Stanford doesn't have the tallest player in the women's game, or the most attention-grabbing.
All it has, and has had for more than two decades, is a top-notch tradition and a program that just keeps winning.
Stanford, the No. 1 seed in the Fresno regional, the No. 2 team in the land and the first-round opponent of 16 seed Hampton in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game at the Constant Center, is making its 25th straight NCAA appearance and ninth as a top seed. The 1990 and 1992 national champion, the Cardinal has made 10 Final Four appearances and is 65-23 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
There's no Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 dunking highlight reel for 34-0 Baylor, or Skylar Diggins, the oft-photographed Notre Dame guard who has drawn the Twitter admiration of, among others, rap superstar Lil Wayne.
And that's just fine with the team from the West Coast, three time zones removed from ESPN's prime-time cameras.
"We just focus on what we like to do and what we're good at, and we love winning," said 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Chiney Ogwumike, averaging 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds for the 31-3 Cardinal, whose only loss came at Connecticut on Nov. 21. "We love playing under Coach Tara. We love playing with our teammates, and those are the kinds of things that we focus on. We don't focus on what others tend to perceive of us."
In fact, Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer — the 2011 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee who comes into Saturday's game with 857 wins — is happy to see the spotlight shine on others, such as Griner.
"It's kind of like when the tide rises, all the boats go up," Vanderveer said. "When there's attention for her, it's for all of us in women's basketball. … Instead of feeling slighted, I think it's just the opposite. It creates more sunshine for all of us."
Besides, the Cardinal has its own megawatt star in 6-2 senior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, "our superstar on the West Coast," said Joslyn Tinkle, a junior and another 6-3 junior forward. Nnemkadi, Chiney's older sister, averages 21.8 points and 10.5 rebounds and is the fourth member of Stanford's 2,000-point/1,000 rebound club.
"She has done wonderful things for our team," said Chiney, who joins her sister on the 15-player list of finalists for the John Wooden Award. "She's been the backbone. She's the mother. She's the leader. This final tournament for her is going to be really special. … I'm extremely motivated to win for her. Every game from here on could possibly be my last game with her."
Tinkle contributes almost nine points per game, while sophomore point guard Toni Kokenis averages 9.5 points and 3.7 assists. Kokenis will match up against HU (26-4) senior point guard Jericka Jenkins, averaging a team-best 14 points and ranked second in the nation with 7.2 assists per game.
Jenkins is the 5-4 engine that drives HU's second-ranked defense, giving up just 46.8 points per game.
"They penetrate really well," Vanderveer said. "They knock down perimeter shots. … They're a very aggressive, quick defense team. That's the main thing you have to deal with. We counter that with size."
The Cardinal, fresh off its sixth straight Pac-12 title, arrived at its hotel around 11 p.m. Thursday after a cross-country flight on a plane that needed a tire change before takeoff and a refueling stop in Oklahoma City. Stanford hasn't opened the NCAA tournament east of the Rockies since 2000.
"It's a little different," Vanderveer said. "We really need, quite honestly, more host sites on the West (Coast). But we're excited to be here and have an opportunity to play."
Hampton, around 12 miles from the Constant Center, sold out of its original allotment of 500 tickets and expects a sizable home-court crowd.
"It's something new and different, and we like the atmosphere that Hampton is going to bring," Tinkle said. "They're very close to home, and we thrive in those atmospheres and situations."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun