Women's Tournament Insider

Each team in the 2012 Pacific Life Pac-12 Tournament has its own story and its own keys to success. Lara Boyko takes a look at each time and gives some insight on what to watch for during this week's tournament.

- Arizona
- Arizona State
- California
- Colorado
- Oregon
- Oregon State
- Stanford
- UCLA
- Utah
- USC
- Washington
- Washington State

Arizona Back to top

Freshman Forces

When one door closes, another one opens.

For the three true freshmen on the No. 12-seed Arizona Wildcats (14-16, 3-15 Pac-12), it has been the way in which they have pushed open the door of opportunity at Arizona to help the team succeed.

"They have all had their moments of playing like they were older than freshmen," said Arizona coach Niya Butts, who is in her fourth season at Arizona. "It's just a matter of this is what happens when you have freshmen who have a couple of games where they perform outstanding and then have an off game. This is when they show their inexperience. Overall those young ladies have done well for us, stepped up into different role that they haven't had previously."

The trio of freshmen in Tucson are 5-foot-11 guard Erin Butler, 6-foot-5 center Aley Rohde and 5-foot-8 guard Layana White. Each one has grown up quickly in a program that is transitioning after losing two strong seniors in Ify Ibkewe - the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-10 -- and Soana Lucet - a Pac-10 All-Tournament Team member.

"Butler comes in, makes plays for us in terms of knocking down open shots and does a very good job in knocking down three-pointers," said Butts. "When she has the opportunity to score she puts the ball in the basket."

"Rohde - who has started in all but one games -- is someone who we've asked her to be physical in the post for us all year long. Coming from a high school situation, she was thrown into a physical game and has been adjusting to the speed and tempo."

"White is a grinder who works and consistently she does things that don't necessarily show up in the stat sheet. She is bringing her heart and soul to the game in every single play. I feel good about where she is with her growth from day one to now."

Not only are these three players growing up quickly on the court, but off the court as well.

"[College] is a good experience for life where you have to chase what you get," said White. "All the time you are pushing yourself. I love college life and living by myself, and taking care of my own finances is great. Getting enough sleep and handling my homework on my own is great. My parents have always trusted me and in high school emphasized that I was in control of my own life."

These three are also learning what it takes to control the playing time they have seen this year.

"I could not think that I could do whatever I wanted in practice and still start the next game," said Rohde. "Instead it was something I knew I had to keep working at, work doing my best in practice and work as hard as I possible can to hold onto it. The coaches are really supportive where if I would mess up they would help me stay calm and then after a couple of games, I wasn't getting as much time and they reassured me. However, I never got comfortable with starting."

With the regular season over and the conference tournament left to play, these young Wildcats are getting comfortable with playing in the Division I level.

"The best tip the older players gave me was to not let the other crowds get to you," said Rohde. "Every school would have their own crowds and the college atmosphere is so much different than the high school atmosphere, I had to learn how to take in the entire environment and not let it get to me. It's just being able to adjust to wherever you go and playing your game no matter what."

Keys for Arizona
- Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding
- Maintain good energy.
- Watch turnovers
- Smoother transitions
- Better defensive stops

Arizona State Back to top

The Butterfly

Just as a caterpillar takes time to develop in a cocoon before becoming a butterfly, No. 4-seed Arizona State (19-10, 10-8 Pac-12) has its own butterfly in 6-foot-2 senior guard/forward Kimberly Brandon.

"She was a shy and timid young lady when she came in and has grown into a wonderful young lady," said interim coach Joseph Anders. "She is excited about what is in front of her in terms of her future and is going to graduate. She has grown in every way as a student-athlete."

Brandon, a family and human development major, has made this evolution after seeing her role on the team change with time. As a freshman she focused and was known as a defensive stopper who made it hard for opponents to score. Then with some experience and confidence, she has turned into an offensive threat. Brandon leads the Sun Devils with 9.9 points per game and is averaging 6.4 rebounds per game.

"She is an athlete who we have relied on being a world class athlete because of how she glides on the floor," said Anders. "Her athleticism is second to none. She has consistently worked hard and when she works hard on both ends, it makes it a little bit easier as a team."

Part of her ability to become so poised and confident on the court may come from caring about her teammates and competition as much as she cares about herself. For instance, Brandon's sister Gennifer, a 6-foot-2 redshirt sophomore forward at California, still brings out her inner mama bear.

She is doing pretty well and the team is doing really good," said Brandon of her sister. "Before the last time we played against them I told people it wasn't that hard to play against her, but it really was. Whenever she would mess up I would want to help her, but I can't because she is on a different team. I am proud of her and the success she has."

