Four Pac-12 teams headed to NCAA women's basketball tournament
It wasn't much of a secret, but Selection Monday confirmed that four Pac-12 teams - Stanford, Cal, UCLA and Colorado - will be playing in the 2013 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship. Here's a little primer on what each Pac-12 team faces on a potential route to New Orleans for the Final Four.
There really weren't many surprises as far as seeding went for the Pac-12 schools, and Stanford was no exception. Placed in the Spokane Region, Tara's Team gets to play its first two games in the friendly confines of Maples Pavilion. It starts with Tulsa, a middle-of-the-pack Conference USA team that got hot in the league tournament to steal an automatic bid. Taleya Mayberry is the driving force behind the Golden Hurricanes, leading her team in scoring (18.7 ppg), distributing (3.6 apg) and picking pockets (2.4 spg). She also comes through in the clutch, leading the way with 25 points in the Conference USA tournament title game against Central Florida.
[Related video: Tara VanDerveer Selection Monday interview]
For Stanford to become one of the first teams in NCAA women's basketball history to go to six straight Final Fours (UConn also can achieve that feat this year), Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike is going to need some help. There will come times in later rounds when her teammates will need to beat defenders off the dribble and knock down perimeter jumpers, and that's where Amber Orrange and Bonnie Samuelson come in. When Ogwumike was unable to get it going in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game, Orrange stepped up to deliver 20 points, including the game-winning layup, in a 51-49 win over UCLA. Samuelson is on the court to do one thing, and that's shoot the ball. The quick-to-trigger sophomore has come off the bench this year to lead her team with 45 made three-pointers. Joslyn Tinkle and Mikaela Ruef also provide some nice toughness down low.
Assuming Stanford protects home court, a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Georgia awaits, pitting two of the longest-tenured and most respected coaches in women's basketball against each other in Tara VanDerveer and Georgia's Andy Landers, who has been in Athens for more than three decades. However, don't count out No. 5 seed Iowa State or No. 12 seed Gonzaga - it was just four years ago that Iowa State made it to the Elite 8 (and lost to Stanford) and Gonzaga will be playing on its home court in each of the first two weekends should it continue to win. A potential Elite 8 matchup would pit Stanford against the Big Ten regular season champion Penn State Lady Lions or a familiar foe...
The bracket stirred up a lot of excitement for fans of Left Coast basketball when it was announced that Cal would be the No. 2 seed in the same region as Stanford. While many are salivating for a Round 3 between Stanford and Cal to decide which team goes to the Final Four, there is still plenty of work to be done for Lindsay Gottlieb and crew.
[Related video: Lindsay Gottlieb Selection Monday interview]
Things kick off with a tussle with Fresno State. The move to a new conference didn't bother the Bulldogs much as the former WAC powers won the Mountain West championship after upsetting top-seeded San Diego State in the finals. The Golden Bear backcourt will have its hands full with do-it-all guard Ki-Ki Moore, the Washington State transfer who leads the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding while also averaging 4.0 assists and recording a total of 100 steals on the dot. While Cal is a heavy favorite to advance, the Bulldogs will not be scared in the spotlight - this is Fresno State's sixth consecutive NCAA appearance. It won't be as easy of a game as a 2-15 matchup would indicate; Fresno State lost at Stanford by just 11 points in the season opener.
Provided Cal gets by Fresno State and then either No. 7 seed Texas Tech or No. 10 seed South Florida, Penn State would be the likely Sweet 16 contestant. Layshia Clarendon, Brittany Boyd and Co. will need to keep a steady eye on Maggie Lucas if this is the case; the smooth-stroking junior has connected on 48 percent of her long distance attempts while also averaging more than 20 points per game.
But ah yes, the old Stanford-Cal battle for a trip to New Orleans should everything play according to seed... If there's any frontcourt in the Spokane Region that can muster up a good fight against Chiney Ogwumike, it'd be Cal's. With window washers Gennifer Brandon and Talia Caldwell, it's no wonder why Cal is third in the nation in rebounding margin. If those two can frustrate Ogwumike inside and Layshia Clarendon continues to knock down mid-range jumpers for days, not to mention an efficient game from the electric Brittany Boyd and defensive pressure placed on the Stanford guards by her and Eliza Pierre, then Cal will have a good shot to go to its first-ever Final Four.
