Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament Championship preview
Who: No. 1 Oregon State vs. No. 3 UCLA
When: Sunday, Mar. 6, at 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT on ESPN.
An enthralling Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament comes to a close in Seattle with the championship finale between the regular-season champion Beavers, who are looking for their first-ever Pac-12 tournament title, and UCLA, winner of the 2006 conference tourney.
Path to the Pac-12 championship: Oregon State (27-4, 16-2 Pac-12)
Well it wasn’t easy, but Oregon State has made it to Sunday for the second time in three years. At any rate, it’ll be a better result than last year, when the Beavers dropped out of the Pac-12 tourney in their first game after claiming their first-ever regular-season belt. The big three of Ruth Hamblin, Jamie Weisner and Sydney Wiese combined for 86 percent of the Beavers’ scoring in a hard-fought 63-53 quarterfinal win over USC that was a five-point game late in the fourth quarter. The Beavs then had to hold on for dear life Saturday night, escaping Key Arena with a 57-55 win over NCAA-bound Washington after not scoring a single point over the final 6:16.
When it mattered most, the Beavers relied on their bread and butter – defense. The nation’s leading field goal percentage defensive team in the land, the Beavers clamped down late in each of their first two games in Seattle. Oregon State held USC scoreless over the final 3:20 and held the Huskies to 19 percent shooting in the second half of the Saturday game, forcing the Dawgs to miss 12 of their final 14 shots.
Path to the Pac-12 championship: UCLA (24-7, 14-4 Pac-12)
With 17 seconds to go in regulation, it sure didn’t look like UCLA would be playing on Sunday. Down 61-58 with an opposing player at the foul line, the Bruins needed some serious help. Luckily for them, Cal’s Gabby Green missed two free throws and Kari Korver, who had been 0 of 12 from downtown in the Pac-12 tournament sunk a 3-pointer while getting fouled to send the game into overtime (she missed the free throw) and eventually put UCLA in a position to oust the inspired Golden Bears in the extra frame.
This came after taking a “workwoman’s approach” to playing Arizona, soundly defeating the Wildcats 72-51 in Niya Butts’ last game as head coach in Tucson. Like Oregon State, the Bruins have locked down on the defensive end of the floor – UCLA has held its tournament foes to a combined 33 percent shooting (43-for-132) and has kept each of its last five opponents under 40 percent shooting from the floor. And oh yeah, UCLA has also not allowed teams to reach their regular-season scoring average for nine straight games.
Three players to watch: Oregon State
- #11 Gabriella Hanson (5’11 Guard, Junior)- She might not be one of the big three, but she was the real MVP for the Beavers Saturday night. Tasked with guarding Kelsey Plum, Hanson helped hold Washington’s all-time leading scorer to 14 points (nearly 13 points below Plum’s season average entering Saturday) on 4-of-19 shooting. Also, her 3-pointer in the fourth quarter against Washington turned out to be Oregon State’s last bucket and the difference in the 57-55 victory, finishing with eight points and seven assists.
- #15 Jamie Weisner (5’10 Guard, Senior)- the Pac-12 Player of the Year has been the Beavers’ leading scorer in Seattle, scoring 20 points in each game and connecting on 8 of 13 3-point attempts (62 percent). She provided timely buckets against USC, going on a personal 8-0 run in the second half after the Trojans had closed the gap to within three.
- #44 Ruth Hamblin (6’6 Center, Senior)- The two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year has lived up to the accolades in Seattle, blocking three shots against both USC and Washington and altering countless others. She has also got it done on the offensive end, posting double-doubles in each game to the tune of 13.5 points and 12 rebounds per Key Arena contest.
Three players to watch: UCLA
- #3 Jordin Canada (5’6 Guard, Sophomore)- Her scoring wasn’t really needed in a 21-point blowout of Arizona, but it was certainly needed Saturday night. The Bruins’ fire-starter on offense was the overtime hero against Cal, scoring six straight points for the Bruins in OT to get UCLA to Sunday. She totaled 26 against the Golden Bears, hitting an array of jumpers off the dribble and driving inside as well.
- #25 Monique Billings (6’4 Forward, Sophomore)- The owner of the sleekest low-post moves in the Pac-12 put on a back-and-forth show with Cal’s Kristine Anigwe in the second half, trading buckets with the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and finishing with a near-double-double (22 points, nine rebounds). She has been a force on the low block defensively as well, notching four steals in each tournament game and making it tough for Cal to lob it in down low as it likes to do from the wings.
- #21 Nirra Fields (5’9 Guard, Senior)- UCLA’s leading scorer heading into the Pac-12 tournament hasn’t been producing at her expected clip statistically (small sample size, yes), but the Bruins sure could use her Sunday night. After a 2-for-11 performance against Cal, Fields is averaging 11 points on 13 shots per game at Key Arena, shooting just 31 percent from the floor this weekend (8 of 26). She’s had success against the Beavers this year, going for 20 points (albeit on 7-of-20 shooting) in a losing effort in Corvallis.
Three notes to know
- Split season series- Not only will Sunday night decide the Pac-12 tourney champ, it will also decide the UCLA-Oregon State champ. The Bruins and Beavs each won at home against each other, with UCLA taking a 71-51 decision in Los Angeles and Oregon State notching a 64-54 triumph in Corvallis. A deciding factor in the rubber match could be UCLA’s 3-point shooting – the Bruins hit 7-of-12 downtown attempts in the win and were just 1-of-4 from beyond the arc in the loss.
- She who leads after 20 minutes wins- Oregon State is 22-0 when leading at halftime. UCLA is 19-0 when leading at halftime. Better do your work early Sunday night, yo.
- Similar seeding- For all the upsets that took place this weekend (Cal’s run to the semis, Arizona taking down Oregon, Washington unseating Stanford), the championship round will feature the No. 1 seed against the No. 3 seed. This is the sixth time in Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament history that No. 1 will play No. 3 in the finals, equaling No. 1 vs. No. 2 as the most-common seeding for the Pac-12 tourney finals in its 15-year history. In the first five meetings, the No. 1 seed has won three times.