STANFORD -- Second-seeded Stanford has played Penn State only twice, and not since 2001.

But coach Tara VanDerveer knows a lot about the third-seeded Nittany Lions (24-7), the opponent Sunday in the Stanford Regional at Maples Pavilion.

VanDerveer has played host to Penn State coach Coquese Washington and an assistant at her summer home in upstate New York the past two years. The coaches sat around for hours scribbling X's and O's.

"They'll probably know what we're doing pretty well, and we'll probably know what they're doing pretty well," VanDerveer said Wednesday.

Penn State won the Big Ten title this season behind four seniors: Maggie Lucas, Ariel Edwards, Dara Taylor and Talia East. The Nittany Lions have reached four consecutive NCAA tournaments with the core players.

Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, averages 21.5 points per game. She is the league's all-time 3-point scorer.

"You can't leave her open," VanDerveer said. "But she's got more than" 3-point shooting "to her game."

But the Cardinal (31-3) might be better prepared to handle such talent this year because of the improvement of Pac-12 schools. After playing a difficult nonconference schedule, Stanford faced some of the country's most talented guards in conference play, including Cal's Brittany Boyd.

"There have been years in the past where we would all of a sudden jump up exponentially against these better and more athletic" players, "and our team might not have been ready for it," VanDerveer said. "Our league has gotten us ready for it."

  • Stanford coaches weren't happy to travel to Ames, Iowa, where the Cardinal could have faced Iowa State on its home court if the Cyclones hadn't lost to Florida State in the first round.

    But now VanDerveer revealed she also is not thrilled about playing host to a regional championship in Maples for the first time since 2003.

    The Hall of Fame coach downplayed the home-court advantage although her team is 15-0 at Maples this season. Stanford is 28-4 in all NCAA tournament home games.

    The Cardinal is competing in the only regional that features the top four seeded schools. Top-seeded South Carolina plays No. 4 North Carolina after the Stanford-Penn State Sweet 16 game. The winners will meet Tuesday night for a trip to the Final Four in Nashville, Tenn.

    Stanford is playing host to its fourth regional championships because of limited options on the West Coast. In recent years, the NCAA went to Berkeley, Fresno, Sacramento and Spokane.

    Stanford is treating the weekend games like a trip.

    "You don't want your players to feel like this is a home game," VanDerveer said. "It's not."

    As a result, the Cardinal players will stay in a hotel and go through the same routines as the visiting schools.

    The players, however, made it a point to win twice in Ames to return home.

    "The challenge for us as a team is what are we going to do when we're back?" senior forward Chiney Ogwumike said. "How are we going to approach this game?"

  • VanDerveer predicted an NCAA run for the Cardinal men last year during a subregional at Maples. She took photos of Dwight Powell and Aaron Bright on the court next to an NCAA logo. "Next year you will be in the tournament," she told the players.

    Bright suffered a season-ending injury in December, but Powell has led Stanford, which plays Dayton on Thursday in a Sweet 16 game in Memphis, Tenn.

    Coach Johnny Dawkins' success this March has not surprised VanDerveer.

    "Coaching is about being a good person first, and there is not a better person than Johnny Dawkins," she said. "When the bracket came out, I told him, 'Pack an extra suit and go to Memphis. You can win.' "

    Follow Elliott Almond on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

    SUNDAY'S GAME
    Stanford Regional, at Maples Pavilion: No. 2 seed Stanford (31-3) vs. No. 3 Penn State (24-7), 1:30 p.m. ESPN2

    HOW THEY GOT HERE
    Stanford: Defeated No. 15 seed South Dakota 81-62,
    defeated No. 10 seed Florida State 63-44
    Penn State: Defeated No. 14 seed Wichita State 62-56, defeated No. 11 seed Florida 83-61