Stanford and Cal are on the same side of the bracket as the Brittney Griner-led Baylor Lady Bears for a potential Final Four bout (with other No. 1 seeds UConn and Notre Dame waiting on the other side), though I'm sure there's a certain three-seed that wants to have a say about that.
UCLA nearly pulled off a shocker in the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament before losing by two to Stanford in the championship round; Stetson pulled off arguably the biggest upset in any conference tournament by snapping Florida Gulf Coast's 41-game conference win streak (including tournament play) in the Atlantic Sun finals, rallying from a 15-point second-half deficit to boot. When Cori Close and staff watch tape of the Stetson-FGCU battle, their attention will most certainly be turned to Sasha Sims, who scored 12 of her 15 points in the second half to spark the Hatter comeback.
[Related video: Cori Close Selection Monday interview]
A battle-tested UCLA team will rely on the services of the oh-so-intelligent Markel Walker and low-post defensive stalwart Alyssia Brewer to make a deep tournament run. With her head always on a swivel, Walker can make just about any pass that needs to be made or hit any shot, be it a between-the-legs step-back jumper or a circus shot like this. Meanwhile, Alyssia Brewer gained a lot of notoriety in the Pac-12 finals by holding Chiney Ogwumike to just three points on 1-9 shooting. That's not to say that leading scorer Atonye Nyingifa will not be needed, as the 11-and-7 redshirt junior's season-ending injury last year was a big reason why the Bruins were unable to live up to lofty preseason expectations, much like her health this year has allowed UCLA to finish third in the Pac-12 regular season.
UCLA's road to New Orleans is littered with big-time programs, including a potential round of 32 date with Oklahoma, a team it upset on the road in Norman earlier this year when the Sooners were ranked 11th in the country. Get past Oklahoma, and the Bru Cru will have a likely Sweet 16 competition against Holly Warlick's Tennessee Lady Vols. The first-year head coach in Knoxville has done an admirable job taking over for the legendary Pat Summitt, leading Tennessee to an SEC regular season title. Pull off the minor upset against Tennessee and get rewarded with the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament - the defending champion Baylor Lady Bears. That's life in the Oklahoma City Region for ya.
Lappe Hour will have the support of Buff Nation when Colorado takes on Kansas in Boulder for a first-round matchup. It was only two years ago that the Buffs and Jayhawks were conference foes in the Big 12, so Linda Lappe and her staff should have some familiarity with forward Carolyn Davis and guard Angel Goodrich, the two leading scorers for Bonnie Henrickson's gang. In fact, Colorado's last-ever game as a member of the Big 12 against a Big 12 opponent came against this Kansas team, and it wasn't a pleasant memory: The Jayhawks bid farewell to the Buffs with a 71-45 rout in the Big 12 tournament.
[Related video: Linda Lappe Selection Monday interview]
Obviously, both teams are much different from two years ago - heck, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Arielle Roberson wasn't even around for that game. André's little sis turned in an impressive first playing campaign (she had to redshirt last year with a torn labrum), averaging 12 points and six rebounds per contest. She is topped in those departments on her team by only Chucky Jeffery, the uber-tough senior who wants the ball in her hands in the biggest moments. And, after seeing solid performances from two of her freshmen in the Pac-12 quarterfinal victory over Washington, Linda Lappe can trust Jamee Swan and Ky Weston to make big plays when necessary.
True home teams usually have the edge in NCAA tournament games (remember when ninth-seeded Michigan State upset top-seeded Duke in East Lansing?), but the Buffs will have their hands full in the second round (should they beat Kansas, of course) with a South Carolina team that only lost to Stanford by four points earlier this season. If the Buffs live to take a plane flight to Norfolk, they will almost certainly see back-to-back NCAA runner-up Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. If Colorado can work some magic against Skylar Diggins, then the most likely Elite 8 opponents would be No. 2 seed Duke (which beat Cal as part of its non-conference slate) or No. 3 seed Texas A&M, a team that won the NCAA title two years ago.