Stanford Women's Cardinal Numbers Mount

WHEN Tara VanDerveer was named coach of the United States women's Olympic basketball team last April, she had to temporarily give up her head-coaching job at Stanford University. Now it appears the team she left behind might have what it takes to win a national championship without her.

This says a lot about the strength of the Stanford program and the ability of Amy Tucker, a Vanderveer deputy now serving as interim head coach of the Cardinal. Under Tucker, the team has done as well if not better than expected, even after losing four of its top six players from a squad that reached the national semifinals last year.

With Saturday's 59-54 victory over the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford extended its winning streak to 17 games overall (25 in a row in the Pacific 10 Conference) and raised its record to 22-2. It will play its last two regular-season games this week.

Stanford not only is No. 2 nationally, it also is the first team, women's or men's, to earn one of the 128 berths in this year's National Collegiate Athletic Association postseason tournaments, which begin March 14 (men) and 15 (women).

If Stanford reaches the women's Final Four in Charlotte, N.C., a most peculiar situation could occur. Tucker and VanDerveer could both be in the arena, Tucker on the bench coaching as VanDerveer watches, forced to sit this one out during her one-year leave of absence. Tucker is the ''caretaker of Tara's program,'' says Steve Raczynski, Stanford's sports information director. Tucker talks with VanDerveer about four times a week, he says.

What makes this story even more unusual is that Tucker is sharing the interim head-coaching duties with Marianne Stanley, whose credentials are even more lustrous than VanDerveer's.

A former All-American, Stanley has been to the Final Four 10 times as a player or a coach, and coached Old Dominion University to three national championships. VanDerveer played at Indiana University before making her mark as a coach, first at Idaho and Ohio State before turning Stanford into a perennial power. She led the Cardinal to two national championships in 1990 and 1992, and has two members from the former squad, Jennifer Azzi and Katy Steding, on the US team.

Stanley coached at the University of Southern California prior to Stanford, but lost her job in 1993 when she demanded equal pay with the men's coach. She lost her sex-discrimination suit against the university, but her appeal has yet to be heard.

Touching other bases

Pop quiz: In 1956 this figure skater became the first US woman to win an Olympic gold. Who is she? (Answer at end.)

Anyone tired of mean-spirited taunting of opponents, in-your-face attempts at intimidation, tirades against game officials, and look-at-me celebrations by athletes will be happy to know that today is National Sportsmanship Day. In a series of discussions and programs at schools across the United States and around the world, people will take stock of today's athletic behavior, with a view toward improving it.

The event, first held in 1991, is organized by the Institute for International Sport in Kingston, R.I.

Quiz answer: Tenley Albright Blakely. She is among 100 living Olympic champions the United States Olympic Committee will honor at this summer's Centennial Games in Atlanta. A surgeon's daughter, she attended medical school and became a surgeon herself after winning the gold in Cortina, Italy, the last Olympic site with a totally open-air rink.

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