Pac-12 Feature: Breaking down NCAA women's basketball tournament matchups

Eric Evans/Pac-12 Conference

Seven. It’s a new standard, a new bar and a new era for Pac-12 women’s basketball as the conference earns the highest number of berths in a single NCAA Tournament field in history.

“I’m really excited to see seven Pac-12 teams in the Tournament,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, the coach who has made more NCAA Tournament appearances than any team in Pac-12 history (31). “I think it really speaks to the strength of our conference, and we wish all the Pac-12 the best, because we know everyone will do well.”

Let’s break down the paths that the Pac-12 teams will take in their NCAA journeys by seeding.

No. 2 Oregon State (29-4)
Region: Stockton
First-round matchup: No. 15 seed Long Beach State (23-10) in Corvallis.

Notable: This is the Beavers fourth straight year in the NCAA Tournament; one more win and OSU will have a 30-win season for the second consecutive year for the first time in school history.

Prospects: The Beavers, a No. 2 seed for the second year in a row, will open in the supportive confines of Gill Coliseum and if they can win two there, they will make a short trip to California to play in Stockton. But the Beavers need to find the offense they lost in the Pac-12 title game against Stanford, where they finished the game with just four second half field goals and a 17 percent shooting. That kind of scoring drought will not win you games in the NCAA Tournament. Sydney Wiese has one final opportunity to will Oregon State two wins. Katie McWIlliams’ return will certainly help OSU’s depth and give Scott Rueck more scoring options. They will need them when they get to Stockton.

No. 2 Stanford (28-5)
Region: Lexington
First-round matchup: No. 15 seed New Mexico State (24-6) in Manhattan, Kansas

Notable: The Cardinal is making its 30th straight Tournament appearance and is a No. 2 seed for the 11th time in school history.

Prospects: Stanford, the Pac-12 Tournament champions will be the lone team among the top 16 seeds who will not be on their home floor to open the Tournament because the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships are being contested at Maples Pavilion this weekend. Presuming the Cardinal can get past the WAC Champions – a team it has never faced - it faces the possibility of taking on seventh-seeded Kansas State on their home floor in the second round. The Lexington Region is full of familiar foes for Stanford, including Texas, a team that Stanford beat back in November, and top-seeded Notre Dame, the team that the Cardinal knocked out of the tournament in the Sweet 16 last season. The key to Stanford’s Final Four possibilities will be whether the Cardinal play the kind of lock-down defense it did against Oregon State in the Pac-12 title game. Do that and Stanford has a good shot to get to Dallas.

No. 3 Washington (27-5)
Region: Oklahoma City
First-round matchup: No. 14 seed Montana State (25-6) in Seattle

Notable: The Huskies have earned their highest seed since 1995.

Prospects: One of the biggest storylines in the first weekend of the Tournament will be whether Kelsey Plum can score the 50 points she needs to pass Jackie Stiles and break the NCAA’s single-season scoring mark. But the Huskies just really want to get a long NCAA Tournament run off to a good start. The intriguing possibility of a match against in-state rival Gonzaga looms in the second round, and if Washington survives, it’s then off to what many consider to be the toughest region in the bracket. Last year’s NCAA Tournament was a coming-out party for Washington, culminating in the program’s first-ever Final Four. Now the Huskies would view anything less as a big disappointment and that will drive them.

No. 4 UCLA (23-8)
Region: Bridgeport
First-round matchup: No. 13 seed Boise State (25-7) in Los Angeles

Notable: UCLA has earned a top 5 seed for the fourth time in the last seven years.

Prospects: There isn’t a team in the Bridgeport bracket who doesn’t look up, see mighty Connecticut and wish they were someplace else. But the Bruins have taken on some of the best teams in the country this season and will give teams a lot of problems with the athleticism of Monique Billings inside, and the speed and intensity of Jordin Canada on the perimeter. The question for the Bruins will be who else steps up. Kennedy Burke needs to play big and Kari Korner, the venerable senior, needs to hit some big 3s in big moments for UCLA to be a threat to come out of this region.

No. 8 Arizona State (19-12)
Region: Stockton
First-round matchup: No. 9 Michigan State (21-11) in Columbia, South Carolina

Notable: The Sun Devils are in the brackets for the fourth straight season.

Prospects: If ASU can get past the Spartans in the opening round, they face the prospect of meeting up with top-seeded South Carolina on their home floor in the second round. Kelsey Moos’ return to the lineup has yet yielded consistent offensive production, but this is Moos and Sophie Brunner’s last run in the NCAA Tournament, and the Sun Devils could well defend their way to a surprise win or two.

No. 9 California (19-13)
Region: Oklahoma City
First-round matchup: No. 8 LSU (20-11) in Waco, Texas

Notable: The Bears are back in the field after missing last year for the first time in Lindsay Gottlieb’s tenure in Berkeley.

Prospects: Cal, which lost six of its last eight games, was no shoo-in to get into the brackets and are thrilled to be there. Can they turn that gratitude into wins? This bracket is going to be a very competitive place and the Bears are going to need more than star post Kristine Anigwe to play well to earn a spot in the Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City.

No. 10 Oregon (20-13)
Region: Bridgeport
First-round matchup: No. 7 Temple (24-7) in Durham, North Carolina
Notable: The Ducks are in the Tournament field for the first time since 2005.

Prospects: Inexperienced on the floor in tournament play, but young and hungry, the Ducks will need big games from freshmen Ruthy Hebard and emerging star Sabrina Ionescu, in the running for national freshman of the year, to advance. Oregon’s secret weapon is head coach Kelly Graves, who is well acquainted with what it takes to make Cinderella runs in the Tournament, having done it a few times when he was coaching at Gonzaga.

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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