Brandon's success at Arizona State also comes after a rough time growing up. Brandon and her sister's biological father was accidentally killed in 1984 in a police shooting and the two sisters were adopted by their basketball coaches.

"I want to be a social worker with child protective services," said Brandon. "This is something I am interested in doing. I know the system a little bit after growing up with my family and the issues we had. I have a younger brother and Gennifer was also in that system before she graduated from high school. I am interested in helping keep families together and providing support for parents who have problems."

Along with her adopted parents, it has been her family at Arizona State has helped her to develop her wings.

"We're still learning a lot of things even though it is March and I don't think we have reached our full potential or even our peak," said Brandon. "We're a very close group and get along well on and off the court. I couldn't ask for a better group of teammates to have while ending my career here. They are also supportive where if someone is having a bad day or a bad couple of games, we are right there to pick each other up, which is good and what I like about this program. We all seem to have each other's back. I hope we can keep the season going."

"It is a family here and I love this about Arizona State. I know I will always be welcome here. They tell me all the time that I can always come back."

Success for the Sun Devils
- Keep up their solid man-to-man defense
- Disrupt the opponent's offensive plans
- Big blocks from Kali Bennett
- Continued leadership from Kimberly Brandon on both sides of the floor
- Solid offensive effort from all

California Back to top

Shades of Gray

It is said that those born under the Gemini sign can have a dual personality.

For 6-foot-3 freshman forward Reshanda Gray at California who was born on June 1, it is how her personalities on and off the court have seemed to balance her out and help her with some early on success in the Pac-12.

"Isn't she a gem?" said coach Lindsay Gottleib, who is in her first year at California. "On a daily basis I say to my assistants that I feel so fortunate to be part of Gray's life. I feel blessed to have come into her life. She is really something else. She hasn't just survived the circumstances that she came from, but thrived. Her transition to college has been tremendous and has made it look easy when it is not."

Most student-athletes have to face adversity in terms of the injuries they incur themselves or having to take on a new role when a teammate goes down due to an injury. Yet for Gray, her adversity has been more significant.

According to a 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times, while growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Gray had the misfortune of not only seeing a man stabbed, but also shot just outside her home. With the security of her home threatened, Gray had but one place to go to find a way to escape - the basketball court.

"In high school, basketball was a way out of where I was," said Gray, who averages 10.3 points per game, second best on the team.. "When I got to California, I knew it was official that I had made it out. Basketball has become something I can have fun with and enjoy again."

Going through experiences like this are something that every person hopes to avoid, but somehow it has been the way Gray has handled them that has given her a dimension most student-athletes never develop.

"She hasn't just survived the circumstances that she came from, but thrived," said Gottleib. "Her transition to college has been tremendous and has made it look easy when it is not. More than that is when I learned she has this unique perspective that is beyond her age. She is selfless and a team player. She does whatever the team needs her to do. She is mentally and physically tough and I can't say enough about her as a person and what she brings to the team."

Instead of taking a year to adjust to playing at the college level, Gray, who is soft spoken off the court, has channeled it into being a competitor immediately.

"She has a toughness factor about her where when you are getting ready to go to battle and are thinking about who you are going to pick first, Gray is one of those people," said Gottleib of Gray who has a third-best 16 blocked shots on the team. "She doesn't back down, has no problem with being physical and plays hard. She is incredibly coachable. I can say pretty much anything to her and she will respond well. There are no mixed message, instead she tells me 'I got you coach' and goes and does it."

While Gottleib is enjoying the person and player that Gray has brought to the program, it is what the program has given to Gray that has been even more appreciated.

"We have so much love everywhere we go," said Gray about the perks of being on the California team. "Whether we are in an airport or restaurant, it has been great how nice and welcoming people have been towards us."

"It was tough to adjust to being in college, but we have a great support system here to help us stay on top of things and not fall behind. I had to quickly learn how to balance and manage my time."

Yet with all of the numbers that she has put up to date and how much the coaches have enjoyed her attitude on the court, it is the simplicity of getting some recognition that is appreciated by both aspects of her personality.

"I was excited and thought 'that's me!' when I heard my name being called out for the first time in a game," said Gray, who is fifth in the conference in field goal percentage with .550. "There are still nerves when I come into a basketball game. Just playing hard and doing what I do best helps me to relax."

California's Keys
- Maintain good energy
- A strong inside game with four post players
- Using their athleticism to out-play their opponents
- Getting the freebie points at the free-throw line
- Playing a full 40 minutes

Colorado Back to top

Change is Good

When the Colorado program was in transition last year as one coach left and a new coach and staff come in, 5-foot-10 Janeesa 'Chucky' Jeffery was part of a group of players wondering what would happen next.

