Pac-10 women's basketball preview...

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Sizing up the league

Pac-10 women’s basketball preview (teams listed in predicted order of finish)

1. Stanford (8-1): The Cardinal, currently the second-ranked team in the nation, will probably drop in the polls this week after losing its first game by three points to No. 9 Tennessee last week. But this is still Stanford — still stocked, still balanced, still likely to win the league until someone proves otherwise. The Cardinal are led by a freshman, guard Candice Wiggins, with 16.3 points per game.

2. Arizona (8-2): The Wildcats have spent the season moving in and out of the Top 25, but we’ll give them an edge over in-state rival Arizona State because of experience. Arizona has won 33 in a row at home and boasts one of the country’s better point guard/center combinations in Dee-Dee Wheeler (18 ppg, 5 apg) and Shawntinice Polk (13.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg).

3. Arizona State (8-2): Even with three seniors on the roster, the Sun Devils are relatively young. Yet they’ve proven the most during the nonconference season, beating No. 15 Georgia on the road and No. 8 Connecticut at home. And one of their losses came to top-ranked LSU. Two Central Valley High graduates — sophomore forward Emily Westerberg and freshman point guard Reagan Pariseau — bolster the lineup.

4. UCLA (6-3): There aren’t many teams that can match the athleticism of UCLA in general and Bruins Noelle Quinn, Lisa Willis and Nikki Blue in particular. In nonconference play, UCLA had home wins against No. 4 Texas and No. 21 Purdue but lost three outside of Los Angeles. It’s still the most dangerous team in the Pac-10.

5. Oregon (7-2): Buoyed by another return from injury by Kirkland native Cathrine Kraayeveld (16.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg), the Ducks are off to the conference’s most surprising start. That said, they haven’t played the toughest competition, losing to their only ranked opponent (Ohio State). That’s what drops Oregon to fifth.

6. USC (6-3): An entirely new coaching staff has the Women of Troy in the middle of the pack. Under Mark Trakh, formerly the coach at Pepperdine, USC has lost two games against ranked opponents (No. 19 DePaul and No. 7 Notre Dame).

7. California (6-3): Five seniors boosted Cal to its best nonconference record in recent memory, although one of the weaker schedules in the Pac-10 leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, the Bears boast a five-game winning streak and have the experience to pull off an upset or four during the season.

8. Washington (4-6): Give the Huskies credit for their schedule, a loaded slate that includes an overtime win over No. 13 Minnesota and losses to No. 5 Baylor, No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 25 Utah. Will that schedule pay off during the Pac-10 season? Not if the offense can’t score with any kind of regularity.

9. Oregon State (4-5): Super scorer Shannon Howell (22.4 ppg) leads the young Beavers into conference play. Three Washington natives dot the roster — Santa Clara transfer Kim Butler (Tacoma), freshman guard Kami Irwin (Ferndale) and senior guard Jessica Mellinger (Brush Prairie).

10. Washington State (4-5): Sherri Murrell is smack dab in the middle of her five-year plan, and the dividends she hoped for all along are slowly starting to show. Not only are the Cougars off to the best start of her tenure, they could challenge either Washington or Oregon State in the anything-but-last-place battle.

Greg Bishop