Pac-12 Feature: Who’s in, who’s out, who’s rolling and who’s struggling

Timothy Gonzales/Associated Press

If this was March, NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee chair Chris Dawson would have been required to get up and leave the room when Pac-12 teams were discussed in relation to the NCAA Tournament bracket.

“This however, was a phone call, and I couldn’t exactly leave a phone call,” Dawson said, explaining the process in which the committee voted on and released its top 10 teams, an effort to generate some mid-season excitement for the game. “I just stayed out of that part of the conversation.”

Dawson, the longtime Pac-12 associate commissioner, was happy to stay quiet in these circumstances.

The Pac-12, with its No. 1 RPI and the strongest, deepest field the league has seen in many years, dominated the conversation.

With Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA all earning Top 10 nods, the Pac-12 led all conferences when the top 10 was released on Monday.

“Taking off my committee hat, I’m thrilled with how well the conference is doing,” Dawson said. “The coaches really committed to great scheduling and the teams are performing at a high level. The conference is growing fast and it’s captured people’s attention.”

Dawson said nothing the Pac-12 is doing is coming as a surprise to the committee members.

“They’ve seen the growth happening through these past few years,” Dawson said. “They are aware of the quality of our teams.”

UCLA’s selection into the top 10 was probably the biggest surprise of the reveal. The Bruins are in third place in the Pac-12 standings and ranked No. 14 in the country this week.

Dawson said UCLA (16-5, 8-2) earned its spot because of its strength of schedule and the fact that the Bruins don’t have any bad losses so far.

“Even in their losses to quality teams they showed how competitive they are,” Dawson said. “There was a group in that top 10 that everybody was pretty sure about. And then there were another five or six teams, and that’s where all the discussion was. Each team had its merits. But UCLA has shown that it can play with anyone.”

CARD ON OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Absent from the list of top 10 teams was Stanford, the team with the best RPI in the conference at No. 6. The Cardinal find themselves in fourth place in the standings at 8-3. Friday night’s game at Cal will put the program in the position for the 996th win in program history.

“Right now, we are a very young team,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of her squad, without a senior on the floor for the first time since the 2002-2003 season. “Our conference is being dominated by teams that are led by juniors and seniors right now, which is always the case. Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA were those teams a year or two ago. They have taken their lumps and now they are dishing it out to other people.

“For us, it’s really early. It’s all about staying healthy and continuing to improve. We are counting on being able to play our best basketball in the next month and into March. But there’s a lot of work to do.”

BEAVERS HEALTHY AND ROLLING
Oregon State’s starting lineup in Monday’s nationally televised 67-44 win over Arizona State was Gabby Hanson, Jamie Weisner, Sydney Wiese, Deven Hunter and Ruth Hamblin, marking the first time in more than a month the Beavers’ starting lineup took the floor together intact.

Healthy or not, the Beavers reeled off their eighth straight win to tie for first place in the Pac-12 standings.

Oregon State coach Scott Rueck called it his team’s best performance of the season.

"As a coach, you are so excited to be a part of games like this," Rueck said after the game, "Because you know it's gonna get your team to a level that you can't get unless you play against a great team. There's no way to get there in practice. There's no way.”

UTAH LOOKING TO STOP SKID
The Utes are trying to put a stop to a five-game winning streak – a tough tumble after a 4-1 start – by doing what they do best…rebound.

Utah has out-rebounded opponents in 17-of-21 games this season with an 8.2 rebounding advantage against opponents, the second-best number in the Pac-12, behind Oregon State.

The Utes opened the home-and-home rivalry series with Colorado Thursday night looking to get back on the winning track against the struggling Buffs.

COUGS RETURN HOME

A team that can relate to Utah’s plight is Washington State. The Cougars have also dropped four in a row and are heading home for Friday night’s game against Oregon.

The Cougars are so close to being a team with a much better record. They have played in nine games this season in which the game was within two possessions in the final two minutes. WSU has a 4-5 record in those games.

SUN DEVILS REGROUP AT WELLS FARGO
Arizona State is coping with life after a loss for the first time since December 5 after a 15-game winning streak ended in Corvallis on Monday night. The win streak was tied for the longest in program history.

“I’m not going to lie, I think we were a little complacent,” said Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne. “It’s hard…we started conference play killing everybody and we played a tough preseason schedule. But you can’t be like that against Oregon State at home.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse. 

 
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