th overall in the 2017 recruiting class by HoopGurlz, and was Stanford’s first top-10 recruit since Chiney Ogwumike signed Nov. 2009.

Haley Jones, Forward, Sophomore

Haley Jones was named as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for her work in leading Stanford to the national title. Jones went off for 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting in Stanford’s one-point win over South Carolina in the Final Four, and then had 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting in the title game win over Arizona. Like Lexie Hull, she was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team.

Jones’s resume prior to Stanford was also packed with individual honors. In 2019 she was a McDonald’s and Jordan Brand Classic All-American, won the Naismith Trophy Girls’ High School Player of the Year, was the Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year, and was named the USA TODAY High School Sports First Team All-American.

Arizona v Stanford Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

To add, she was the No. 1 player in the country for her 2019 recruiting class, according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz. She also won gold with USA Basketball in the FIBA U17 World Cup in Minsk, Belarus, during the summer of 2018 and competed at the 2019 USA 3x3 U18 National Championship and her team won second place.

Lexie Hull, Guard, Junior

Throughout the season, Lexie Hull logged double figures averaging 11 points in the regular season and 12.9 points per game during the postseason. Her 6-foot frame made her a mismatch for many teams on the boards as she was able to grab roughly five per game throughout both the regular and postseasons. Her performance throughout the tournament landed her on the 2021 NCAA All-Tournament team.

Arizona v Stanford Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Hull, like Williams, was littered with accomplishments before joining the Cardinal. She was a five-star recruit ranked the 14th best player in the country according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz rankings. Hull was also a two-time Washington Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018, made MaxPreps High School Girls’ All-America first team, and was Seattle Times Co-State sister Lacie, and was named USA TODAY High School Sports Washington State Player of the Year.

Cameron Brink, Forward, Freshman

Brink was only a freshman, and it was often hard to believe because she didn’t play like it. In her first season in the Pac-12, she leads the conference in blocks with 88. The next closest person was Angel Jackson of USC with 38. Brink averaged 10.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks this postseason and helped propel the Cardinal to the national title with her strong finishes and shot-blocking presence in the paint.

In high school, Brink was also an All-American. She was ranked No. 3 in the 2020 recruiting class by ESPN’s HoopGurlz and was a 2020 McDonald’s and Jordan Brand Classic All-American. Brink was Oregon’s 2018 and 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year, three-time Naismith High School All-American (2018-2020), a three-time MaxPreps High School All American (2018-2020), and 2019 USA Today Oregon Player of the Year.

Arizona v Stanford Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

To think these are only four of the Cardinal’s 14-player roster is mind-blowing. How much more dangerous would they have been this year if Jenna Brown, their junior guard and former McDonald’s and Jordan Brand Classic All-American, could play this year as well. She sat out with a medical redshirt. Not to mention, Anna Wilson was also highly ranked and a 2016 McDonald’s All-American.

To put it plainly, Tara VanDerveer knows how to build successful teams. She’s been doing it at Stanford for the past 36 years. And though she is not new to this, her 2021 Cardinals might be the most individually decorated team we’ve seen in a while. Fortunately, they were able to pull their talents together and win a collective national championship.