Pac-12 Women's Tournament Features Intrigue

The two biggest games of the season in the Pac-12 took place before the conference race could ever get into a rhythm. Cal and Stanford played each other in back-to-back games in January and decided absolutely nothing.

Stanford beat Cal 62-53 at Haas Pavilion on Jan. 8 and then the Bears turned around and knocked off the Cardinal 67-55 at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 13.

Cal has played 15 games since, Stanford has played 14. The teams have combined to go 29-0.

The question now is whether they will get one last chance to settle the Pac-12 score.

At 17-1 each, the teams shared the Pac-12 regular season championship. It was the first conference title in Cal history. It was the 13th in a row for the Cardinal.

By virtue of a tiebreaker rule, Stanford is the No. 1 seed at the 2013 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, which begins Thursday at KeyArena in Seattle. Cal is the No. 2 seed.

Since neither team has lost to any other opponent than each other this season, conventional wisdom would dictate they are headed on a collision course for the championship game.

Every game of the tournament will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks, with exception of the championship game, which airs on ESPN2 on Sunday at 5 p.m.

“That would be the best game as far as matchups,” Pac-12 Networks analyst Ros Gold-Onwude said. “Cal can really play with Stanford, and Stanford can really play with Cal. Do the other ranked teams in the conference match up with Cal or Stanford? That would be the best game of the tournament.”

While Stanford is ranked No. 4 in the nation and Cal is ranked No. 5, there are others in the conference having strong seasons. UCLA, the No. 3 seed in the tourney, is ranked No. 14 this week by the Associated Press. Colorado, the fourth seed which was picked to finish ninth in the preseason media poll, comes in at No. 18 nationally.

Washington finished a strong fifth in conference play with an 11-7 mark. At 19-10 overall, the Huskies likely need to make a deep run in Seattle to be considered for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

“Washington was one of the biggest stories of the conference in terms of exceeding expectations,” Gold-Onwude said.

Gold-Onwude pointed to a potential quarterfinal matchup between Colorado and Washington, should the Huskies get by Oregon in the first round.

“That is going to be a very interesting matchup,” she said. “Those two have been dooking it out for fourth. I’m not sure Washington or Colorado has the matchups to beat a Stanford, but I do think a Washington-Colorado game is a must-watch game.”

Another possible intriguing quarterfinal showdown is between Cal and USC, but the seventh-seeded Trojans have to get by 10th-seed Oregon State first. USC took Cal to overtime at Haas Pavilion earlier this season.

That being said, Gold-Onwude said it’s clear Cal and Stanford are the favorites to get to the tournament championship game.

“Obviously, it looks like the road goes through those two for the championship,” Gold-Onwude said. “This is much bigger than being competitive in the Pac-12. Those two teams are national contenders. It’s serious business.”

Thursday’s first round gets underway at Noon with the USC-Oregon State matchup. That will be followed by Utah-Arizona at 2:30 p.m. The night session begins at 6 p.m. with Arizona State meeting Washington State. The Washington-Oregon game closes out the first day of competition.

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