Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer won't look beyond Thursday's home game against Washington, the only team to beat her squad since before Thanksgiving.
But the postseason is coming, and ultimately the Cardinal could get a rematch with the team against whom every program is measured. Top-ranked and unbeaten Connecticut defeated Stanford 76-57 on Nov. 11, and VanDerveer is convinced she has a different team now.
At 26-2, having already clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title, Stanford appears positioned to return to the Final Four after a miss last season interrupted a five-year run into the season's final weekend.
"I think our team in some ways can see the finish line, and we're making that kick right now," she said. "If they're not kicking, I'm kicking them."
VanDerveer has utilized this team's depth as a prod all season. Her rotation goes 10 or 11 deep, and 12 different players have started at least one game, including all five freshmen.
"I think it sends a message we're not set on a starting lineup," she said. "It's a meritocracy. If you play well, you're going to play."
In particular, Stanford's backcourt is better than a year ago. Three guards in the rotation, including starter Lili Thompson, are freshmen. But after 28 games, star forward Chiney Ogwumike said, "We don't see anyone as freshmen now."
Both the rotation and the starting lineup have been dictated at times by injuries, other times by matchups. But players given a chance have invariably delivered, VanDerveer said, and that creates more depth.
"If I had a magic wand and could wave it over our team," she said, "I would like to get more contributions from our frontcourt, from Erica McCall and Kailee Johnson and Tess Picknell."
The Cardinal couldn't ask for more from Ogwumike, who averages 26.5 points and 12.1 rebounds. But she says the greater versatility of this team has made it tougher for opponents to gang up on her.
"We have a lot of offensive weapons," Ogwumike said. "If we're shooting well, you have to pick your poison. People's confidence levels are high right now, and with that defenses have to be much more honest."
VanDerveer agrees. "I think we're a much better team now for sure," she said.
Stanford is expected to be a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed with opening-weekend games at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. Win there and the Cardinal returns to Maples Pavilion for the regional semifinals and final.
Ogwumike understands the unforgiving nature of the NCAA tournament.
"It's not necessarily which team is the best team. It's the team that's playing at their best at the right time," she said. "Our team is turning the corner. If we're playing well, I feel like the sky's the limit."
"Kameron's excited about every game," said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, whose Stanford teams competed against Sean Rooks. Unlike his dad, who was redshirted as a freshman, Kameron has played as a reserve in 25 of the Bears' 27 games.
Sean Rooks went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA, but Montgomery said there are clear comparisons. "Spittin' image," he said. "Very similar, not very explosive. Big-body guys."
There is one difference: Sean Rooks played at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds. His son is 7 feet, 270.
But the Zags are coming off losses at BYU and San Diego and have dropped out of the AP Top 25. If they lose twice more this week, could their status as an NCAA tournament at-large candidate be in jeopardy?
It's possible. Gonzaga still boasts a strong No. 29 RPI computer ranking but is just 1-3 against the top-50 and has piled up 12 wins (plus two losses) to teams above 150 in the RPI.