With a win over Pacific, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer makes history, becomes the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history

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Career Highlights || Win #1098 || Win #1000

I’m just so thankful. Our team came out, and I thought, you know, did what we needed to do. We had a lot of different people stepping up for us. They wanted this win for me, and I felt it from them the whole game, the whole bus ride up here.

-Tara VanDerveer postgame 

1099 career wins. 22 Pac-12 titles. 2 NCAA titles. 12 Finals Fours. And so much more. Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer further cements her place in sports history.

Back in 2005, when the legendary Pat Summitt became the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, her team was in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The winningest record at the time was held by North Carolina men’s coach Dean Smith. The late Tennessee coach would go on to amass 1,098 wins before stepping down from coaching in 2012 after a 38-year career.

Summitt, who was a close friend to VanDerveer, accomplished the feat in front of 13,000 fans in Knoxville at Thompson-Boling Arena. In contrast, when the Cardinal topped Pacific 104-61Tuesday night, giving VanDerveer the women’s basketball record, Stanford could not play at home due to the coronavirus pandemic and local health mandates. The team has been living in hotels for over two weeks, and fans had to watch the historic moment on TV or an ESPN live stream.

“Obviously, we miss all the fans coming to the games and doing what we’re used to doing,” said VanDerveer about the unusual circumstances. “But I feel like it made us closer as a team.”

Beating Pacific to Reach the Milestone

This past Sunday night, up the road in Berkeley at Cal, VanDerveer tied Summitt’s record as the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history. The Stanford coach now owns the record with her 1,099th career victory in her 42nd year of coaching. VanDerveer had a 1094-253 record coming into the season, meaning she averaged about 27 wins and six losses over 41 years, with 942 of those victories coming at Stanford.

She would have hit the winningest milestone even earlier had she not taken 1996 off to take the US Women’s Senior National Team on a 52-game pre-Olympic tour before winning gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Playing Pacific, it wasn’t smooth sailing at first for Stanford. The teams were initially scheduled to play on Nov. 29, but that contest was canceled following a positive COVID-19 test with the Pacific program.

After a slow start by Stanford, then leading 26-12 at the end of the first quarter, Pacific edged closer late in the third quarter, getting within four points after a three-point jumper from senior guard Lianna Tillman.

However, the Cardinal responded with a 9-2 run to increase the margin again and went into the break with a 43-32 advantage.

Stanford blasted the Tigers in the third quarter, outscoring them 36-15, and rounded out the game with 25 points in the fourth period compared to Pacific’s 14. All five Cardinal starters were in double figures, paced by junior guard Lexie Hull who led all scorers with 17 points plus six rebounds. Freshman forward Cameron Brink came off the bench for 12 points and seven rebounds.

Tillman led Pacific’s trio of double-digit scorers with 15 points.

Cardinal starting point guard Kiana Williams admitted that “there were a little nerves” going into the game.

“We know how big this game was, and you know we didn’t want to choke it and let Tara down,” Williams said. “But before the game, Tara just told us to get out there and go play. Obviously, it’s a huge accomplishment, and we got we came out with a win…I think that first half, we were a little out of sync for a little bit, but we know we got together at halftime, made some adjustments, and we did this for Tara.”

After the game, Pacific head coach Bradley Davis gave VanDerveer the game ball.

Player Reflections

For fifth-year guard Anna Wilson, being a part of the historic win was notable given the waiver she received from the NCAA to return for an extra year after playing just 48 minutes her first yea. She spent much of her freshman year recovering from brain trauma due to multiple concussions. For the next three years, she was a reserve, coming off the bench to give her team a quick defensive spark.

“I was here when Tara got 1000 wins,” Wilson said when asked about being on The Farm for an extended period. She said the answer to why she pursued coming back is a “pretty easy answer.” 

“I mean Stanford, and getting a more education, and then also I get to be a part of this incredible culture another year.”

Compliments from All Over

The accolades began streaming in for VanDerveer when she tied Summitt’s mark Sunday evening. Tonight, they resurged when the record-breaking win was in sight.

Legendary figures in sports, from Billie Jean King to Dawn Staley (a member of the ’96 team) to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, recorded videos for a montage congratulating the coach.

Missing, of course, was Summitt, making the historical moment have a bittersweet edge. After the game, when asked what she hoped Pat would think, VanDerveer said she wishes that Summitt was looking down on her saying, “good job Tara, keep it going!”

“I loved coaching against Pat and we miss her. This is a wonderful game and I’m really, really fortunate to be part of it.”

Focusing on a Bigger Picture

True to her understated nature, VanDerveer chose to focus on players and others who have supported her career. Also, she made a point of highlighting the plight of those who are suffering due to the pandemic.

“I think that this is such a hard time for so many people in our country and in our community that having this platform of all of you, I am going to donate to our local food bank for Season of Sharing, $10 for each win, which I’m not a great mathematician, but it’s somewhere around $10,000.

We’re playing games, and we know people are really suffering. They don’t have jobs. Their unemployment is running out. They’re hungry. So, I think, I’m so thankful for my job and my opportunity that I just want to make sure I’m giving back.”

What’s Next?

With an uncertain road map on when they can return to Santa Clara County, Stanford will most likely head south to Los Angeles for matchups at USC and UCLA this coming weekend. The county health mandates restricting travel and banning sports events are in effect until Dec. 21 and is subject to change.

In the meantime, VanDerveer can savor her accomplishment with her team and reflect on the fantastic ride of her career so far.

Here’s a look back at VanDerveer’s career highlights:

  • Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (’11)
  • Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (’02)
  • Two NCAA Championships (1990, 1992)
  • Head of the 1996 US Olympic Team (Gold)
  • 60-0 record with USA Olympic Team in 1995-96
  • 88-8 record (.917) as USA Basketball Head Coach 
  • 12 NCAA Final Fours
  • 35 Pac-12 titles (regular season and tournament)
  • Four-time National Coach of the Year
  • 15-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year
  • Possesses the fifth-highest career winning percentage (.813) among Division I women’s basketball coaches all-time.
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