Michelle Smith Feature: Women's basketball teams gain in tough losses

The top-ranked Connecticut Huskies have opened the early part of their schedule with three games against Pac-12 opponents.

Stanford was up first, falling to the Huskies 78-53 in Columbus, Ohio, on the opening weekend of the season.

Last Friday, Cal went to Storrs, Conn., for a first-ever regular-season matchup against the Huskies, falling 82-47.

And on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, UCLA took its shot against the national title favorite, falling 78-60 at Pauley, ending the Bruins 32-game home winning streak.

Despite a 35-point loss, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said she wouldn’t hesitate to play the UConn Huskies again.

“I’m always going to say yes,” Gottlieb said. “There’s a standard and they are it. They are the best in the game. They have the best players and the best coach. They are the hardest team in the country to play, and we have to see it and experience it.”

Gottlieb said she has already referenced the Connecticut loss several times to her team since they returned from their East Coast trip, which also included a big win over her alma mater, Brown.

“Once we’ve faced the defensive pressure from UConn, Arizona State shouldn’t frighten us,” Gottlieb said. “And once we’ve seen their pace, UCLA’s pace shouldn’t seem like something new. It’s valuable and anytime Geno (Auriemma) says he wants to play us, we are going to play.”

Beavers In the Mix

Somewhere between disappointment and encouragement, the Oregon State are living right now.

On Sunday, in front of a large, loud crowd at Gil Coliseum against No. 6 Notre Dame, the Beavers led for the majority of the game, holding the advantage for more than 29 minutes and leading by as many as 11 points.

“We are disappointed that we didn’t finish and close it out,” said Beavers coach Scott Rueck, now preparing his team in North Carolina for a pair of games against North Carolina Central and then a Saturday matchup against No. 16 Duke in Durham.

“I’m encouraged by the way we competed. We are relatively inexperienced, so it was encouraging to come out and play the way we did. We approached this game correctly, we were ready to play. But when they raised their level of intensity down the stretch, that was the first time we experienced that and we didn’t match that level.”

Rueck termed the loss as a tough lesson and an opportunity for growth.

“Last year, we lost to Marquette by one point at home and it proved to be pivotal for us,” Rueck said. “I don’t think you need to lose to learn, but we can take some things away from this.”

Oregon State is finding its new sources of offense, with four players in double figures against Notre Dame, including sophomore Mikayla Pivec’s team-leading 19 points.

Pivec is running the point for the first time in her collegiate career, a position occupied for four years by star Sydney Wiese.

“We’ve got some new people in new spots and it’s hard to adjust on the fly,” Rueck said. “We will be able to do that better down the road. (Against Notre Dame), we did well for who we are at the moment. We have the talent to play with anyone and it’s a matter of them gaining experience.”

The Beavers are a “work in progress’ on both ends of the floor, Rueck said.

“There’s a reason we schedule games like Notre Dame and Duke, to grow quickly,” Rueck said. “I see this team getting better every day. They want to follow in the steps of those who came before them. They want to cut down nets.”

Triple-Double Legacy

Oregon sophomore Sabrina Ionescu is just another great day away from an NCAA record, less than 40 games into her collegiate career. Ionescu has two triple-doubles already this season, bringing her career total to six, which is one short of the NCAA record of 7 held by Suzie McConnell Serio, currently the head coach at Pitt, and former Saint Mary’s star Louella Tomlinson.

Ionescu is currently tied for the Pac-12 record with Nicole Powell, who set the record at Stanford during her All-American career. Powell was Ionescu’s coach last year while on the staff at Oregon. Powell is now the head coach at Grand Canyon University.

“She’s going to blow that thing out of the water,” Powell said. “Which is so awesome because she is so good.”

Powell first saw Ionescu as a high school recruit when she was coaching with now-Oregon coach Kelly Graves at Gonzaga.

“I had just started that week,” Powell said “I will never forget a one-handed, lefty bounce pass she threw from just past half court to a kid in the corner for a three. And it was perfect timing. I wrote in my book, 'passes like Bird, has range like Taurasi.’ It didn’t take long to see how special she is.”

Powell said Ionescu is “far more advanced” as a player than Powell was at this point in her career.

“She’s going to go down as one of the all-time greats,” Powell said.

After Ionescu earned her first triple-double last season, Powell presented her and her father the stat sheet.

“She smiled when I gave it to her,” Ionescu said. “But I don’t think it’s lost on her. She is just playing. She’s not going after anything. It’s just her game.”

Thanksgiving Challenge

The Stanford Cardinal headed to Las Vegas for the Play4Kay Tournament with the availability of their leading scorer up in the air. Senior guard Brittany McPhee, who is averaging 16.5 points a game, has sat out the Cardinal’s last two games after sustaining a right foot injury in the exhibition season. McPhee played against Ohio State and Connecticut in the opening weekend, but hasn’t been back on the floor since.

McPhee is listed as day-to-day, but it’s not clear whether she will be available to play in the tournament.

Stanford (2-2) opens tournament play against Kent State on Thanksgiving Day at 5:30 p.m.

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