2014 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament storylines
The Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament begins Thursday at Seattle’s KeyArena, with Stanford as the reigning favorite following a regular season in which it was rarely challenged.
Led by two-time All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike (27.0 points per game), the Cardinal is 28-2 (17-1 Pac-12) and expected to receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after capturing the Pac-12 regular season title. It was the 14th year in a row Stanford claimed at least a share of the conference championship.
With a 51-49 win over UCLA in last year’s title game – the first held in Seattle – Stanford made it seven – yes, seven – straight Pac-12 Tournament championships under coach Tara VanDerveer. This season, the Cardinal has dominated since losing to the Huskies, 87-82, Feb. 9 in Seattle.
Winners of six straight, four by double-digit margins, it will take a major upset to upend a team whose only other loss came in November to No. 1-ranked UConn.
As of last week, ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme predicted that four Pac-12 teams (Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Arizona State) make the women’s Big Dance. Three others on the outside looking in can improve their bids with a strong showing in Seattle.
Here’s a look at what to expect when the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off.
Chiney, Chiney, Chiney: Slowing Ogwumike will provide each Pac-12 team a near impossible task. The senior from Cypress, Texas is playing her best as her Cardinal career winds down. In Stanford’s regular season finale Saturday at Maples Pavilion, she made 14 of 23 shots, scored a career-best 37 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in an 84-64 win over Washington State. As impressive this season is her shooting percentage (62.2 percent) and dominance on the low block (12.1 rebounds per game).
Bubble Teams: Winning the Pac-12 Tournament garners an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. What teams could use a strong showing to secure an at-large bid?
-Oregon State is on the bubble, according to the latest ESPN Bracketology projections, which means advancing through the second round would go a long way toward the Beavers earning an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
-USC was listed as one of the next four out, which means the Trojans probably need at least two wins so they don’t wind up in the women’s National Invitation Tournament.
-The Washington schools may need to reel off four wins in a row to make the tournament. With the UW campus just a few miles away and a large WSU alumni base living in the Seattle area, both could have a decided home-court advantage if they make a deep run. Oh, and the Huskies are the only team other than Connecticut to beat Stanford this season.
Players to Watch
Tia Presley, junior, WSU: When WSU plays Oregon Thursday at 2:30 p.m. PT (Pac-12 Networks), it will mark Presley’s first appearance in the Pac-12 Tournament. The guard’s freshman season ended early when she broke her foot and her sophomore year was cut short last January when she was forced to have knee surgery.
In 2013-14, she led a resurgent Cougars team that finished the regular season 15-15 (9-9 Pac-12) with 18.9 points per game, which ranks sixth in the conference. In her last six games she caught fire, scoring 32 points on three occasions. On any night, Presley is capable of providing the type of offense that could help the Cougars upset the best teams in the conference. In a comeback win over Fresno State on Nov. 22, she dropped 37 points, the second best single-game mark in school history.
Brittany Boyd, junior, California: As the 5-foot-9 engine that drove Cal’s offense, Boyd led the Pac-12 with 5.86 assists per game and was among the conference scoring leaders with 14.7 points per night. She was also a big reason the Golden Bears entered the final week of the season ranked No. 18 before they split a pair of home games against WSU and UW.
At 13-5 in the Pac-12 (21-8 overall), Cal finished a distant second to the Cardinal a year after tying it for a share of the Pac-12 title before making a run to the Final Four. With Boyd boasting perhaps the best floor game in the conference and leading the Pac-12 in steals (2.93 per game), Cal has as good a chance as any to upset Stanford.
Kelsey Plum, freshman, Washington: The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year scored 38 points in a game against Oregon earlier this season. She helped UW win seven of its last 10 regular season games, setting up a matchup with No. 11 Utah on Thursday (8:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks).
She already holds the UW’s single-season scoring record for a freshman and made 36.8 percent of her 3-pointers this year. She earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week seven times en route to being one of the top scorers in the conference. Plum ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 20.9 points per game.