STANFORD -- Coach Tara VanDerveer has entered the NCAA tournament with as many as four future WNBA players on her Stanford roster.
Not this season.
"We don't have as much firepower as we've had in the past five years," she said Saturday. "This is probably in a lot of ways the least talent and least, in some ways, tournament experienced team."
The coach has been surprised how her players have responded to go 31-2 and earn the top seed in the Spokane Regional. Stanford opens the tournament Sunday at Maples Pavilion against No. 16 Tulsa, which won four consecutive games in the league tournament to earn Conference USA's automatic bid.
Stanford won its 13th consecutive Pac-12 regular season title when tying with Cal. Then the Cardinal won the conference tournament crown two weeks ago in Seattle.
The team has done it without current WNBA players Jayne Appel, Nneka Ogwumike, Kayla Pederson and Jeannette Pohlen.
Ogwumike's sister, Chiney Ogwumike, is probably Stanford's only first-round WNBA pick on the current roster.
But VanDerveer warned against underestimating her group that suffered a blow because former starting guard Toni Kokenis has been unable to play since Feb. 3 with an undisclosed medical condition.
"The strength of this team is their cohesiveness and they play really hard for each other," the coach said.
"And there is not a selfish bone in anyone in that locker room. So, anything is possible."
But to reach its sixth consecutive Final Four will take a monumental effort.
"This hasn't been like a perfect season," VanDerveer said. "For us to be successful, we are asking a lot from people. I can't say that we've gotten it consistently, but we have gotten it so we know it's there."
"Ogwumike is a great player, but we've played a lot of posts that are great too," said Couisnard, a mother of a 2-year-old. "I think they have prepared me for a player like Ogwumike."
Golden Hurricane coach Matilda Mossman is a little more circumspect than her players.
"What scares me the most is how hard she works to get the ball down in the block," Mossman said of the Stanford junior. "She's relentless -- her asking for the ball and once she gets it, she's relentless in taking it to the basket."
First Couisnard will have surgery on both knees after the season ends. "She has cartilage damage in both knees and basically every time she runs, it's bone against bone," Mossman said.
Mossman said the senior's maturity has been a big influence on a team that lost its first five games this season.
"She's an eloquent speaker," the Tulsa coach said. "When she talks to our team, they understand. She's a very giving person as well and she'll do whatever it takes for her teammates for them to be successful."
Couisnard said she couldn't have succeeded as a mother and a player without community and family support.
"They say 'Tiff, you're going to be with your son soon so just give it all you've got,' " Couisnard said. "I think the support system is really what allows me to handle everything."
The former St. John's coach is facing a friend from the Big East in Villanova's Harry Perretta. It could not have been a better matchup for Barnes Arico, who has leaned on her senior players for help getting through the Big Ten season.
The coach spent a couple of weeks in Pennsylvania studying Perretta's unusual motion offense when at St. John's.
"It definitely helps that I've been able to play against him for the last 10 years," Barnes Arico said." I know him pretty well and I know his system pretty well, too."
She added that schools seeing the Villanova offense for the first time often are thrown "off guard because people aren't really prepared to defend what he does."
Villanova forward Laura Sweeney hopes Barnes Arico's familiarity goes only so far. After all Michigan's players haven't see the kind of movement before. The No. 9 Wildcats (21-10) had assists on 72.8 percent of their baskets this season.
"The girls have never played us, but you know that she's going to prepare them, you know that they spent a lot of time this week on it," Sweeney said. "Hopefully we'll surprise them a little bit. Hopefully they won't be ready for it."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.