CORVALLIS — Something quite strange, practically unheard of, happened this past Christmas — the Stanford women’s basketball team was not ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
For 312 straight weeks, the Cardinal had appeared in the poll, a streak that dated back to the 2001 season.
But at just 6-6 and having just lost to Western Illinois at home, Stanford was four points from being No. 25.
The Cardinal regrouped and moved back into the poll the following week after Pac-12 wins over UCLA and USC at home, but once again fell out after losing at Arizona State.
It stayed that way for three straight weeks before a weekend sweep of the Arizona schools helped the Cardinal re-enter the poll at No. 24 this past Monday.
Staying there will take a lot of work as Stanford (14-8, 8-2) heads to the Willamette Valley to take on No. 16 Oregon State (16-5, 7-3) and No. 6 Oregon (20-3, 9-1) this weekend.
First up is today’s 6 p.m. showdown with the Beavers inside what is sure to once again be a boisterous Gill Coliseum.
While it might appear the Cardinal are down this season, Oregon State coach Scott Rueck knows it will take his team’s best effort to hand Stanford, tied for second in the Pac-12 with UCLA, a third straight loss inside Gill.
“Every time you play them you know that they’re going to be as prepared as anyone ever is to play you,” Rueck said Wednesday morning. “They’re going to be disciplined, they’re going to be efficient and it’s going to take a huge effort to compete in the game and give yourself a chance to win the game.”
Like Oregon State, Stanford, which reached the Final Four last season, has had to replace strong senior class. The road has been bumpy at times.
“But this team has all the same qualities,” Rueck said. “They’re committed to the defensive end of the floor, they’re playing the best defense of anyone in the conference to this point, and they’re highly efficient offensively. And they continue to get better week after week, and that’s what we’ve seen.”
Seven of the Cardinal’s eight loses have come against ranked teams, with six of those on the road or at a neutral site. Throw in an injury bug early in the season and it's not a surprise Stanford struggled some.
“You put all that together and I don’t think there’s anyone surprised that this team is doing what it’s doing now and it’s playing as well as it is,” Rueck said.
The Beavers have won three of the last five games with the Cardinal, including sweeping the regular season series last year before falling in the Pac-12 title game.
“Whenever I hear about Stanford, whenever I know we’re going to play them I always think of them as a good team, a top team,” said junior guard Katie McWilliams, who mentioned her favorite Stanford game was her freshmen year at home when she started at the point for an injured Sydney Wiese and the Beavers rallied in the fourth quarter for the win.
“No matter what they’re going to be ready to play and have a game plan for us so they obviously have some big-time players.”
The teams know each other well and that was evident last season when Oregon State won two games but a combined six points (72-69 in double overtime and 50-47 at home), and Stanford won by five (48-43 in Seattle).
“The last couple years, every time we’ve played them the score was kind of low because our defense has always been that good,” said center Marie Gulich. “… It’s a boring game almost because we’re so structured and everything else so the game is very slow.
“I hope we can speed it up a little bit because especially this season we run better and play more fast breaks so I think it will be a little bit different than the past couple years. They will be different, too, so it will be interesting to see how it works.”