Different Landscape In Women's Basketball

By Michelle Smith

Four new head coaches and two new teams means times are a changin' in the Pac-12.

But one thing hasn't changed, Stanford will enter the season as the favorite to win the program's 19th conference title.

"Literally and figuratively, the Pac-12 landscape is different," said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who takes over the Bears program from Joanne Boyle. Gottlieb was at Cal when Boyle first arrived and spent the last three seasons coaching at UC Santa Barbara before returning to Berkeley. "It's the same in that Stanford is still the standard, but I think everybody else is fighting to be relevant, not just in the conference, but nationally. And everybody has some key pieces and parts back."

Oregon coach Paul Westhead is in his third season in the league. He said he believes the addition of Colorado and Utah will mean "bigger and better" things for the Pac-12, which he said is already stronger than he thought when he came to Eugene.

"There are no easy weekends," Westhead said. "I've been in some conferences where you have two or three hard games and two or three easy games, that's just not the case here."

The Cardinal, coming off a fourth straight NCAA Final Four appearance, will take aim at a 10th straight league title behind the super-sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogumike. Stanford has recorded back-to-back unbeaten seasons in the conference.

Who can be the team to end that run?

UCLA, which finished second to the Cardinal in the past two seasons, hope to hold their place with new head coach Cori Close and despite the loss of leading scorer Jasmine Dixon to an injury.

Arizona State would like to build on its momentum from last season, while programs such as Cal and USC have the NCAA Tournament in their sites with four starters back on each roster.

Here's a team-by-team look at the scene in Pac-12 women's basketball:

Arizona

Coach: Niya Butts, fourth year
2010-2011 record/finish: 21-12, 10-8 in the Pac-10 (tie 4th), NIT

Need to know: Arizona made its first postseason appearance in six years last spring.

Outlook: Coming off the program's first postseason appearance since 2005, and the best win total since 03-04, the Wildcats are looking to build on their steady progress under Butts with six new players on the roster. Junior guard Davellyn Whyte and sophomore Shanita Arnold make up one of the best backcourt combinations in the conference. Whyte led Arizona in scoring last season at 15.8 points a game. Arnold set the pace in the Pac-10 with 161 assists. The hard part will be replacing the interior presence of Ify Ibekwe. Freshman Aley Rohde, a 6-foot-5 center from Phoenix, might be a good start.

Arizona State

Coach: Joseph Anders (interim head coach), 1st season
2010-2011 record/finish: 20-11, 11-7 in Pac-10, third, NCAA Tournament

Need to know: ASU has reached NCAA field six times in last seven seasons.

Outlook: It will be an interesting year for the Sun Devils, who move forward without head coach Charli Turner Thorne, who is taking a leave of absence for the season. Turner Thorne is leaving her program in the capable hands of Anders, who has been an assistant on her staff for 11 seasons. The Sun Devils have to replace a lot of offense, as three of the top four scorers from last season have moved on and only two starters return. ASU is led by senior forward Kimberly Brandon, the team's leading returning scorer at 9.5 points a game, as well as guards Tenaya Watson and Deja Mann. Watson was the team's steals leader last season. Freshman Eliza Normen will be an important addition to the roster. The Sun Devils will be looking for offense after barely averaging more than 60 points a game last season.

California

Coach: Linsdey Gottlieb, 1st season
2010-2011 record/finish: 18-16, 7-11 in the Pac-10 (tied for 6th), NIT

Need to know: Leading scorer F DeNesha Stallworth has transferred to Kentucky.

Outlook: The Bears have a new head coach in Linsday Gottlieb, but she's a familiar face in that she served as the lead assistant to Joanne Boyle for three years during her time in Berkeley and recruited many of the older players on the Bears roster. Four of five starters return for Cal, including juniors Talia Caldwell, Eliza Pierre, Layshia Clarendon and sophomore Linsday Sherbert. This is a team with plenty of game experience and now an infusion of highly regarded freshmen including McDonald's All-American Reshanda Gray, Justine Hartman, Brittany Boyd and Erika Johnson.

Colorado

Coach: Linda Lappe, 2nd season
2010-2011 record/finish: 18-16, 6-10, tie-8th in Big 12

Need to know: The Buffaloes have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2004.

Outlook: Moving on after the stellar career of Brittney Spears - the school's all-time leading scorer - will not be easy, but the Buffaloes are looking forward to the new surroundings of the Pac-12 and to build on last season's quarterfinal appearance in the WNIT. Guard Chucky Jeffery, a 5-10 junior guard, ranked second in the team in scoring last season behind Spears at 13.5 points a game. She was also the team's assist and steals leader. Jeffery will play alongside sophomore guard Brittany Wilson, with junior Meagan Malcolm-Peck out on the wing. 6-3 forward Julie Seabrook is Colorado's lone senior.

Oregon

Coach: Paul Westhead, 3rd season
2010-2011 record/finish: 13-17, 4-14 in the Pac-10 (9th place)

Need to know: Oregon lost seven seniors from last year's team, but only one of their top six scorers.