"We were a little nervous because at one point we did not have a coach and it was just the team," remembers Jeffery, who leads her team with 15.3 ppg and 26 blocks. "It was kind of cool because it felt like we got to interview the coaches. When the new coaches did come in, we met with them and it felt like we got to have a say of who was going to be on the new staff. We all like our coaches a lot and it has been good. Their style is different from the last coaching staff, but I was able to adjust to coach (Linda) Lappe's style."

Yet instead of fighting the uncertainty, Jeffery and her teammates embraced the change and put some trust in the new coaches.

"Early on the team and coaches sat down together and after going through a rough patch, the coaches sat down with the team and asked us who was going to buy-in to what they were saying and who believed in them," said Jeffery, who is one of two juniors on a team that has one senior and nine underclassmen on it. "We all jumped in and put ourselves out there to work with them. Since we bought into them early on is why I think we got a lot of wins last season. It worked pretty well and got into the NCAA Tournament in the first year with them; I think says a lot about our team."

Developing trust is like perfecting a jump-shot - it does not happen overnight. Instead, it takes time for all of the mechanics to come together and make adjustments as needed. Jeffery's college career has been similar where her success did not come overnight. Instead, it has been three years in the making and paying off as she is in the top 10 in the Pac-12 for defensive rebounding (seventh with 5.6 rpg) and scoring (seventh).

"From the time our staff got here until now, she has done a 180-degree turn," said Lappe, who in her fifth year overall coaching. "She is starting to understand what it takes to be successful. She is doing a better job from the point guard position. She was not a point in high school and is more of a No. 2 guard that we converted into a point guard. She is starting to understand what it is like to run the point and what it entails. She has had a lot on her shoulders this year and done a nice job in handling that."

Adjusting to the new position involved more than just learning a new role in each play. For Jeffery it also involved making some other changes.

"It has been gradual and her biggest thing has been to come in with a great attitude, playing with a lot of effort all of the time, not getting down on herself or teammates," said Lappe. "There are a lot of things you can control and she just had to control those. I think she has done a nice job of maturing and being able to understand what our team needs from her."

This leadership has been valuable for the Buffaloes as they have had the challenge of entering the Pac-12 this year and being one of two new schools in the conference.

"Any time you change conferences it is hard because you don't necessarily know the teams nearly as well or styles of play nearly as well," said Lappe. "You can only learn so much through watching film and until you can actually get into conference play and know what it is like to play Thursday and Saturday instead of Wednesday and Saturday and know the different styles, it is tough. It will change our recruiting a little bit. Until you go through the conference for a year, you don't know exactly what to expect and it is a learning process."

While the learning process can be difficult at times, there are also some great new experiences to be had.

"It's been fun to change conferences and travel to new places," said Jeffery. "Going to California definitely beats going to Iowa. You don't want to leave the cold to go to the cold."

"The trip to Stanford and California has been the best. We stayed at an amazing hotel in Palo Alto and got to do some sightseeing. From going to Pier 39 and the Golden Gate Bridge, this was one of the best trips I have been on."

This fun season full of change may be coming to an end, but with the Pacific Life Pac-12 Tournament around the corner, for Jeffery and the Colorado team, there is still work to be done.

"I think that our team does not give up," said Jeffery. "We have hit a rough patch in the last couple of weeks, but we never gave up. We still show up at practice, work hard and work at the things we need to improve on."

"I think we are going to have a lot of fun next week. I am excited just to get around all of the other teams and be in the tournament atmosphere."

Colorado's Keys
- Maintain strong rebounding
- Keep defense solid so teams have to work to score
- Make smart confident plays
- Take care of the ball on offense
- Hit easy shots more consistently

Oregon Back to top

Coming soon.

Oregon State Back to top

Oregon State Surprise

When talking with Oregon State coach Scott Rueck these days, one can't help but notice that he speaks with a certain amount of swagger in his speech. This confidence comes from the fact that his team has spent the 2011-12 season not only working hard to establish their identity, but also surprising the competition.

"I hope it sounds healthy because I think it is what every team should be," said Rueck, who is in his second year at Oregon State. "I'm just speaking about them as I am so proud of what they have accomplished to this point. It is so fun to watch them. This is a team that has developed the ability to find ways to win and close games against teams that nobody thought we could even compete with. Before the season we were picked to finish dead last (preseason coaches poll and 11th in the preseason media poll), so it's been fun to watch this team develop that confidence. This is a group that has learned how to win."

Despite having half of his team new to the program, there is something in the air or water in Corvallis. The Beavers are poised to finish fourth in the Pac-12 heading into the Pacific Life Conference Tournament.

