STANFORD, Calif. -- The week began so grimly. Once ranked No. 2 in the country, Stanford had fallen to ninth in the AP Top 25, the result of losing back-to-back games for the first time in three years and now was about to face No. 4 Xavier and No. 1 Connecticut.
By Friday, everything had changed.
Stanford was the talk of the nation after a 71-59 victory over UConn that ended the longest winning streak in college basketball history at 90 games.
Guard Lindy La Rocque was cheered at a popular Menlo Park diner while eating breakfast after staying up all night watching "SportsCenter" with teammate Nneka Ogwumike. Stanford's record, 7-2 at the start of week, is 9-2 instead of 7-4. The Cardinal should be back in the AP Top 5 when next week dawns.
So what happened?
Stanford routed No. 4 Xavier, 89-52, on Tuesday, then thoroughly outplayed mighty UConn. The Cardinal did it after a pair of double-digit defeats -- 91-71 at No. 22 DePaul on Dec. 16 and 82-72 at No. 5 Tennessee on Dec. 19. The Cardinal did it by refocusing its attention, retooling its starting lineup, and recovering its steadiest player.
"That DePaul game was kind of a blur for us," sophomore Joslyn Tinkle said. "It was a wake-up call and got us going."
Stanford's turnaround came just ahead of the Pacific-10 Conference opener Sunday at Cal, and now the Cardinal seems poised to win its 10th consecutive league title because of three factors:
The Return of Kayla: Kayla Pedersen, a 6-foot-4 senior, banged her head while taking a charge Dec. 12 against Fresno State. She missed the DePaul game -- a career first -- and Stanford missed her.
Pedersen returned to action against Tennessee but made only 3 of 16 shots. Since then, in three games, Pedersen has 38 points and 37 rebounds.
"It's still early in the season, any team is going to slip up occasionally," Pedersen said before the Cardinal demolished Xavier.
Finding Their Focus: Stanford traveled to Chicago and Knoxville, Tenn., just after players completed fall-quarter final examinations.
"We never got our rhythm," coach Tara VanDerveer said. "There wasn't a sense of urgency."
The players seemed to have lost focus during a two-week period -- there were no games between Nov. 28 and Dec. 12 -- devoted mainly to taking tests, writing papers and attending practices.
"You've got to turn off the math and then turn on the playbook," La Rocque said. "It starts with your brain. If your brain's not plugged in right, it can just mess everything up. It took a toll on us."
Changing the Lineup: After the drubbing at DePaul, VanDerveer decided freshman guards Toni Kokenis and Sara James weren't quite ready for the intensity of college basketball. She called on La Rocque, a seldom-used junior from Las Vegas.
Why her? As VanDerveer recalled, "We said, 'We don't know who to play. Let's at least go with someone who knows what we're doing."'
La Rocque, who someday wants to coach, earned the starting job this week by playing mistake-free offense and clampdown defense. Against UConn, she had a steal, an assist and two 3-point baskets in a 2 1/2-minute stretch in which Stanford stretched an 8-4 lead to 20-7.
"At the end of last season, in my head, it was my spot to lose, my spot to have," said La Rocque, who missed summer training because of a fractured bone in her foot. "I got hurt, but it never really left my mind: That's what I want."
Now La Rocque and 6-foot-3 freshman forward Chiney Ogwumike are in the starting lineup alongside Pedersen, senior Jeanette Pohlen, and Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney's sister.
--The Stanford-UConn game on ESPN2 posted a record 1.5 metered market Nielsen overnight rating. It beat out the 1.4 rating for a Connecticut-Duke women's game in 2003. ESPN also reported Friday that the last 15 minutes of Stanford's streak-ending victory had a 3.1 rating.