2016 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament

Event: March 3-6
TV: Pac-12 Network & ESPN
KeyArena | Seattle, WA

Smith: Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament preview

GoDucks.com

Jillian Alleyne was one of the best players in the country. Among the best in the history of the Pac-12 Conference. She was named the Pac-12 Co-Player of the Year in the media vote announced on Wednesday. And playing without her on the floor changes everything for the Oregon Ducks, who were looking like an upstart threat in the Pac-12 Tournament before the senior post tore her ACL in practice on Feb. 23.

Oregon struggled last weekend, falling in games at Cal and Stanford. “It’s been kind of bittersweet,” said Ducks coach Kelly Graves. “We were playing pretty well, but last weekend was tough. This last week our world was rocked and we played like it.” Alleyne’s injury was followed two days later by a season-ending knee injury to senior guard Jordan Loera.

The two injuries have left the Ducks “in mourning”, Graves admitted. “We have to find some way to bounce back,” Graves said. “We need to reorganize ourselves and figure out what we need to do to go forward. We are looking for a new start.”

Graves said it will be difficult for Oregon to substantially change what it does at this point in the season without Alleyne on the floor. He said he is looking for other players to step up to collectively make up for Alleyne’s extraordinary contributions. At the time she was injured, she averaging 19.0 points and 13.6 rebounds a game. “Injuries hurt anytime, but they hurt more late in the season,” Graves said. “You don’t have time to adjust, to build new roles and buy into new roles. Almost everything we do involved getting her the ball or threatening to get her the ball. But this who we are now. It’s not going to change. So we are going to have to find a way to adjust quickly.”

Sun Devils seeking a rebound
“We have to rebound well.” Arizona State Charli Turner Thorne probably didn’t mean to throw out such a fitting description of the task at hand when talking about her team’s key to success in the Pac-12 Tournament. But indeed that’s precisely what the Sun Devils are looking to do. 

Arizona State entered last Sunday’s regular-season finale at UCLA with a chance to win an outright conference title and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. They fell 74-61 to the Bruins in Los Angeles.

The Sun Devils finished with a share of the regular-season title and the No. 2 seed in the tournament. “We were very disappointed in our game and effort,” said Charli Turner Thorne, the Pac-12 Coach of the Year. “That’s not always a horrible thing. A little kick in the pants going into March and we get back to the things we do best.”

The Sun Devils finished with a program-best 16-2 record in conference play in one of the best seasons in the history of the Pac-12. “We didn’t play well this past weekend, and our team knows that,” Turner Thorne said. “When you have a veteran team, they can be a lot harder on themselves than the coaches could ever be. We are excited about a chance to play some good basketball and possibly cut down some nets.”

Beavers playing for better ending
Oregon State left this tournament early last year, after winning the regular-season title. The Beavers were eliminated in the quarterfinals by No. 9 seed Colorado. “We are excited for the challenges ahead,” said Beavers coach Scott Rueck. “I don’t think we need to bring it up much more. It’s been brought up and it’s been a focal point with this team this season.”

Rueck said his team has learned a lot of lessons from that experience. “First time in that favorite position, first time as a No. 1 seed going into the tournament. We were on such a roll going into that tournament,” Rueck said. “I think we assumed that we could keep it going and lost focus on the steps it took to get there. This team has learned that and exactly what it’s going to demand. It’s a great motivator for this team and looking forward to having another opportunity.”

Bruins’ hard-earned confidence
“A tournament for the ages” is what UCLA coach Cori Close called the Pac-12 Tournament. “It never gets old this time of year,” Close said. UCLA comes into the tournament as the No. 3 seed and strong momentum after their season-closing win over Arizona State and six wins in the last seven games.

“I don’t think confidence is something that’s given, it’s earned,” Close said. “And you earn it one game at a time. I think we happen to be building some momentum. Right now this team is really confident in each other and they know the hard work that’s been put into our season.”

UCLA will be playing the Pac-12 Tournament without Kacy Swain, the senior who is the Bruins’ second-leading rebounder. Swain sustained a knee injury on Feb. 22 against Oregon State, but is expected to return in time for the NCAA Tournament. She is averaging 6.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in 27 starts this season.

Unfamiliar ground for the Cardinal
Stanford, the reigning tournament champion, enters the tournament with its lowest-ever seeding at No. 4 and will play the late game on Friday night. But the Cardinal has momentum with four straight wins after a 63-61 overtime loss to Arizona State at home back on Valentine’s Day.

“We are excited to have a bye and we will just go from there,” Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. “We are playing our best basketball of the season, we are healthy and ready to go.”

Lili Thompson will be back on the floor for Stanford after missing the weekend’s games against Oregon State and Oregon to go home following the death of her grandmother.

Huskies looking for a hometown advantage
For the fourth straight year, Washington will play the Pac-12 Tournament in its hometown. And this time, the Huskies are hoping for the breakthrough that has eluded them the first three times.

“We haven’t played into the weekend since the tournament’s been here,” said head coach Mike Neighbors. The Huskies have lost in their first-round game twice, twice they have exited in the second round.

Neighbors acknowledged that playing in Seattle might put a little extra pressure on his team. “It’s a little harder,” Neighbors said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a hinderance. But it is a little weird to be in your hometown and stay in a hotel. We don’t get the tournament feel that other teams get. That being said, Seattle is a great place to have this tournament and we’ve all done a lot of work to promote it. We embrace it.”

Buffaloes seek a strong finish 
Colorado struggled throughout the season, finishing at the bottom of the conference standings, but head coach Linda Lappe said there is plenty to be gained in Seattle at the tournament.

Last season, Colorado pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the weekend, knocking off top-seeded Oregon State as a No. 9 seed in the quarterfinals.

“We have our work cut out for us, but we feel good about how we’ve practiced this week,” Lappe said. “We are so young, so we are looking to get our young players the experience of the tournament. We are going to take every opportunity we get and enjoy the experience. I don’t know if we’ve played to our potential yet, but we get one more chance.”

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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