"I'm just looking forward to watching us to continue to improve," said Rueck. "That has been the story of our season. Our team has gotten much better through our inexperience. It has been a transitional year for us. I have been so impressed with how they have come together, created an identity and found a way to be successful on the scoreboard. We are hoping this continues through the tournament."

Their identity has come from finishing with more conference wins in a season since 2008-09 and either beating teams they were not expected (i.e. Arizona State, who had an 18-game win streak on Oregon State) or kept games close against nationally ranked teams (i.e. a 60-67 loss at No. 2-ranked Stanford).

"It was during the Stanford game when we believed we could win and compete in our conference for a top half spot," said Rueck. "I don't think Stanford was ready for us as they certainly didn't defend us the same way when they were at our place two weeks ago. We competed with them toe-to-toe during that game and ended up losing by seven points. This was the second closest game Oregon State has played at Maples Pavilion. That day this team came in with the confidence to know that if we bring our best effort, we can compete with anyone and that has been true ever since."

While other teams have been surprised at how quickly Rueck has been able to turn around the program in such a short amount of time, it hasn't been a magic spell or lucky charm that has used. Instead, it has been his players who quickly bought into his system and believed it would work.

"No question that a year ago we were so blessed to have such a strong leader in (former player) El Sarah Greer," said Rueck. "She and I hit it off the first time we met and she set the tone for us last year. Our one senior this year (5-foot-11 guard Earlysia Marchbanks) has done the same thing with her work ethic and drive to be better. This team has followed their leader and we have three other starters (5-foot-9 junior guard Sage Indendi, 6-foot sophomore guard Alyssa Martin and 5-foot-9 sophomore guard Alexis Bostick) returning that have done a great job as well. They were really quick to accept the new people and bring them along in showing them the way we do things here."

Yet with all of the trust in their coach and chemistry these student-athletes have created with each other, it is the confidence they have in the team as a whole that is putting them in a strong position for next week.

"The character on the team is really high and they do what they are supposed to do each day," said Rueck. "Because of that they have developed a level of confidence that might be ahead of schedule for what most people would think. This is directly related to the leadership on our team. We have great leadership on our team. They have fun playing basketball together and are excited to see what they can accomplish. They are winners and everyone on this team has come from a winning background. When you put them together and let them go, they've made themselves winners and I am proud of what they accomplished.

Oregon State's Successful Strategies
- Maintaining smooth player rotations
- Strong rebounding
- Executing on offense
- Having a go-to scorer appear sooner than later in a game
- Maintaining their confidence in each other

Stanford Back to top

Sharp Shooter

Being a freshman in the Pac-12 can be pretty scary. There are new freedoms to be enjoyed, time management skills to master and learning how to handle life on the road. If you are 6-foot-3 freshman forward Bonnie Samuelson on the Stanford women's basketball team, the biggest stress of the freshman year takes place on the road and learning to make sure you don't leave anything at home.

"The best advice I have received from the upperclassmen on road trips is to not forget your shoes or uniform," said Samuelson, who is a southern California player who came from Huntington Beach. "There may have been many moments where I had a heart attack this year from forgetting where I put my shoes. Fortunately it was on instinct that I knew they were in there somehow, which made me very happy. There have been some scary moments though."

While Samuelson develops a better way to remember to pack things for a road trip, it is the scary moments that she is giving opponents when she is on the perimeter. As Stanford's leader in three-point shots this year with 40, she has quickly become a valuable go-to player on a team that is already packed with talent.

"When you have three-point shooters it helps a lot as it opens things up," said Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Co-Defensive Player of the Year. "A great example is from our last game against California. I think she has opened things up. When she is out there, she is out there because she can knock down the three. It takes some pressure of Chiney (Ogwumike) and me on the inside because opponents can't clog things up inside."

Samuelson is making a quick impact as a freshman is because she has not let the anxiousness of being in college overwhelm her.

"There is always some intimidation with coming into a new area and school, and people, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be," described Samuelson. "All of my teammates were so welcoming and warm when they first met us. They made us feel like we were part of the team right away. When we were struggling or had troubles, they would step up to tell us what to do and give us advice."

The secret to Samuelson's success could also come from the discipline to be the best from the outside and that she developed over time.

"I spent plenty of hours in the gym and put in a lot of hard work," said Samuelson. "This has been my dad's focus with me and my sisters since we started playing basketball. He worked on our form and getting time in the gym is just part of the routine now. I love shooting the three as it is my favorite place to be. Anytime my teammates find me there I am willing to knock it down. It is my favorite thing to do."
Just as Samuelson is learning things from the older players, along with the five other freshmen on the Cardinal roster this year, the veterans have also picked up a few things from this incoming class.

