Previewing the Pac-12 women's basketball tournament, which begins Thursday at KeyArena.
The Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament begins Thursday at KeyArena.
Here’s a primer to get you up to speed.
For the second straight year, Oregon State is the No. 1 seed, which is a bit of a surprise because the Beavers lost 2015-16 player of the year Jamie Weisner and Ruth Hamblin, a three-time all-conference player and two-time defensive player of the year. With just two returning starters, OSU reloaded and captured its third straight regular-season title. Now the Beavers are seeking to become the the first back-to-back Pac-12 tournament champion since Stanford won seven in a row (2007-13). The No. 1 seed has won 11 of the previous 15 tournament titles. Said coach Scott Rueck: “There’s a grit and a will to this team that they will do what it takes to find a way to win. Our leadership has had so much success in this conference that that is there expectation. We know how to win. (We believe) we’re going to win and we’re going to make the plays. Not every night has been beautiful if you love the offensive end.” OSU leads the Pac-12 in points allowed (54.5 per game).
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No. 2 seed Stanford has unparalleled championship pedigree while dominating the tournament with 11 titles since its inception in 2002. This Cardinal team lacks the dazzling star power of its predecessors, but Stanford has three players (Erica McCall, Brittany McPhee and Karlie Samuelson) on the all-Pac-12 team – more than any other team.
Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor are magnificent, but No. 3 seed Washington will go as far as it supporting cast will carry the Huskies. In its three Pac-12 defeats to Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA, UW’s other starters combined to average just 11.3 points. In its last outing, the trio totaled seven points during an 84-77 win over Utah.
No. 4 seed UCLA (22-7) is getting hot at the right time and riding a four-game winning streak. The Bruins are the only team that’s beaten Oregon State (66-56), Stanford (85-76) and Washington (90-79). After losing to OSU in the tournament title game last year, UCLA, the Pac-12 preseason favorite, could meet the Beavers in the semifinals.
THE DARK HORSES
No. 6 seed Oregon is riding a three-game losing streak, but it feels as if the Ducks are playing with house money, considering their top two players Sabrina Inoescu and Ruth Hebard were the only freshmen named to all-Pac-12 team. Inoescu was voted the freshman of the year. Pac-12 analyst Mary Murphy picked Oregon (18-12), which starts three freshmen, as the underdog who can win the title. “When you’re young and you don’t know any better, you can just go out there and play loose and see what happens,” she said.
KeyArena hasn’t been kind to Arizona State. Since the tournament moved to Seattle in 2013, the Sun Devils are 1-4, including a 75-64 upset last year in the quarterfinals when they were the No. 2 seed and lost to then-No.10 seed Cal. This year ASU is the No. 5 seed and its getting healthy with the return of senior guard Kelsey Moos. She returned two weeks ago after missing 12 games due to injury. ASU coach Charlie Thorne admitted the team’s timing and rotations are still out of sync. Even more distressing, the Sun Devils are 0-7 this season against the top four seeds.
TEAMS THAT NEED A GOOD WEEK
According to ESPN’s bracket guru Charlie Creme, No. 8 seed California (18-12) is sitting on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble. The Golden Bears are projected as the third team outside of the 64-team tournament. Two wins would seemingly guarantee Cal an at-large berth considering it would face Oregon State in quarterfinals. Last year, the Golden Bears were in a similar situation. They were the No. 10 seed and advanced to the semifinals before collecting a ticket to the Big Dance.
No. 10 seed Colorado seemed like a lock to make the NCAA tournament in late December when it was 10-1 and ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll. Since then, the Buffaloes are 5-14. It would take a run to the title game for Colorado (15-14) to garner NCAA tournament consideration.
Ditto for No. 12 seed Utah, which started 12-1, and is now 16-13.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH:
G Kelsey Plum, Washington: Considering her previous outing when she scored a personal best 57 points to break the NCAA all-time scoring record, it should be noted that the Pac-12 Tournament single-game scoring record is 37. The tournament record is 75. There’s no bigger star in the tournament than Plum, the Pac-12 player of the year who leads the nation with a 31.6 scoring average. In the past 10 years, the player of the year has led her team to the Pac-12 Tournament title seven times.
