Five Pac-12 teams to play in NCAA women's hoops tourney

Eric Evans

Things are still trending upwards for Pac-12 women’s hoops. The Pac-12 is sending five teams to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament – one bid more than the conference received in 2013 and the most since the 2005-06 season. Here’s a look at what the Pac-12’s fab five – Arizona State, Cal, Oregon State, Stanford and USC -- has in store for a potential road to Nashville, the site of this year’s Final Four.

Arizona State (22-9, 11-7 Pac-12): No. 9 seed, Notre Dame region

Despite a rough finish to the season – Arizona State lost six of its last eight games, including a quarterfinal exit in the Pac-12 tourney to USC – the Forks are dancing for the first time in five years (much like the men’s program). Charli Turner Thorne has done a great job of getting things back to normal with a much healthier and more offensively capable group in 2013-14, and they have been paired up with the No. 8 seed Vanderbilt Commodores in the opening round Saturday in Toledo, Ohio (kudos to Vandy for making its 15th consecutive NCAA trip). Top-seeded Notre Dame almost certainly awaits after that, so the Devils will have their hands full in the opening rounds. Advance to the second weekend and there’s an outside chance they see a team they’re familiar with.

Cal (21-9, 13-5 Pac-12): No. 7 seed, Notre Dame region

The road to another Final Four for Gottlieb’s group will be a bit tougher as a No. 7 seed as opposed to being put on the 2-line last season. Still, it’s tough to count out a group with so much grit and swag, headlined by the loud game of point guard Brittany Boyd and the steady Reshanda Gray. The Golden Bears’ journey begins with a date with 10th-seeded Fordham Saturday in Waco, Texas. No Brittney Griner anymore, but the Baylor Lady Bears are still a formidable bunch, and they would be the likely second-round foe of Cal should it be all chalk in their four-team pod. Other teams to watch out for in the Golden Bears’ region are the top-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish (the team that beat Cal in the second round two years ago) and the pressure-you-to-death Kentucky Wildcats.

Oregon State (23-10, 13-5 Pac-12): No. 9 seed, Stanford region

If you tell me you thought Oregon State was going to the big dance at the beginning of the season, you’re either a member of the Beavers’ women’s basketball team, an Oregon State super fan, or a habitual liar. Picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 in October, the Beavers reeled off 11 straight dubs before falling to USC in the Pac-12 tourney finals. It’s an amazing coaching job by Scott Rueck, who has his youthful group, spearheaded by point guard Sydney Wiese and Jamie Weisner, preparing to take on eighth-seeded Middle Tennessee, the Conference USA champs. The game takes place Sunday in Seattle, so the Beavs should have some sort of home court advantage. A win against the Blue Raiders sets up a likely battle with Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks, the No. 1 seed in the Beavs’ regional. Pull off a few upsets, and maybe the Beavs will get a shot at redemption against Stanford in the Elite 8.

Stanford (29-3, 17-1 Pac-12): No. 2 seed, Stanford region

There were some questions sprinkling about whether the Card would still be a No. 1 seed after “stumbling” down the stretch (“stumbling” for Stanford is defined as losing two of their last nine games), and the committee ruled that Tara’s team didn’t do enough to stay on the top line despite winning 29 games and their 14th consecutive Pac-12 regular-season crown. However, the road out of the Stanford regional still goes through Maples Pavilion in the second weekend, so the No. 2-seeded Cardinal is still one of the favorites to make it to Nashville. Chiney Ogwumike and the rest of the N-E-R-D-S will square off with the Summit League champion and 15th-seeded South Dakota Coyotes Saturday in Ames, Iowa. Getting the No. 1 seed instead in the Stanford regional is South Carolina, so that could be the potential Elite 8 showdown at Maples. However, Stanford might also have to play seventh-seeded Iowa State on its home court in Ames, provided the Cyclones get past Florida State, a team that knocked off Stanford in the second round at Maples in 2007.

USC (22-12, 11-7 Pac-12): No. 9 seed, Louisville region

The Trojans needed at least a couple of wins in the Pac-12 tourney to give themselves a chance to play in the NCAAs, but Cooper’s Troopers decided it would be best if they just erased any doubt out of the equation by upsetting Stanford in the semis and downing Oregon State in the championship game to nab the league’s automatic bid. Now, Cassie Harberts and co. will meet up with eighth-seeded St. John’s Saturday in Knoxville. Get past that, and a second-round matchup with top-seeded Tennessee is almost definitely on tap.

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