"From Samuelson and the rest of the freshmen I have learned that it is good to stay innocent and that everything isn't guaranteed," said Ogwumike. "Instead, every opportunity is earned and not handed to you. I think the freshmen know what the bigger picture is and they want to attain it as they understand the history and culture of Stanford women's basketball."

After she learns to master the challenges of packing for the road without having a panic attack, Samuelson will then focus on overcoming some of her other freshman-like challenges.

"There are plenty of moments where I can't remember a game where I have not fallen over or ended up on the floor at some point," said Samuelson. "My freshman teammates know I have the worst sense of direction and get lost all of the time. I would like to say I am better now, but I do still get lost. I've even gotten lost going from the football stadium to the gym and for anyone who is familiar with the campus knows this is not too hard to get lost between those two places."

Stanford's Success
- Maintaining focus
- Using their momentum from regular season
- Taking one game at a time
- Making adjustments as they come up
- Executing individual roles

UCLA Back to top

Silver Lining

UCLA senior guard Rebekah Gardner may bleed blue and gold, but these days she is also wearing some silver on her sleeves.

"She has been an incredible superstar for us at both ends of the court," said UCLA coach Cori Close who is in her first year at UCLA. "She has forced incredible hard shots, played incredible minutes all year long and has been a warrior. She has defended the best players, handled double teams, shot the long ball and tough jumpers with people in her face. There really is not much that she has not done for us this year."

Gardner has emerged as a silver lining of a playmaker for the Bruins after the team has had a dark cloud of injuries hang over them this season.

"It was when her teammates tipped over," said Close of injuries to senior guard Jasmine Dixon (ruptured Achilles) and Atonye Nyingifa (torn ACL) She didn't have other players to defer to with people going out with injuries, so it's like she has been building to a crescendo because there is no one else to do it."

Gardner finished the 2010-11 season averaging 7.9 ppg. At press time she leads the Bruins with 15.7 ppg, 52 steals and is second on the team with 23 three-pointers. In addition, she had a 13-game double digit scoring streak this season and is the 26th member of UCLA's 1,000-point club.

"Last season I had a completely different role," said Gardner. "We had Doreena Campbell and Darxia Morris who were playmakers who would spot up and shoot, so I didn't have to do more. I think my roles have changed with each year. This year my role has been to contribute more to the team."

"I feel more relaxed than I have ever been. I used to be nervous going into games because I did not want to mess up. Now I am more comfortable and I like playing basketball. I feel like I know how by having the support of coach Cori with my decision making."

The support of Coach Close has come from Gardner sweating the details of what it takes to be great.

"She was this quiet person who never said a word and now has emerged as someone who is not afraid to get in someone else's face and wants to set the standard, pursue her dreams at a high level, comes early to every single practice every single days and works extra," said Close. "She has done all the extra things that you know a player has to do to step into a brand new role at a high level, and it has paid off."

"She is playing her best basketball in the most pressurized time and you can see in her interactions with her team that she is having a blast."

Her renewed spirit in basketball for Gardner also comes from how the team as a whole also handled the adversity of a coaching change during the off-season.

"I think our team chemistry this year has grown a lot," said Gardner, whose younger sister Rhema is a sophomore on the UCLA team. "With coach Caldwell leaving we have a bond that a lot of teams don't have. We only had each other until Coach Close came, which has resulted in our team chemistry being the strongest since I've been at UCLA."

Gardner and the Bruins are now hopeful the cloud cover will pass in time for a fresh start and an NCAA Tournament bid.

"We know if we want to make it into the NCAA Tournament this year, we have to win the Pac-12 Tournament," said Gardner. "It is our only option and that is how we see it. Coach Close tells us this is a new season where everything is erased and everything is new from this point on."

Best Bets for the Bruins
- Stay focused
- Stay healthy
- Consistency on defense
- Creatively get touches for Markel Walker, Rebekah Gardner and Thea Lemberger
- Quicker offensive transitions to avoid defenses from setting up

Utah Back to top

Making Lemonade

No matter how chilly the air is in Salt Lake City these days, the student-athletes and especially the coaches of the Utah program are drinking lots of lemonade.

"We lost four of our top eight players this year," said coach Anthony Levrets, who is in his second year leading the program. "This includes both of our point guards and a 6-foot-1 wing. I have been coaching for 16 years and know about the bumps and bruises that happen during a season, but this has been different. It has been my worst nightmare come true with one player after another getting hurt in freak accidents."

The nightmares for Levrets started last year and have yet to end.

"From one player having microfracture surgery in three parts of her knee, a kid who had brain surgery to remove a tumor, a kid who was back peddling with no one around her and her ACL caught so she is out, then the deal with our point guard last week, it's craziness."

