The Pac-12 women's tournament final could have far-reaching consequences that lead to the Final Four in New Orleans.
That is, if all goes according to plan and top-seeded Stanford faces second-seeded Cal in Sunday's finale at KeyArena in Seattle.
The fourth-ranked Cardinal (28-2, 17-1 Pac-12) opens the tournament Friday against the winner of Washington State and Arizona State. No. 5 Cal (27-2, 17-1) plays USC.
The potential third meeting between the Bay Area schools could determine seedings for the NCAA tournament, which begins March 23. The teams split their league series in January.
"It has the feeling the first three seeds are already set," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.
Top-ranked Baylor, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Connecticut have separated themselves from the rest of the competition. Yes, Stanford handed Baylor its only defeat over the past two seasons, but the Lady Bears lost All-America guard Odyssey Sims early in the game in November.
The NCAA tournament's final No. 1 seed probably will be awarded to the winner of a Cal-Stanford matchup if both schools advance to the Pac-12 finale.
The importance of earning a No. 1 seed isn't lost on VanDerveer "to give ourselves the best chance to get to the Final Four."
The loser in a Cal-Stanford showdown presumably would receive a second seed and be paired in a regional with Baylor, Connecticut or Notre Dame.
Stanford is hoping to reach its sixth consecutive Final Four, Cal its first. As a result, Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb has a different perspective from VanDerveer.
"We know we put ourselves in a pretty good position to get a good position," Gottlieb said. "We're focused on winning the Pac-12 tournament; that's important to us, and if that leads to a No. 1 seed it's pretty incredible that we're in that spot."
Cal, in particular, has reason to stay in the moment. It has survived some close calls this year in winning its first Pac-12 regular-season title, which the Bears shared with Stanford.
VanDerveer senses something special about Gottlieb's team.
"It seems like they had good teams in the past few years but always were a game short," VanDerveer said.
But tying the Cardinal for the Pac-12 crown and having a veteran team has the Bears ready to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
"Cal knows how to win," Stanford senior Joslyn Tinkle said. "If they're up by 20 or up by two, they're scrappy.
"We have a little redemption if that matchup comes. We want to play them again to prove we deserve to win the conference."
Tinkle, who has played in the previous three Final Fours, also understands what's at stake.
"We want that No. 1 seed," she said.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.