STANFORD, Calif. -- Tara VanDerveer's Stanford team is short-handed heading into its first practice Friday.
Sophomore forward Joslyn Tinkle is nursing a left ankle sprain that could sideline her for a couple of weeks. Guards Melanie Murphy and Lindy La Rocque will be out much longer for the Cardinal, who are gearing up for another deep NCAA tournament run after losing to Connecticut in last season's NCAA title game.
"I think it makes them hungry," VanDerveer said Tuesday of finishing as the national runner-up for the second time in three years.
Murphy is recovering from microfracture knee surgery, while La Rocque has a bone problem in a foot that has bothered her for months.
Stanford -- 36-2 last season -- lost 53-47 to UConn in the NCAA final after leading 20-12 at halftime, and the Huskies won their 78th straight game to complete back-to-back unbeaten seasons.
The Cardinal's only two losses were to UConn. The Huskies visit Maples Pavilion on Dec. 30 in another highly anticipated nonconference matchup between the nation's elite programs.
"I think it's great Stanford is in the conversation for a national championship," VanDerveer said. "That has not always been the case. There was our dry spell for a while and now we're back in the conversation."
The rematch with UConn is just one game in another loaded preseason for the Cardinal, who open at home against Rutgers on Nov. 14. They also play Texas and Xavier at Maples and go to Tennessee on Dec. 19.
Murphy isn't expected to play until the start of the Pac-10 schedule in January, while VanDerveer didn't provide a timeline for the little-used La Rocque.
"Mel is doing great. She is on target to be practicing the end of November, December and playing in January," VanDerveer said. "They said she's doing very, very well."
Even with a few players injured, VanDerveer said she has more versatility on this roster than in her 23 previous years at Stanford.
Included in the mix are highly touted freshmen Sara James and Chiney Ogwumike, the younger sister of Stanford junior star Nnemkadi Ogwumike.
Senior captain Kayla Pedersen has been playing every spot on the court in workouts so far, even running the point on occasion. The elder Ogwumike, a 6-foot-2 forward with big leaping ability, is working to perfect her 3-point shot so she can be more of a threat from the perimeter. She is the team's top returning scorer and rebounder at 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, followed by Pedersen's 15.8 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Those two will be counted upon to fill greater roles in the absence of departed second-team All-American Jayne Appel. Also gone is guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, but senior guard Jeanette Pohlen returns to lead the backcourt -- probably at the point position.
"I'm trying to figure out how to put these pieces together," VanDerveer said. "Our team is going to be a lot different, obviously, without Jayne and without Ros. I hope we are better."