STANFORD – When Stanford is at full strength, it’s hard to find a team in the country as big and tall as the Cardinal.
But it would certainly help to have their All-American post player ready for what should be a tough battle for rebounds on Sunday.
Fortunately for the No. 1 seeded Cardinal, Cameron Brink was able to practice on Saturday after missing Friday’s game with a non-COVID-related illness.
Brink, who posted on Instagram that she received an IV in her arm, said she is ready for Sunday’s second round NCAA Tournament game at 6:30 p.m. against No. 8 seeded Ole Miss.
“It was just a stomach bug, and just dealing with that,” Brink said. “As long as I’m ready to play tomorrow, that’s all that matters.”
Stanford was able to do just fine without Brink in its first-round match, destroying No. 16 seed Sacred Heart. But coach Tara VanDerveer admitted afterwards that “it’s really different not having Cam” and would welcome her return to the lineup.
“We need Cam,” VanDerveer said. “We are very happy that she is back. I thought she had practiced well today.”
VanDerveer said they’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out if Brink needs minute restriction, saying, “Everyone is always day-to-day.”Sunday’s opponent looked particularly strong in their sweeping win over Gonzaga, even beating the Bulldogs by a bigger margin than Stanford did earlier in the year (84-63 on December 4, 2023, even though Gonzaga only had seven players that night).
VanDerveer joked that she “didn’t sleep last night” in preparation for the game after the Rebels dominated the Bulldogs on the glass, grabbing 24 offensive rebounds en route to scoring 21 second chance points. For Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, the Rebels reaching the 50-rebound mark for the fourth time this season can be attributed to their tough conference slate.
“It plays in the Southeastern Conference. Every night we play against top level talent. We play against top athletes. And we have to fight,” McPhee-McCuin said. “We didn’t think that would be impossible for us to do tonight or any other time in the NCAA tournament — unless we face South Carolina again; they are monstrous.”
But there’s another fun fact about those Gamecocks that share both Ole Miss and Stanford: They’re the only two teams in the country to take South Carolina to overtime.
Stanford did so on November 20, as the reigning champions came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 76–71 at Maples Pavilion.
Ole Miss was also at home on February 19 as it took the undefeated Gamecocks to overtime and lost 64-57. The Rebels faced them again in the semifinals of the SEC tournament, losing 81-50.
In those two games, South Carolina’s size led to the Rebels being outscored by double digits (by 13 in each game). They have only been beaten by double digits once all season.
Could the similar size of Stanford in South Carolina pose a similar challenge to the Rebels? McPhee-McCuin isn’t sure, if only because of the size of the Gamecocks in their entire lineup.
“South Carolina, their front court is 6-6, 6-5, 6-4, 6-3. Stanford is big, but I don’t remember their 2 guard being 6-3,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I think they will also do very well on the glass, but even against South Carolina we competed. They didn’t just destroy us on the glass… That’s just who we are. So no matter what, we feel like we can recover with the best of them.
The numbers prove that too. Stanford entered the NCAA Tournament and had the nation’s fifth-best rebounding average, hitting 45.6 per game. Ole Miss isn’t far behind, with his 41.7 rebounds per game ranking 21st out of 361 teams.
Stanford senior star Haley Jones and the Cardinal watched the first half of Ole Miss’s victory over Gonzaga from the stands and left with the impression that the Rebels were “very aggressive”. But that’s also not something Stanford hasn’t had to deal with in the Pac-12.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s not a crazy thing,” Jones said. “We’re preparing to rebound every game, but now the emphasis is more on it… We’ve had games to prepare for this – teams on board like Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee, we’ve been focusing on that prepared for the past.” . So it just really ties into that.
And the key to the game? That is an easy question to answer, both for the coach and for the player who did not play on Friday.
“Boxing is what’s going to happen,” said Brink. “We just have to underarm them and make sure they don’t get offside. Simple.”
VanDerveer added: “You have to bounce back against this team. Our team will have to be aggressive. That can’t be the nice girls at Stanford.”