2017-18 Women's Basketball campaign tips off this weekend

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The Pac-12 is looking towards another exciting campaign after back-to-back history-making seasons where a league-record two teams advanced to the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2016 then followed up with a Pac-12-record seven NCAA Tournament teams in 2017. Six Pac-12 teams enter the season ranked in the top-25 in the nation, including two in the top 10 of the Associated Press and USA Today/WBCA Coaches polls. It is the first time since 1992-93 the Conference has had two teams in the preseason top 10 ... Publications have tabbed several players for preseason All-America status, including UCLA’s Jordin Canada and CALIFORNIA’s Kristine Anigwe. Both were named preseason All-Americans by Street & Smith’s, Athlon’s and Lindy’s ... The coaches and the media who regularly cover Pac-12 women’s basketball were in agreement and both picked the Bruins to win the Pac-12 regular-season ... Several Pac-12 players have garnered preseason recognition for national awards with announcements of more  watch lists still to come. UCLA’s Kennedy Burke is on the watch lists for the Anne Meyers Drysdale (shooting guard) and Cheryl Miller (small forward) Awards. Joining Burke on the watch list for best shooting guard are Lexi Bando (Oregon) and Brittany McPhee (Stanford). COLORADO’s Kennedy Leonard, Canada and OREGON’s Sabrina Ionescu (2017 USBWA National Freshman of the Year) were named to the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list for top point guard ... Nine of the 15 All-Pac-12 honorees from 2017 return for the 2017-18 campaign.

PRESEASON HONORS:

Street & Smith’s
Preseason All-American

Jordin Canada, UCLA (first team)
Monique Billings, UCLA (second team)
Kristine Anigwe, CAL (third team)
Marie Gulich, OSU (third team)
Ruthy Hebard, ORE (third team)
Sabrina Ionescu, ORE (third team)
Brittany McPhee, STAN (third team)

Lindy’s Preseason All-American
Sabrina Ionescu, ORE (second team)
Kristine Anigwe, CAL (third team)
Jordin Canada, UCLA (third team)

Athlon’s Preseason All-American
Kristine Anigwe, CAL (second team)
Jordin Canada, UCLA (second team)

AP Preseason All-American
RV: Kristine Anigwe, CAL; Jordin Canada, UCLA

NANCY LIEBERMAN AWARD WATCH LIST (PG)
Kennedy Leonard, COLO
Sabrina Ionescu, ORE
Jordin Canada, UCLA

ANN MEYERS DRYSDALE AWARD WATCH LIST
(Shooting Guard)

Lexi Bando, ORE
Brittany McPhee, STAN
Kennedy Burke, UCLA

CHERYL MILLER AWARD WATCH LIST
(Small Forward)

Kennedy Burke, UCLA

PRESEASON NOTEBOOK:

ARIZONA • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 13 vs. Iona
• The Wildcats return just three players from last year’s squad, two of which were starters. Another four freshmen join the team for 2016-17 with four transfers added as well, one of which will be able to play this season.
• Head coach Adia Barnes will depend heavily on returning starter sophomore Lucia Alonso, one of the first players to sign with Barnes last fall. Hailing from Spain, she brings international experience with her as a member of the U18 Spanish National Team. She led the Wildcats in three-point shooting last season.
• The only other starter returning is junior Destiny Graham. One of just two seniors on the team, Jalea Bennett played in all 30 games last season, earning five starts. She averaged 6.9 points last season and was the second-best free-throw shooter on the squad.
• Senior transfer Kat Wright will try to make a big impact in her only season with the Wildcats. A transfer from Florida Atlantic, she will play immediately due to a medical redshirt last season, giving UA added depth from the three-point line. A 40-percent shooter from long range, she sunk 11 threes in a game in January 2016, the second-most threes in a game in NCAA history.
• Barnes has just 11 players on the roster this season, three of which are not eligible to play because of NCAA transfer rules. In addition to limited option this year, Barnes also has a young squad. But practices should be competitive with transfers from programs such as Washington, Purdue and Iowa State.

ARIZONA STATE • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 12 vs. UTSA
• The Sun Devils advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it nearly knocked off eventual NCAA Champion South Carolina, losing by a margin of 71-68. It was ASU’s fourth-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, but 2017-18 leaves little to build on.
• With the departures of go-tos Sophie Brunner and Quinn Dornstauder, no seniors on the roster and four newcomers, Charli Turner Thorne will need to determine who can fill their roles.
• The only two starters returning are sophomore Reili Richardson and junior Sabrina Haines. Richardson led the team in assists last season, was the team’s third-leading scorer (and highest-returning scorer) and was named honorable mention Pac-12 All-Freshman team. She was also selected to the USA U19 World Cup team and that experience will elevate her play. Haines averaged just a half a point less than Richardson and was in the top-three on the squad in assists and steals.
• ASU welcomes two freshmen and a pair of transfers. Among the transfers is junior Courtney Ekmark who lands in Tempe after spending two seasons at Connecticut. Her experience winning two national championships at UConn will serve a young squad well.