First it was 6-foot-4 junior Diana Rolniak who had a brain tumor removed during the off-season. Rolniak is still recovering and considered day-to-day. Following that was the departures of 6-foot sophomore Brittany Knighton and 5-foot-10 sophomore Ciera Dunbar who are out indefinitely with knee injuries.

Practices seem to be the greatest time of injuries for the Utes. First it was Dunbar who was running backwards all by herself when she tweaked her ACL and is in rehab after surgery. Five-foot-7 senior guard Janita Badon, who with two minutes remaining in practice the day before the team left to travel to northern California for the road trips at California and Stanford, injured one of her knees and is listed as day-to-day. With all of these injuries, the Utes' concerns have shifted from who will show up to play to who can show up to play.

"For us the biggest concern is getting people comfortable in playing new positions," said Levrets. "We moved our No. 2 guard to the point and our No. 4 has to play the No. 2 and No. 3 positions some while our No. 5 has moved to the No. 4 position. We have to reduce the package of what we run and get comfortable with some things that will be successful with the group we have so that we can go in there and execute."

"At this time of year you would like to run everything you have in your playbook based on who you are playing against, but this is not a luxury we will have. Instead it will be about what we can do based on the kids we have and trying to put them in the most successful position we can for four games."

With as bad as everything has been this season, Levrets is still confident and focused on the players who go out to battle in red and white each night.

"I think if we get everyone together playing well we still have some good players," said Levrets. "[Six-foot-3 redshirt sophomore forward Taryn] Wicijowski and (six-foot-4 sophomore forward Michelle) Plouffe are a very good combination at the No. 4 and No. 5 positions. The two of them are tough for people to handle night in and night out. We do as much as we can to put those kids playing together."

Add into the mix for Utah the challenge of being in the first season of being part of a new league where 10 of the other 11 programs have experience in playing each other and each glass of lemonade can get tougher to swallow.

"You can't prepare for something that you haven't been through," said Levrets. "You do everything you can to get yourself ready, but until you have played these teams at least one time, it is difficult to know the nuances of each team. This has been the biggest adjustment."

Yet no matter how challenging the season has been for Levrets and his student-athletes, it has been the helping each player learn how to handle each challenge that has been the priority.

"The biggest thing has been to handle the emotions of the players," said Levrets. "While it affects me as a coach, you realize that this is affecting the players even more because they are losing their friends and it affects them deeply. We have had emotional roller coast of injuries and things happening with the team that you have to make sure they ok emotionally. This has been the biggest challenge. This has been the first time it has been the focal point of what we do so they are ok to play."

There are still a few more rounds of lemonade to be passed around the Utah locker room, but no matter how bitter it may taste, everyone in the program knows that there is a sweet reward waiting for them.

"The good news about injuries is that they make other kids get valuable minutes at this time of the year and that will be good for the future," said Levrets.

Keys To The Game
- Avoid additional injuries!
- Patience with players learning new positions
- Big plays from big players in the post positions
- Smart plays on defense and solid rebounding
- Rotating players frequently to avoid fatigue and costly mistakes

USC Back to top

The Mind of Marinacci

Coming into playing at the Division I level of women's college basketball, a certain mindset is needed. From determination to adaptability, there is a long list of mental aspects in a player's approach to the game that help with being successful.

For USC's (No. 3 seed, 16-11 and 12-6 Pac-12) 6-foot-1 USC junior forward Christina Marinacci, developing this mindset has been helping her since stepping foot in the Galen Center in 2009.

"I was just excited to go to USC," said Marinacci, who was named Pac-12 Player of the Week last week. "It was different for me because I wasn't recruited by the coaches who I was going to play for. That was a new thing for me to jump into and that made my experience different. I do remember my first individual meeting with Coach (Michael) Cooper and going into it I heard that he put trash cans in each of the four corners of the gym because his workouts were so hard that players would throw up. That was my mind set going into it. I ended up not throwing up, which was good."

Along with being stubborn enough to not show any weakness in those early practices, Marinacci had been smart enough to adapt to each experience she has encountered while playing at USC.

"My first away game during my freshman was against Gonzaga, who sells their games out, so it was just crazy," said Marinacci, who has a team best 7.4 rebounds per game. "My sophomore year was a little bit easier because things were not as new, but you are still trying to figure out your role on the team. There are not as many adjustments. Also, you know how to handle schoolwork and basketball better. How to handle schoolwork while playing on the road was the biggest adjustment for me. You definitely are taking a step forward going into your sophomore year."

While Marinacci has taken a good approach to each of her three seasons at USC, it was the changes that she made last season as a sophomore that have demonstrated where her head is with this team.

