Pac-12 Feature: NCAA Women’s Basketball Regionals Preview
This season of records continues in the Pac-12.
Five teams are in the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time ever, taking decisive steps toward a run at a national championship.
“The Pac-12 and the season prepared us for this moment,” Oregon coach Kelley Graves said his team’s win over Duke in the second round. “Duke is a great team, there’s no question about it. But so is Oregon State, who we had to play twice. So is Stanford, who we had to play three times. They’re both two seeds. Washington we played a couple times, and they were a three seed. UCLA was a four seed.
“I think that’s what made these guys better. They couldn’t take a night off.”
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said that she has been texting with all of her fellow Pac-12 coaches as everyone prepares for the Sweet 16.
“I think we should have an all Pac-12 Final Four,” VanDerveer said.
With teams in all four regions of the bracket, it’s time to take a look at the regional semifinal matchups.
No. 2 Stanford (30-5) vs. No. 3 Texas (25-8)
The Cardinal, who have had quite the travel adventure since they began their NCAA journey late last week, have reached the Sweet 16 for the 10th straight season (24th overall) and are now facing a rematch against a Longhorns team that they defeated in Maples Pavilion 71-59 way back in November. Both teams are in a different place.
The Longhorns have a great inside-outside game, led by guards Brooke McCarty and Aerial Atkins and freshman wing Joyner Holmes and have rallied back to top form after a run of four losses in six games late in the season.
Stanford struggled in its opening NCAA game against New Mexico State, but found a balanced scoring groove against Kansas State in Monday’s game on the Wildcats’ home court. Brittany McPhee and Alanna Smith have established themselves as go-to scorers for the Cardinal and Stanford will need them both to have big games against Texas not to mention steady contributions from Erica McCall and the 3-point shooting of Karlie Samuelson, who has been the key to defensive game-plans in the tournament so far.
The Cardinal’s bus broke down several times on the way to the second-round game against Kansas State on Monday. And then the team was forced to spend an extra day in Kansas and skip the trip back to the Bay Area, heading straight to Lexington after their charter plane failed to show up, sitting on the tarmac in another city waiting for a part.
So Stanford players have been taking final exams in hotel ballroom and running laundry in preparation for Friday’s game.
As far as VanDerveer is concerned, it’s just more time together to prepare for what’s ahead.
“Sometimes the way things work out, it worked out even better,” VanDerveer said. ‘We are hoping it will give us the best chance of being successful.”
No. 10 Oregon vs. No. 3 Maryland (32-2)
If Quinnipiac hadn’t upset Miami on Monday night, the Ducks would be the Cinderella story of the tournament for reaching the first regional semifinal in school history.
Freshman Ruthy Hebard’s play in the post is going to be huge against Maryland star Brionna Jones. Hebard put up 20 points and 15 rebounds against Duke on Monday, is shooting better than 58 percent from the floor in the first two games, and the Ducks are going to need more where that came from. They will also need perimeter shooting from Sabrina Ionescu, Lexi Bando and Maite Carzola.
The Terrapins felt they were underseeded and their 32-2 record this season wasn’t given the respect it deserves. They head into this game still playing like they have something to prove.
Oregon, at this point, has nothing to lose and everything to gain with three freshmen on the floor getting incredibly valuable tournament experience.
No. 4 UCLA (25-8) vs. No. 1 Connecticut (34-0)
The Bruins have the toughest task in the tournament, trying to get through the five-time defending national champion Huskies to reach the Elite Eight.
Can they do it? They will need to muster all of the energy, quickness and athleticism they have shown in two straight dominating wins to do it.
These two teams haven’t played against one another since 2014.
The Bruins, led by junior guard Jordin Canada and senior post Monique Billings will have to get past Connecticut’s run of 109 straight wins to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament.
Oklahoma City Region
No. 3 Washington (29-5) vs. No. 2 Mississippi State (31-4)
Kelsey Plum now has all the NCAA scoring record and the Huskies are on a familiar path that they hope will lead them to Dallas and a second straight Final Four. Washington is one of the highest-scoring teams remaining in the tournament field, and considering that Mississippi State is coached by defensive guru Vic Schaefer, that should make for an interesting matchup.
Mississippi State has averaged more than 100 points in its first two NCAA games, but won’t want to get into an offensive shootout with the potent Huskies.
While Victoria Vivians has been the Bulldogs’ go-to player all season, Schaefer’s daughter Blair has had a great tournament so far, scoring 39 points in the first two games.
No. 2 Oregon State (31-4) vs. No. 3 Florida State (27-6)
After a pair of tough games in Corvallis to get them to this point, the Beavers are moving to the Sweet 16 for the second season in a row.
Sydney Wiese’s scoring production dropped in the first two rounds, but OSU won because they did what they do best, they played stellar defense and they relied on the complements of players like post Marie Gulich, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds against Creighton, and senior defensive stopper Gabrielle Hanson, who had a season-high 13 points. It is also key to get Katie McWIlliams back in the lineup after she missed the Pac-12 Tournament with injury.
Florida State earned its third straight trip to the Sweet 16 with a 77-55 win over Missouri. Florida State, which beat eight top 25 teams this season, boasts one of the best backcourts in the nation with Leticia Romero and Brittany Brown, and ACC Player of the Year Shakayla Thomas.
The Seminoles entered the NCAA Tournament with four losses in six games before winning their opening two rounds to advance to the regional semifinal.
Oregon State’s first-round nail-biter against Long Beach State had to be something of a wake-up call for a team with designs on a return trip to the Final Four.
A short trip to Stockton is in order for the regional, and Beaver Nation figures to make the ride south and provide the best home-court advantage of any of the four teams in the region.