CALIFORNIA • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 10 vs. Saint Mary’s (Calif.)
• After missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Lindsay Gottlieb arrived on campus in 2011-12, the Golden Bears clawed their way in last season, advancing to the second round. Cal looks to continue that momentum with 10 letterwinners returning, including four starters back, and the No. 17 recruiting class in the nation joining the team.
• Junior Kristine Anigwe will continue to be the focal point of the Bears. The national freshman of the year two years ago, she commands a lot of attention from opposing defenses, as the only player on the team to average double figure scoring and nearly 10.0 rebounds per game.
• Anigwe, along with teammates Mi’Cole Cayton, Mikayla Cowling and Asha Thomas competed in the USA Basketball 3x3 National Tournament, which pitted seven Pac-12 teams against each other in a pilot program, governed by FIBA 3x3 rules.
• A three-year starter, Cowling led the team in assists and was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team. A junior this season, Thomas is a threat from long range, knocking down 69 threes, the second-most in a season in Bears history. She has started every game the last two seasons. Cayton had a strong rookie campaign, earning 12 starts. She scored 18 points in the upset of UCLA last season.

COLORADO • Nov. 10 at Samford; Nov. 12 at North Carolina
• The Buffs were a much-improved team in 2016-17, winning 10 more overall games than the year before and two more league games than the previous season. In the first season under head coach JR Payne, Colorado finished tied for ninth in the Pac-12 and advanced to the first round of the WNIT. It was the first time the Buffs had been to the postseason in three years.
• In trying to rebuild Colorado and take it back to the level it once was when it went to the NCAA Tournament in 10 out of 13 years from 1992-2004, Payne has brought in eight newcomers to go which will make this year’s edition of the Buffs very different from last season.
• Only five letterwinners return, three of which are starters. Juniors Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson were the team’s leading scorers last year, and return to lead the team in 2017-18. Voted to the All-Pac-12 team, Leonard became the scoring threat Payne challenged her to be and ranked in the top five in scoring in the Pac-12, while also averaging the second-most assists and steals in the Conference.
• Robinson was the team’s second-leading scorer and a solid all-around threat. She has spent the offseason rehabbing a knee injury suffered in the postseason last year. Her expected return this fall will be highly anticipated.
• Zoe Correal and Brecca Thomas are the only two seniors on the team. Correal was a regular starter, averaging 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
• Payne’s first recruiting class at Colorado includes top-100 rated recruit Aubrey Knight. A California State Player of the Year in her division, she is a big guard that could make an immediate impact.

OREGON • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 10 vs. CSUN; Nov. 12 Preseason WNIT
• The Ducks outperformed expectations last season, first earning a NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2005, then advancing to their first-ever NCAA Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. With nine letterwinners returning, including all five starters, the expectations have increased for Oregon exponentially.
• Leading the way is USBWA National Freshman of the Year Sabrina Ionescu. She made herself known right away. Aside from ranking in the top 10 in the Pac-12 in seven statistical categories, including 10th in points per game, fourth in assists and second in assist-to-turnover ratio, she led the nation with four triple-doubles, already making her one of just three players in league history with multiple triple-doubles in their careers.
• Sophomore Ruthy Hebard also emerged as a big-time player last season, averaging nearly 14 points and 8.5 rebounds per game to rank in the top 10 in both categories in her rookie campaign.
• Junior Maite Cazorla returns with an abundance of experience at point guard, serving in that role since her freshman season. Senior Lexi Bando is back as the outside threat, ranking second in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting and a big reason the Ducks ranked fourth in the category.
• Sophomore center Mallory McGwire was one of three freshmen in the starting lineup last season, the only team in the NCAA Tournament with three rookies starting. Though she has a strong inside presence, she can hurt teams from the outside, boasting a 53 percent shooting percentage last season, good for second in the Pac-12.
• Fourth-year head coach Kelly Graves has not let up on the recruiting trail, even after a top-three rated class last year. Graves has signed two of the top international prospects, including Satou Sabally, the No. 1 prospect in the world out of Germany.