G Sydney Wiese, Oregon State: The Pac-12 career leader in three-point shooting, does a little bit of everything for the three-time Pac-12 regular-season champions. She averages 15.4 points and ranks seventh on OSU’s all-time scoring list. Wiese scored 21 points in last year’s tournament title game.
G Jordin Canada, UCLA: The do-it-all, speedy Bruins guard leads the Pac-12 in assists at 6.7 per game and ranks third in scoring (17.5 ppg). Canada suffered a head/neck injury after colliding with a player at Oregon State on Feb. 12. She came off the bench in the next two games, but finished the regular season in the starting lineup. Said UCLA coach Cori Close: “Jordin is an elite competitor. Everyone talks about what a great player she is, but if you look at every big game every single time when the pressure rises that’s a big trait that leads her to being so, so good. As the pressure rises, she embraces it more. It’s just how she’s wired.”
F Kristine Anigwe, California: The Bears’ sophomore post is the second leading scorer in the Pac-12 averaging 20.6 points. She’s third in the conference with a 9.2 rebounding average. The 2016 National Freshman of the Year has 14 double doubles this season. She has scored in double digits in 59 of her 61 collegiate games and all but one game this season.
F Erica McCall, Stanford: The Cardinal’s senior post is its leading scorer (15.0), rebounder (8.5), shot blocker (1.5) and the team’s link to its illustrious past.
BEWARE THE 6-11 GAME
Since the Pac-12 expanded to 12 teams in 2012, the No. 11 seed has upset the No. 6 seed in three of the past five opening round games (2012, ’14 and ’16).
It’s a quick return to the Evergreen State for Colorado, which lost 67-56 at Washington State on Saturday. The 10th-seeded Buffaloes (15-14) face the seventh-seeded Cougars (11-18) 6 p.m. Thursday in the opening round. “Here’s an opportunity to fix that sour taste in your mouth and able to play more aggressively, play better, play more together … and not have to wait until next February when we play the again,” CU coach JR Payne said.
WINNING FOUR IS DIFFICULT
USC is the only team to win four games and capture the Pac-12 tournament, since the league expanded in 2012. The Trojans were the No. 5 seed in 2014 and became the first team that didn’t have a first-round bye to advance to the championship game. USC beat OSU 71-62 for the title.
Thrilling last-second upsets is what makes March Madness memorable, but the Pac-12 is no doubt privately rooting for a championship matchup that features No. 1 seed Oregon State against either No. 3 Washington or No. 2 Stanford. An OSU-UW pairing would possibly set tournament attendance records considering the hometown favorite Huskies and OSU bring more fans to KeyArena than any other schools.
An OSU-Stanford matchup would pit the past two tournament champions against each other.
Additionally, if Oregon State, Washington or Stanford wins the Pac-12 Tournament, a strong argument can be made for the winner receiving a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“In the Pac-12 the reward of beating ourselves up is getting a great seed for the NCAA,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.
Here’s a look at the Pac-12 Tournament schedule.
Thursday, March 2
Game 1: No. 8 California vs. No. 9 USC, 11:30 a.m. PT (Pac-12 Networks)
Game 2: No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 12 Utah, 2 p.m. (P12N).
Game 3: No. 7 Washington State vs. No. 10 Colorado, 6 p.m. (P12N)
Game 4: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 Arizona, 8:30 p.m. (P12N).
Friday, March 3
Game 5: No. 1 Oregon State vs. Game 1 winner, 11:30 a.m. (P12).
Game 6: No. 4 UCLA vs. Game 2 winner, 2 p.m. (P12N).
Game 7: No. 2 Stanford vs. Game 3 winner, 6 p.m. (P12N).
Game 8: No. 3 Washington vs. Game 4 winner, 8:30 p.m. (P12N).
Saturday, March 4
Game 9: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 6 p.m. (P12N).
Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 8:30 p.m. (P12N).
Sunday, March 5
Game 11: Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 6 p.m. (ESPN2).