2014 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Championship Game Preview
SEATTLE – The No. 3 seed Oregon State Beavers and the No. 5 seed USC Trojans will play for the 2014 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament title Sunday night at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN.
There will be a new champion for the first time in seven years as the Stanford Cardinal will not be playing in the title game for the first time in the history of the Tournament. They were upset by USC in the semifinals.
The Trojans will play in their second Pac-12 tournament championship on Sunday. Their last appearance was in 2009 when they lost to Stanford 89-64.
The Oregon State Beavers will play in their first Pac-12 tourney final and become the first team from outside the states of California and Arizona to play in the title game.
Let’s check out some storylines for the matchup between the Beavers and the Trojans:
How did they get here?
-The Oregon State Beavers entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed after finishing the regular-season 21-9 (13-5 Pac-12) and received a bye into the quarterfinal round. They came into the postseason on a roll, having won their last nine games. The Beavers won their quarterfinal matchup over No. 11 seed Utah on Friday night, 50-35. Saturday night, they beat No. 7 seed Washington State, 70-60, to advance to the title game.
-The USC Trojans came to Seattle as the No. 5 seed after a 20-12 (11-7 Pac-12) regular season. They won their last two games of conference play and beat No. 12 seed Arizona on the tournament's opening day, 59-54. In the quarterfinals they finished the sweep of the state of Arizona by holding off ASU 59-57. Their semifinal upset of Stanford propelled them to Sunday’s championship game.
Matchups to watch
Sydney Wiese vs. Brianna Barrett/Ariya Crook: Whomever USC coach Cynthia Cooper decides to put on the Beavers’ dynamic freshman will be challenged all night. Wiese was named to both the All-Pac-12 team and the Pac-12 All-Freshman team after averaging 13.6 points per game and hitting 94 three-pointers in the regular season. The smooth lefty has size and a killer crossover that consistently gets her into the lane so she can distribute to teammates. Barrett and Crook might be more athletic than Wiese and could attack her off the dribble offensively. They both can hit from long range as well, so Wiese will be challenged on defense. All three of these players hold the keys to success for their offenses so whomever wins this battle will give their team a leg up.
Ruth Hamblin vs. Cassie Harberts: Harberts was the star of the Stanford upset, scoring 10 straight points in the final minutes against the Cardinal to turn a deficit into an insurmountable lead. Take away the 10-point burst from Harberts’ game vs. Stanford and she only scored three points against the Cardinal's interior defense. Hamblin presents an even bigger and more imposing challenge. In OSU’s quarterfinal win over Utah, she became the Pac-12 single-season blocks record holder. Hamblin isn’t just a defensive specialist, though. She averaged 10.1 points per game this year on 59.9 percent shooting. Harberts scores at a higher clip, 15.8 points per game, a tick below Crook for the team lead. As a senior wearing a captain's ‘C’ on her chest, Harberts leads her team in more ways than one.
Scott Rueck vs. Cynthia Cooper: The coaches get a special mention here because of what they have done for their programs this year. Cooper is in her first year with USC, while Rueck is in his fourth with Oregon State. Both coaches have led major turnarounds in 2013-14. Last season, the Trojans went 11-20 overall and the Beavers finished at 10-21. The coaches share an affinity for defense and smart, disciplined basketball, but differ somewhat in their demeanors during games. Cooper is more active on the sidelines, always moving and motivating her athletes. Rueck can be seen kneeling by the corner of the scorer’s table, plotting his next move. No matter their differing styles, they are getting the job done in a major way. It will be a duel on the court and a chess match between the coaches.
[Related video: Family of OSU coach Scott Rueck talk tournament title game matchup]
Jamie Weisner, OSU: A February wrist injury put her out of action until the conference tournament, but Weisner still ended the season as the leading scorer for the Beavers at 13.8 points per game. The sophomore guard returned to the court in the Beavs’ quarterfinal victory over Utah. She didn’t take a shot, but managed to grab two rebounds in 11 minutes of play. Against Washington State in the semifinals Weisner improved, scoring 7 points on 3-of-4 shooting and hit one three-pointer in 15 minutes on the court. She added two rebounds and four assists. If she continues to improve and contributes more in the title game, the combination of Weisner and Wiese in the backcourt will be hard for the Trojans to handle.
Alexyz Vaioletama, USC: This seems like a natural choice given that Vaioletama is affectionately known as ‘X’ by her teammates and coach, but it's her game that warrants this selection. Vaioletama was third on the team in scoring during the regular season at 8.3 points per game and second in rebounds at 7.3 per game. She is a physical forward who can also run the court and hit shots, from mid-range to behind the arc. Her game in the semis against Stanford proves her all-around skills. She scored 19 points and hit three three-pointers, all while guarding Chiney Ogwumike on the defensive end. Even though Ogwumike put up good numbers, coach Cynthia Cooper made a point to praise Vaioletama’s defense in the postgame press conference. She may be able to help guard Hamblin on defense and stretch OSU’s center away from the hoop if they get matched up on both ends. Her ability to affect a game in a variety of ways could help swing the game in the Trojans’ favor.