OREGON STATE • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 10 vs. North Dakota
• For the first time in the history of the program, the Beavers have made three-consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, including the program’s first-ever NCAA Women’s Final Four appearance. Head coach Scott Rueck has built a national contender in eight years, also claiming three-consecutive regular-season Pac-12 crowns.
• OSU lost its most impactful players over the last two seasons that helped put the Beavers back onto the national scene, players like Gabriella Hanson, Ruth Hamblin, Jamie Weisner and Sydney Wiese. Replacing them will be a tough challenge but Rueck has already brought in high-caliber players to help challenge for another league title and an NCAA Tournament bid.
• Senior Marie Gulich is one of two starters returning and the only senior. Her strength is taking up space in the paint as a 6-5 center, ranking in the top-10 in the league in rebounding.
• Sophomore Mikayla Pivec was a reliable guard for the Beavers and was a utility player of sorts, contributing points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
• Junior Katie McWilliams and sophomore Kat Tudor played in the majority of games. Tudor had the second-best three-point shooting percentage and the second-most threes on the team behind Wiese.
• Known for its defensive-minded play, OSU has had the last three Pac-12 Defensive Players of the Year, most recently Hanson.
• Rueck has four incoming recruits that make up a top-20 recruiting class. Taya Corosdale will add to the Beavs inside which includes five players measuring 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-8. She is ranked No. 26 in the nation.

STANFORD • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 10 at #5 Ohio State; Nov. 12 vs. #1 Connecticut
• Stanford will once again be in the conversation of top teams in the Pac-12 and the nation. The defending Pac-12 Tournament Champion is coming off its 13th all-time NCAA Women’s Final Four appearance. The Cardinal lost three key starters but has added top talent to help fill the voids left by graduating seniors Erica McCall, Karlie Samuelson and Briana Roberson. The Cardinal were third in the country in total blocks and rebounds, two categories where McCall had the biggest impact.
• Senior Brittany McPhee was vastly improved in her junior campaign, averaging nearly 7.0 points per game more than her sophomore season. She is a big guard that is a threat from the three-point line and on the inside, as well.
• Senior Kaylee Johnson was a strong presence on the inside as a starter, especially on the boards, and junior Marta Sniezek was a spark off the bench last season, leading the team in assists while earning starts in nine games.
• Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer brought in a talented class last season that made an immediate impacts, including Nadia Finghall in the post and DiJonai Carrington, an athletic guard, both of whom helped VanDerveer win her 1,000th-career game. The head coach has followed up with the fifth-rated recruiting class in the country, that includes two top-11 prospects and a pair of high school All-Americans in Kiana Williams (#8) and Maya Dodson (#11). Williams was named the Jordan Brand Classic MVP.
• Stanford faces a challenging schedule, as usual, opening the campaign with a tough road trip to face Ohio State, then follows up with Connecticut two days later. It will be the first meeting UConn and Stanford in three years.

UCLA • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 10 vs. San Jose State; Nov. 12 vs. Presbyterian College
• UCLA’s No. 1 2014 recruiting class are now seniors, including Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. After winning the WNIT title as freshmen, the duo have led the Bruins to back-to-back NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances for the first time in program history.
• Billings and Canada have raised the profile of the Bruin program since arriving on campus. A preseason national player of the year and All-American candidate, Canada was the team’s third-leading scorer and while also ranking in the top 15 in the nation and leading the Pac-12 in assists per game and assist-to-turnover ratio.
• Also an All-American candidate, Billings was one of just two players in the Pac-12 to average a double-double, along with former Washington Husky and All-American Chantel Osahor. Defenders have a hard time keeping up with her in the paint, often drawing contact and sending her to the line last season the seventh-most of anyone in the country, third in the Pac-12.
• In addition to Billings and Canada returning, senior starter Kelli Hayes is also back. She was a part of that headline-making recruiting class in 2014, as well. Junior Kennedy Burke had a breakout season as a sophomore. A big guard, she is an outside scoring threat.
• Head coach Cori Close has done another stellar job on the recruiting trail, signing the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation. The class includes three five-star recruits, including  Michaela Onyenwere (#10, high school All-American) and Chantel Horvat (#15) who are both ranked in the top 15 in the nation.
• With so much talent and experience on the squad, the Bruins will be a tough opponent for any team on the schedule, and will figure in the national scene and compete for a Pac-12 title.

USC • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 13 at UC Riverside
• USC will have a familiar face on the sideline this season with head coach Mark Trakh returning at Galen Center after eight years away. In his previous five seasons at USC from 2004-09, he led the Trojans to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and a top-five finish in the Pac-10 every season, including a tie for second his first season.
• Trakh’s first order of business was to put together his coaching staff, which was with him at New Mexico State. In his last three seasons with the Aggies, NMSU won three-consecutive WAC titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
• On the floor, Trakh welcomes back nearly the full squad from last season’s team with 11 letterwinners returning, including four starters. Senior Jordan Adams has been dealing with several injuries in her career and now looks to close out her time at USC healthy and helping the team win games. Last season, she was coming off a career season averaging 12.8 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game in 12 games, before being sidelined.
• Senior Kristen Simon led the team in points (14.5) and rebounds (8.5) per game, both the best of her career. The power forward was an All-Pac-12 honoree last season and will be depended on to be the focal point in the paint with a guard-heavy roster.
• Starters junior Sadie Edwards and sophomore Ja’Tavia Tapley have another year of experience, while sophomore Minyon Moore could compete for a starting role after leading the team in assists and steals and was second in scoring.
• Incoming freshmen Ayanna Clark and Shalexxus Aaron are top-83 rated prospects. Clark is a local product and was named a high school All-American.

