Sports, Sports Notebook

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Stanford Women's Cardinal Numbers Mount

WHEN Tara VanDerveer was named coach of the United States women's Olympic basketball team last April, she had to temporarily give up her head-coaching job at Stanford University. Now it appears the team she left behind might have what it takes to win a national championship without her.

This says a lot about the strength of the Stanford program and the ability of Amy Tucker, a Vanderveer deputy now serving as interim head coach of the Cardinal. Under Tucker, the team has done as well if not better than expected, even after losing four of its top six players from a squad that reached the national semifinals last year.

With Saturday's 59-54 victory over the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford extended its winning streak to 17 games overall (25 in a row in the Pacific 10 Conference) and raised its record to 22-2. It will play its last two regular-season games this week.

Stanford not only is No. 2 nationally, it also is the first team, women's or men's, to earn one of the 128 berths in this year's National Collegiate Athletic Association postseason tournaments, which begin March 14 (men) and 15 (women).

If Stanford reaches the women's Final Four in Charlotte, N.C., a most peculiar situation could occur. Tucker and VanDerveer could both be in the arena, Tucker on the bench coaching as VanDerveer watches, forced to sit this one out during her one-year leave of absence. Tucker is the "caretaker of Tara's program," says Steve Raczynski, Stanford's sports information director. Tucker talks with VanDerveer about four times a week, he says.

What makes this story even more unusual is that Tucker is sharing the interim head-coaching duties with Marianne Stanley, whose credentials are even more lustrous than VanDerveer's. …