"Last year after we sat down and talked during our individual player/coach meetings and we talked about what we need her to do in terms of her strengths and improving her weaknesses," said USC coach Michael Cooper, who is in his third season with the Women of Troy. "One of the things we really needed her to do was increase her perimeter game and she has done that. She is not afraid to look for the three-point shot, her aggressiveness and how to play different post people with her smarts and quickness. Now we are working on her putting the ball on the floor more since she has the opportunity to get one or two quick dribbles to get to the basket."

Her ability to be flexible and listening to the needs of her coaches and teammates has been important as the USC team has dealt with setbacks from injuries to senior Jackie Gemelos (ACL), freshman Deanna Calhous (knee), redshirt freshman Thaddisia Southall (ACL).

"Sometimes you want your kids to come along slowly when you have a full roster and everyone is playing in the roles they were meant to play," said Cooper. "It's nice for them to overcome their mistakes on the floor at times. For her to be thrown into the fire and she has done well with that. You can take her out during timeouts to tell her about what the opponent is doing and what she needs to do to not make those same mistakes twice."

Now Marinacci is using her team-focused mindset to lead the Women of Troy into the second round of the Pacific Life Pac-12 Tournament.

"I almost do feel like a senior since I have been here for three years now and there really isn't anything new anymore," said Marinacci. "I understand what the coaches are looking for."

USC's Keys to Success
- Capitalizing on individual strengths as a team
- Solid team defense
- Aggressive rebounding
- Not letting their opponent get back into the game after building a lead
- Making in-game adjustments quickly

Washington Back to top

Chef Rogers

Ask any great chef what it takes to prepare the perfect dish and they will likely mention how a balance between all elements is key. After all, if there is too much acid or not enough salt, then the dish will not deliver on its expectations.

Senior center Regina Rogers, a 6-foot-3 center, has used her last four years of playing in the Pacific 10 and now Pac-12 Conferences to learn how the right balance can deliver great results.

"I think Regina is one of the premier players in the league and draws a lot of attention," said coach Kevin McGuff, who is in his first year leading the Washington program. "When I told her I wanted to challenge her to do certain things, she said she wanted to do them, help the team have a good year and be a big part of it. She has responded."

Rogers, who is originally from Seattle, is getting ready to finish her collegiate career at Washington after experiencing some imbalance by spending her freshman year away from home and her family at rival school UCLA.

"It was during the road trip to Washington that year when I saw my family and realized I wanted to come back to Washington," recalls Rogers, who has now played for three coaches in four years. "After the game my family was allowed to come in the back area to see me and that's when I realized I didn't want to leave."

After the departure of then UCLA coach Kathy Olivier, Rogers decided she needed to leave UCLA as well and transferred to Washington to play for coach Tia Jackson. Due to NCAA transfer rules Rogers' balance was still off as she sat out a year of competition. Yet she still managed to make the best of what she had to work with.

"It was really tough to sit out that year because there were a lot of games that I wanted to be out there playing with my teammates," said Rogers. "Also, when the team was on a road trip and I was the only one not on the trip, it was hard. I would have to workout by myself and I would miss the inside jokes that took place on the road."

"Reggie, my twin brother, would come and workout with me or my mom or sister would come and help me out. When my team was on the road, the men's team was at home, so my friend Darnell Gant, from the men's team, would also help me. It was about reaching out to other people who were here."

Along with knowing how to ask for help to get the combination right, Rogers has also learned in her college career that sometimes you need to take a step back from your dish and be objective about what needs to be changed.

"During our spring meetings Coach McGuff talked to everyone individually about their roles for the next year," said Rogers, who is a member of Washington's 1,000 point club. "One of the main things he told me is that he needed me to not just be out there for 18 minutes a game, but for 28 or more minutes a game. To have him come to me and tell me that he needed me was something that I don't think I have heard before. I put it upon myself to get in shape and even asked my family for help."

"I had to change my diet. I am not a big fast food person, but it is something that I could grab on the way from practice. I realized that I couldn't eat fast food all of the time and had to find things that would be easy for me to cook at my apartment. I also started running more so I could keep playing."

Making the adjustments at first might have been difficult, but every good chef will not like how things turn out at least a few times.

"There is one dish I make with chicken, broccoli, corn and noodles," said Rogers of her new culinary skills. "Everything is in there and it is really good. If you want to eat, you have to learn how to cook. Also, I had to learn how to cook things that tasted good. After all, if it did not taste good I was not going to eat it. I think I missed about 10 meals because what I made did not taste good. It was all trial and error."

Thanks to some trial and error off the court, Rogers is now one of the reasons why the Washington team is ready for the Pacific Life Pac-12 Tournament. She leads the Huskies with 16.2 ppg and is averaging 28.4 minutes while blocking 23 shots this season.