Outlook: Senior Amanda Johnson will lead the Ducks into a new season, looking for a better start than last year's finish, in which Oregon lost 11 of 12 down the stretch of the season. Point guard Nia Jackson, who sustained a serious knee injury last season, continues her recovery, but is expected to contribute as the season begins. Jackson was the team's leading scorer when she was injured. Jasmin Holliday joins Johnson and Jackson as the team's three seniors. The Ducks will continue to play Westhead's fast-break game, hoping for more success in year three and with players who have grown accustomed to the pace.

Oregon State

Coach: Scott Rueck, 2nd season
2010-2011 record/finish: 9-21, 2-16 in the Pac-10 (10th place)

Need to know: OSU lost six conference games last season by five points or less.

Outlook: The Beavers rebuilding project continues under head coach Scott Rueck, the team returning four starters from a team that struggled in the conference, finished with more wins than anyone would have imagined heading into the 2010-2011 campaign. Sophomore guard Alyssa Martin was the team's leading scorer last year at 12.4 points a game. The OSU roster includes five junior college transfers, including help in the post in the form of 6-4 Patricia Bright and 6-7 Thais Pinto.

Stanford

Coach: Tara VanDerveer
2010-2011 record/finish: 33-0, 18-0, Pac-10 Champions, NCAA Final Four

Need to know: Stanford has won 57 straight games against conference opponents.

Outlook: The Cardinal have a both a new look and plenty of familiar faces after a 2010-2011 campaign that saw Stanford reach its fourth straight Final Four. The base for Stanford's success is the sister duo of Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike. Nnemkadi is a contender for national player of the year honors and is one of the league's most skilled inside players. Chiney, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year last season, will play next to her sister in the post. Returners such as Joslyn Tinkle, Mikaela Ruef and Lindy LaRocque will play with and mentor a group of six freshmen, a talented half-dozen that include guards Amber Orrange and Jasmine Camp. The Cardinal will be big and experienced inside and faster on the perimeter than any time in recent memory. But it will be interesting to see how quickly Stanford's new prime-time players get up to speed.

UCLA

Coach: Cori Close, first season
2010-2011 record/finish: 28-4, 1-6 in Pac-10 (second), NCAA Tournament

Need to know: Leading scorer F Jasmine Dixon out for season with Achilles injury.

Outlook: A coaching change and the loss of the team's top scorer make this a difficult way to get started for the Bruins, who wanted to build on last year's second-place finish in the conference and challenge for a title. Close takes over the program and will help it move forward without All-Pac-10 forward Jasmine Dixon, who will miss the season after sustaining a ruptured Achilles tendon. But Markel Walker returns along with Rebekah Gardner and Atonye Nyingifa.

USC

Coach: Michael Cooper, third season
2010-2011 record/finish: 24-13, 10-8 in Pac-10, (tie-4th), NIT

Need to know: USC won more games last season than any time since 1993-94.

Outlook: The Women of Troy barely missed reaching the NCAA field for the second year in a row and there are four starters back, including seniors Jacki Gemelos, Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath, who would like to get there before their college careers end. All are among the top players in the conference, Gilbreath led the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game. Depth could be an issue for the Women of Troy, who have 10 available player heading into the season opener and one of the league's toughest schedules with games against Nebraska, Georgia, Notre Dame, Duke, Texas A&M and Gonzaga.

Utah

Coach: Anthony Levrets, third season
2010-2011 record/finish: 18-17, 7-9 in Mountain West Conference

Need to know: The Utes won 7 of 11 Mountain West Conference women's basketball titles.

Outlook: After two years as the Utes' interim head coach, Levrets was elevated to head coach in time to lead the Utes into their first Pac-12 season. Utah has averaged more than 20 wins a season since becoming a varsity program in 1975. The Utes have a strong young team, including back-to-back conference freshmen of the year in Michelle Plouffe and Taryn Wicijowksi, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. Janita Badon is the team's lone senior.

Washington

Coach: Kevin McGuff (first season)
2010-2011 record/finish: 11-17, 6-12 in Pac-10 (tie-6th)

Need to know: Leading scorer G Kristi Kingma out for season with ACL injury.

Outlook: McGuff left Xavier, which he led into the national elite, for the challenge of reviving a Washington program that hasn't been able to make noise in this conference in quite a while. And it's going to be a challenge in indeed without veteran guard Kristi Kingma, who will miss the season with a torn ACL sustained on the team's tour of Scandinavia. Kingma averaged 15.6 points a game last season as the Huskies' leading scorer. The team returns forward Regina Rogers, center Mackenzie Argens, guard Mercedes Wetmore and forward Mollie Williams.

Washington State

Coach: June Daugherty, 4th season
2010-2011 record/finish: 8-23, 6-12 in Pac-10 (tie-7th)

Need to know: WSU'S only NCAA appearance came back in 1991.

Outlook: The Cougars return four starters, including guard Jazmine Perkins and sophomore Sage Romberg, who is the team's leading returning scorer at 9.5 points per game. But only junior center Carly Noyes started every game last season. WSU will play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the Pac-12 with games against Penn State, Michigan, San Diego State, Gonzaga and Ohio State. Defense will be one of the Cougars top priorities this season after finishing ninth in the Pac-10 a year ago in scoring defense.

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