UTAH • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 10 vs. Nevada; Nov. 13 at Alabama
• Head coach Lynn Roberts employed a balanced offense last season with four of the five starters averaging at least 10 points per game. The core of that team returns with seniors Emily Potter and Tanaeya Boclair leading the team, as is junior Erika Bean.
• A 2016 All-Pac-12 honoree, Potter spent some time over the summer with Team Canada and that experience should help her to be an even bigger force in the paint on both the offensive and defensive sides. Potter averaged 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, both solid numbers and tops on the team but down from her sophomore campaign when she averaged a double-double (15.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg). She should be motivated to close out her campaign on a strong note.
• Bean was the primary distributor of the ball, leading to the third-best assists average in the league. She looks to diect the offense again. Boclair is a versatile player, also contributing in assists, steals and blocks.
• The Utes have plenty of experience on the roster and look to mentor a big incoming class that includes six newcomers. All the returnees saw playing time in the majority of games last season.
• The highlight of the incoming class is a top-100, four-star prospect Tori Williams. The Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year, she has the talents to score from the outside, stretching the defense and giving Utah’s posts space in the paint to score. If the Utes are going to move up the standings, they will need that balance throughout the team, again.

Washington • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 12 vs. Idaho State
• After back-to-back headline-making seasons and just one starter back from last year, the Huskies will be in a rebuilding phase. And with a new head coach in the ranks in Jody Wynn, the Huskies will have a lot to learn about the new staff.
• The Huskies have big shoes to fill with the graduations of the NCAA’s all-time scoring leader and consensus national player of the year Kelsey Plum, All-American Chantel Osahor and Katie Collier. Plum and Osahor, especially, were the focal point of the offense, which ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation, accounting for over 55 percent of the points. Plum led the nation in scoring, while Osahor was the nation’s rebounding and double-doubles leader.
• That dynamic duo will be not replaced, instead the Huskies are going to have to set their own identity without them, starting with veteran Natalie Romeo, the only returning starter. Romeo was a weapon from long range, ranking in the top 25 in the country in threes made.
• Juniors Deja Strother and Hannah Johnson have game experience, with Johnson earning three starts last season. Seniors Jenna Moser and Mackenzie Weiburg were both practice players who earned spots on the squad and will be looked to for leadership.
• Sophomores Mai-Loni Henson and Amber Melgoza also return to build on the experience they received playing in a combined 26 games.
• Five newcomers join the squad this season that bring with them a wealth of high school accolades and should be able to contribute right away.

Washington State • SEASON OPENER: Nov. 10 vs. at UC Davis; Nov. 12 vs. Saint Mary’s (Calif.)
• The Cougs lose just one from last season’s roster that advanced to the semifinal of the WNIT, returning 12 letterwinners and add to it a trio of incoming freshmen. Last season’s postseason first-round victory was the first postseason win in the history of the program. WSU and head coach June Daugherty look to build on that but health will be a contributing factor.
• The 2015-16 freshman sensation of Borislava Hristova was injured after nine games into her sophomore season. During her rookie campaign, she was one of the top-scoring freshmen in the nation, averaging just over 16 points per game. She looked to be on the same track last season before being sidelined because of injury, leading the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game. Her return to the court will be highly anticipated for the Cougs, and will be a bonus for a team that has already achieved so much.
• Sophomore Chanelle Molina also burst onto the scene in Pullman, taking over the for the injured Hristova. She was named the national freshman of the week after putting on a performance where she scored 33 points in a game but was sidelined just weeks into Conference play.
• Ten different players earned starts last season, a testament to the Cougs’ ability to make adjustments and Daughtery’s ability to get the most of her players. Six different players last season averaged at least 8.0 points per game, including Pinelopi Pavlopoulou, a senior guard who upped her game in the postseason averaging 13.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg in five WNIT games
• Starting nearly every game last season, senior Caila Hailey was a honorable mention Pac-12 All-Defensive team honoree after ranking third in the Pac-12 with 2.1 steals per game.
• Redshirt sophomore Nike McClure did a solid job of clogging up the pain in her collegiate debut. She ranked in the top 15 in the Pac-12 in blocked shots. She will need to continue in that role if the Cougars are going to make much-needed improvements on defense, as well.

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