SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The NCAA women's final four semifinal basketball game between No. 3 Stanford and No. 1 Virginia will match Stanford's shooters against Virginia's ball handlers, Stanford's agility against Virginia's size and Stanford's depth against Virginia's experience.
But Virginia has an X factor in senior point guard Dawn Staley, and that's where the Cavaliers can force Stanford's hand.
"Dawn Staley separates them from the rest of the pack," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, whose Cardinal (28-3) takes on the Cavaliers (32-1) Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. "In my mind she's the Michael Jordan of women's basketball -- she's so quick with the ball."
Staley is a different player than the excitable sophomore who was forced to the bench with leg cramps in the waning moments of Stanford's 77-65 victory over Virginia in the semifinals two years ago.
She's a two-time All-American and nearly everybody's Player of the Year this season. She averages 14.2 points and 6.2 assists and at 5 feet 5 is Virginia's third-leading rebounder at 5.5 a game.
Staley has matured. Her game, though still flashy, is no longer more suited to the playgrounds of her native Philadelphia, where Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers were among her teammates for pickup games.
"I've coached her two summers in a row [on the U.S. National team and at the World University Games] and watched her mature," VanDerveer said. "Before, she tried to make passes with a lot of mustard on the hot dog and they went in the popcorn stands. That's not Dawn now."
Though Staley makes the Cavaliers go, Virginia is by no means a one-woman team. The Cavaliers, 70-67 losers to Tennessee in last year's title game, are experienced and tournament-tested, much the same as Stanford was when it beat Virginia on its way to the 1990 national championship.
"This is a flip-flop of the situation two years ago," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. "We come in with five seniors, four of whom played a lot in that game. Tara comes in with an upstart team, wondering who will take over for some of the talented players who've moved on."
That question was answered this season. VanDerveer replaced stars such as Sonja Henning, Trisha Stevens and Julie Zeilstra with 11 players, all of whom have played key roles.
In fact, Angela Taylor, a reserve guard who was voted the team's best defensive player last season, may be called upon to guard Staley at certain times during the game.
L If VanDerveer calls her number, Taylor says she'll be ready.
"Being a defensive player, I want to get up on her," Taylor said. "Dawn Staley is a great player, but when the game starts you forget about the All-American honors. You forget about the records. It's just five on five."