BERKELEY, Calif. | Tara VanDerveer told Francesca Belibi she will remember this moment forever.
For Belibi’s first career dunk, not the latest milestone on a long list of them for VanDerveer.
The longtime Stanford coach tied the late Pat Summitt as winningest women’s coach in NCAA Division I basketball history with 1,098 on Sunday night as the top-ranked Cardinal beat rival California 83-38.
Belibi finally dunked in a game as she typically does during every warmup and scored 14 points for Stanford, which played its first game since taking over the No. 1 spot in the AP rankings.
“It was a great dunk. I was teasing her, I said, ‘I’ll remember this night for the rest of my life and I’ll remember the dunk,'” VanDerveer said. ”It’s exciting. It gets our team going. It’s really fun to see the players on our team be so excited for her.”
They’re equally proud of their coach, humble as she is — always first to credit her talented players and offer a shout out to her assistant coaches who help recruit all those stars.
VanDerveer, the Hall of Fame coach in her 35th season on The Farm, is poised to pass Summitt on Tuesday night at Pacific if all goes as planned — the teams were forced to cancel their first scheduled game Nov. 29 because of a positive coronavirus test in the Tigers program.
When Cal public address announcer Matt Foley congratulated VanDerveer’s achievement after the final buzzer and Stanford’s players clapped, VanDerveer shooed them toward the locker room.
This has never been about her but rather how special it is being part of something bigger — a team.
“This is a very challenging season right now, and it would feel different if you were playing in front of a crowd or if my mom is there,” she said. “There’s probably a side of me that this just allows me to fly under the radar a little bit, and that’s OK.
“I just would like to say to everybody, basketball was invented as, always has been and always will be a great team sport. Yes, this might be a record that has Tara VanDerveer’s name next to it but it is about the athletic directors that hired me, gave me a chance, whether it’s been at Ohio State, Idaho or Stanford. It’s been about great, great, great assistant coaches that have worked extremely hard for our program and it’s about having great players. My dad, who passed away over 20 years now, said ‘You don’t win the Kentucky Derby on donkeys.'”
Belibi stole the ball from Ornela Muca near the opposite baseline then drove end to end for a pretty one-handed slam 51 seconds before halftime to become the eighth women’s player to dunk in a game.
“It was nice to be able to get one. I know that’s been something that’s been around my name for a while,” she said. “It was cool to do it at Cal. Obviously we couldn’t do it at Maples right now.”
Belibi is the first woman to dunk in a game since former Baylor star Brittney Griner had a trio of slams against Florida State in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
“Y’all might want to check this out,” former Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike, now with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, posted on Twitter with a link to the video.
Stanford returned to the Bay Area from an extended Las Vegas road trip made necessary by the COVID-19 restrictions on sporting events and practices in Santa Clara County. The Cardinal won at UNLV and beat Washington in Las Vegas last weekend.
“I’m really excited for Fran. It was amazing to see what she did tonight,” freshman Cameron Brink said.
Brink contributed 16 points and seven rebounds for the Cardinal (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) while Haley Jones had eight points, six rebounds and four assists. Jones came in averaging 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds so far into her sophomore season after playing only 18 games as a freshman before a season-ending right knee injury.
Fatou Samb had 10 points and freshman Michelle Onyiah had nine points and 11 rebounds for Cal (0-5, 0-2), coached by former Stanford star Charmin Smith in her second season at Berkeley.
Stanford held its first three opponents to 26.8% shooting, then Cal shot only 23% and committed 33 turnovers.
Before Stanford swept both meetings in 2019-20, the schools had split the previous two season series.