"It's been fun to watch her grow on and off the court," said McGuff. "She is a terrific person and I challenged her to put herself in a position to have the best season she could have. She has a lot of talent and has taken better shots around the basket. She has also worked on her defense with playing without fouling better. I think she has become a more consistent player. This is all to her credit. I pushed and challenged her and she has responded every time. She is a good kid and I am happy for her success. Hopefully she has a few more good games left in her for us."

The Huskies Highlights
- Strong defense in the middle
- Solid rebounding
- Strong perimeter defense
- Smart shot selection
- Finishing games

Washington State Back to top

All that Jaz

Enthusiasts will tell you the reason jazz is the best music to listen to is because of its heart, soul and passion. And that it is not necessarily about the lyrics of the song, but the actions of the notes coming out of each instrument that convey the essence of its beauty.

For the Washington State women's basketball team, the inaugural Pac-12 season has been about all of the heart, soul and passion that senior guard Jazmine 'Jaz' Perkins has played with all year.

"I don't know how she does not become one big bruise because she is always on the floor or in the stands diving for loose balls," said coach June Daugherty, who is in her fifth year at Washington State. "She is willing to leave it out on the floor."

This desire to leave it all on the floor stems from some early lessons Perkins learned about what it takes to play at the Division I level.

"Starting out the summer before my freshman year with the trainer here - David Lang -- is when the wake up call came, not just for me, but for all of the freshmen who came in with me," recalls Perkins, who leads the Pac-12 in steals with 248. "He had us do 18 stairs across the football stadium. I've done stairs before, but to do 18 of them all across the football stadium was difficult. This is when I realized I was in the big time. He told us if we could not run the stadium, we would not be able to play at this level.

"I did not throw up after the run. I like to run a lot and have done track and I am the type of person that even if I am tired, I am not going to show that I am tired. Instead, I am just going to go with the program. After that run, my legs HURT! I couldn't believe we ran it."

Once the initial shock (and ache of her tired legs) wore off, Perkins has used each of the last four seasons to keep elevating her game and helping her team reach new highs.

"After my freshman year I looked back at all of my turnovers and the scoring that was done just to score," said Perkins. "We didn't really have the personnel to do everything as we do now. I felt like a freelancer going into my second year. Then during my second year, I recognized that if I did not try new things, I would never be good enough to take someone to the basket. Everyone gets better so the coaches kept telling us that if we did not work on this part of our game or that part of our game, we would never get better. Instead, we would be weak. The freshmen that I came in with, we never wanted to be seen as weak, so we worked on our game."

The hard work is paying off. Perkins is consistently finishing in the top three in the team in scoring each year with 13.8 ppg during her freshman year (second), 10.2 ppg during her sophomore year (third) and 9.6 ppg during her junior year (third). Yet just like a jazz song progresses where all the instruments around a trumpet become stronger and sound more vivid, so has Perkins in her time at Washington State.

"One of the things our players love and adore about Perkins is that she will leave it on the line out there in a game, which I think it has been infectious of our other players," said Daugherty. "Brandi Thomas is a great example of how this has rubbed off. Thomas has become a much better rebounder. I don't know if that is because Thomas guards Perkins during practices, but when they are out there together and you see Perkins get three or four offensive rebounds in a row, it's hard not to get caught up in that and want to join her in the flurry. It's a good contagious thing with her energy and defensive intensity of her steals to start our running game."

Between Perkins' junior season and this season, even more emphasis has been on reaching a new high note.

"I was playing in the last conference tournament game and that was the wake up call," said Perkins. "I recognized I only had one more year and if we did not work on things as a whole, we would not be able to accomplish what we wanted to while being here. I took matters into my own hands and told my family that I was not going to come home until Christmas.

"I spent the whole summer in Pullman working on my game. I felt like I had to get ready for my teammates and did not want to be the same player that I was in my first three years here. I worked on my game personally and that was the biggest change. I had a great support system to help me take my game to the next level."

Now, the Cougars are hoping to reach even higher heights and notable accomplishments under Perkins' leadership and tireless effort.

"Early on we knew she was competitive and athletic," said Daugherty. "I think towards the end of her sophomore year you saw her start to understand a lot better about shot selection, playing to her strengths, trying to get to the rim more and using her strengths of explosiveness and quickness.

"In her junior year I think she understood the system more, was able to stay more poised and run our system at a higher level than her sophomore year.

"Perkins is a tireless worker in this program, has put a lot of time in the weight room and the gym. That speaks well to the improvement she's had."

Keys to the Cougars
- Solid defensive effort
- Controlling fouls late in the game
- Staying hungry and self motivated
- Quicker rotations
- Staying physical
- Shot blocking
- Better screens and harder cuts to the net on offense

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