Pac-12 Feature: Teams Looking at Final Stretch of Regular Season
Washington’s trip into the national rankings was more fleeting that the Huskies might have liked.
The Huskies came into the rankings at No. 25 two weeks ago, moved up to No. 24 last week. And this week, after a sweep at the hands of the Oregon schools, Washington is again on the outside looking in.
“We knew it was going to be like this in our league,” said Huskies coach Mike Neighbors. “Everybody is going to have a tough weekend.”
The losses against Oregon State and Oregon, both at home, dropped the Huskies to 16-7 overall and 7-5 in conference play. Washington is in fifth place, two games behind UCLA and Stanford who are tied for third.
Sunday’s loss in Seattle was particularly hard to swallow for Washington, with the Huskies holding a 17-point lead in the third quarter. But Oregon, which has won six of its past seven games, turned in its most impressive performance yet.
“Oregon is playing as well as anyone in the league,” Neighbors said.
Washington has lost three of four after starting the conference with a 6-2 record.
Neighbors said the key to the Huskies success is finding offensive contributors beyond leading scorer Kelsey Plum, who has led the nation in scoring for most of the season and is still in the top-two at 27.1 points a game.
“Kelsey scores the same points in games whether we win or lose,” Neighbors said. “It’s when other people step up that makes the difference for us.”
Next up for the Huskies is one of the toughest trips in conference play against USC and UCLA in Los Angeles.
“Being ranked is great,” Neighbors said. “We were happy to be there and would be happy to be there again. But what’s most important is playing well.”
Ducks on a roll…
The hottest team in the conference at this point might well be the Oregon Ducks, who have won six of their last seven games, moving into sixth place in the conference standings at 6-6 heading into this weekend’s home set against Utah and Colorado.
Oregon has rebounded in a big way from an 0-5 start to conference play.
“We’ve been playing a lot better the past few weeks and it’s pretty exciting,” said Ducks coach Kelly Graves. “Nobody on this team, not even our fifth year seniors, have been on a team with a winning record. This is a first for them. They have never really been playing in meaningful games this time of year, playing for something and I think they are really enjoying it.
“It’s cool to watch them look at the standings and see who is coming up next.”
Graves said his team was playing well even at the start of the season, but couldn’t close out.
“I don’t think we’ve really turned anything around. I think we’ve been playing good basketball throughout,” Graves said.
The record update for senior Jillian Alleyne continues as she ranks third in the NCAA all-time in double-doubles with 89. Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris holds the NCAA record with 128.
Alleyne is also on pace to set the Pac-12’s career rebounding average record. Her current average of 14.5 is in line to pass UCLA’s Natalie Williams (12.8)
USC, Utah looking for a surge
The Trojans and the Utes are two teams in the middle of the conference standings, looking for a late-season surge.
The Trojans gave first-place Arizona State all they could handle last weekend, very nearly pulling off an upset. At 5-7 in conference play and 17-7 overall, USC has a strong RPI and four home games out of their last six in Pac-12 play to improve their position in the conference tournament.
Temi Fagbenle has scored in double figures in nine of the past 10 games.
Utah (14-9, 6-6) righted the ship after a five-game losing streak to sweep rivalry games against last-place Colorado last weekend.
Next up is a tough road trip to Oregon to face the Ducks and then the first-place Beavers.
But with six games to go – four of those on the road - the Utes can’t help but think about the postseason.
“I have learned after doing this long enough, that when you start looking ahead, that’s when you can trip because you aren’t looking where you are walking,” Utes coach Lynne Roberts told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s getting to the point with three weeks left in the regular season, where our players, they are not dumb, they know, they’re tracking.”
On the marquee…
One of the biggest games of the weekend will be Arizona State’s Sunday night date at Stanford. The last time the two teams met, the Cardinal suffered one of their worst losses in their long history in conference play.
Back on January 4, Arizona State dominated the Cardinal in Tempe, winning 49-31 and holding Stanford to its lowest point total in program history.
Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne expects a different game at Maples Pavilion.
“We’ve prepared ourselves for that,” said Turner Thorne, whose team won at Maples last season for the first time since 1984. “It takes a lot to win games like this, and at this point in the season, the key for us right now is to embrace the grind and play a little harder to match what I know we are going to see from them.”
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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