Pac-12 Women's hoops: Who's dancing?
With the Pac-12 women’s basketball regular season and conference tournament concluded, it’s easy to see how much the Pac has improved in just one year. In 2011-12, just Stanford and Cal danced on the largest stage for women’s hoops. This season? Four teams from the Conference of Champions are absolute locks for the NCAA tournament, and all of them figure to be wearing white jerseys in their first round matchups.
It wasn’t as easy as everyone expected – especially with Cal losing in the semifinals – but Stanford wrapped up its seventh consecutive Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament championship with a 51-49 victory over the UCLA Bruins Sunday night in Seattle. Some thought it might be a bit of a down year for the Cardinal after losing Nneka Ogwumike, but younger sis Chiney has made sure the drop-off was nonexistent.
Any power-conference school with a 31-2 record is going to be assured a high seed in the NCAA tournament, but as is customary with a Tara VanDerveer non-conference schedule, these are some of the toughest 31 wins you’ll find anywhere in the country. By beating reigning NCAA Champion Baylor on a neutral site and 2012 second weekend participants Tennessee and South Carolina on the road during the first two months of the season – not to mention a 17-1 record in a conference that consistently featured four top-25 teams for the majority of the campaign – Stanford seems to be a safe bet for a No. 1 seed come Selection Monday.
The Golden Bears came into this year with high expectations after a somewhat unexpected 25-win campaign in 2011-12 that ended in a hard-fought loss to eventual-NCAA runner-up Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Some teams might have crumbled under the pressure to live up to the hype, but not Gottlieb’s bunch. Cal did what it needed to in its non-conference slate, beating a then-top-20 team in Kansas at home and only losing on the road at Duke. Then in conference play, the Golden Bears did what nobody had been able to in 81 Pac-12 games and nearly four years: beat Stanford, at Maples Pavilion no less.
The Golden Bears had a minor hiccup in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, but nobody is going to blame them too much for losing to a top-15 team on a neutral court. All three of their losses have come to top-15 teams and, as such, ESPN and College Sports Madness both have Cal as a No. 2 seed, prime position to make a deep run in the tourney.
After an injury-plagued 2011-12, Cori Close’s Bruins looked to get back to what UCLA usually does in women’s basketball, and that’s play meaningful games in March. Thanks to Markel Walker, one of the craftiest players in the conference, and the addition of Alyssia Brewer, the Tennessee transfer whose presence down low has frustrated many a foe (just ask Ogwumike after Sunday night’s game), the Bruins returned to their winning ways.
UCLA hit the hardwood with a bang in the fall, beating then-No. 11 Oklahoma, St. John’s and then-No. 12 Texas all on the road. There was the hiccup at home to Cal State Northridge and a can’t-fault-ya loss to Notre Dame, but it was smooth sailing otherwise. Back that up with a third-place finish in conference, and you got yourself a team that has been ranked in the top 20 for three months running. Even though the Bruins lost in the Pac-12 Tournament finals, they did enough damage in beating Utah and Cal that they actually jumped three spots in the AP Top 25 to No. 11. They hold the same ranking in the RPI, and as such, the Bru Cru are looking at a potential No. 3 seed for the Big Dance.
Last year the Buffs went undefeated against a pretty easy non-conference slate. Things got tougher once January rolled around, and Colorado was unable to do enough damage in conference play to garner an at-large bid.
This year, the Buffs's non-conference ledger again is unscathed including a win over eighth-ranked Louisville in mid-December. They also enjoyed some success in conference play, reeling off nine straight heading into the tournament led by tough-as-nails Chucky Jeffery and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in Arielle Roberson.
[Related: Pac-12 women's hoops tweets]
While Colorado did only beat one ranked team this season (Louisville), all of the team’s losses came to ranked opponents. With an AP ranking of 19 and an RPI ranking of 25, look for the Buffs to fall somewhere in the 5-6 range come seeding time. As of now, both College Sports Madness and the venerable Charlie Creme have the Buffs as a 5-seed.
The Huskies are almost certainly on the outside looking in, but Kevin McGuff and Crew deserve a round of applause for getting to 20 wins before the NCAAs or WNIT roll around. If it wasn’t for a four-game losing streak to end the regular season, the Dawgs would have had a really good case for the Pac-12 being a five-bid league. A sub-80 RPI and 2-6 record against the RPI Top 50 probably won’t cut it, but that doesn’t take away from a solid 2012-13 campaign for the Montlake Dawgs.