Rockne's Weekly Wrap-Up
March 1, 2006
By Dick Rockne
Based on what they've done lately, as in the second half of the Pac-10 regular season, the Arizona State and Stanford women's basketball teams clearly are the class of the league going into the Conference tournament at San Jose.
By going 9-0 in the second half, coach Charli Turner Thorne's Sun Devils beat every other team in what collectively might be the most competitive Pac-10 group ever. In winning the regular-season championship, Stanford went 8-1 in the second half with its only loss to you know who.
In addition to their domination of the opposition the past four weeks, ASU and Stanford appear assured of being the Pac-10's highest seeded teams in the NCAA tournament, no matter what happens at San Jose. The Sun Devils are No. 12 on the most recent NCAA-generated RPI list; the Cardinal is No. 17. Among Pac-10 teams, UCLA is next at No. 37.
So, in predicting that ASU and Stanford are destined to play for the tournament championship next Monday night at HP Pavilion, one doesn't have to crawl too far out on a limb.
Trying to figure anything else out about the tournament is much more difficult.
At the end of the 18-game, regular-season marathon, only two games separated the four teams that finished from third to sixth places. No. 3 seed UCLA will play No. 6 California in a matchup of teams that split their regular-season series. It's the same with No. 4 Washington against No. 5 USC. The Huskies and Women of Troy each won on the rival's floor.
And what about Friday's so-called play-in games? Can No. 10-seed Washington State generate some positive offseason momentum by winning its first Pac-10 tournament game ever in a match with No. 7 Oregon State? Can No. 9 Arizona extend its emotional season by beating No. 8 Oregon?
Great weight should not be attached to the following opinions.
No. 7 Oregon State (7-11, 14-13) vs. No. 10 Washington State (2-16, 8-19).Despite a lack of depth, the Beavers are coming off two straight victories, over USC and Texas-Pan American, and four wins in their past six games. OSU seniors Kim Butler(19.1 points per game) and Mandy Close at point guard could be the difference makers as OSU goes for a third victory over Kate Benz and the Cougars. Prediction: Oregon State.
No. 8 Oregon (5-13, 14-14) vs. No. 9 Arizona (3-15, 7-21). The Ducks will have a size advantage in their bid to end a five-game losing streak. Arizona will be trying to snap a nine-game losing streak on a floor where the late Shawntinice Polk played so many outstanding games for the Wildcats. The teams split in the regular season with Arizona winning 81-72 (ot) and losing, 78-58. Prediction: Arizona.
No. 3 UCLA (12-6, 17-10) vs. No. 6 California (10-9, 18-10). The Bruins will have experience, their three all-Pac-10 guards (Nikki Blue, Lisa Willis and Noelle Quinn) and the momentum generated by seven wins in their past nine games going for them. California will counter with its four fantastic freshmen and hard-nosed defense. Prediction: UCLA
No. 2 Arizona State (14-4, 23-5) vs. Oregon State. The Sun Devils' depth - nine players average from 10.3 minutes to 26.3 minutes of playing time per game -- will be too great for the personnel-shy Beavers to overcome. Prediction: Arizona State.
No. 1 Stanford (15-3, 21-6) vs. Arizona. The Cardinal has too much inside (Brooke Smith and Kristen Newlin) and outside (Candice Wiggins and Krista Rappahahn) for the Wildcats to counter. Prediction: Stanford.
No. 4 Washington (11-7, 18-9) vs. No. 5 USC (11-7, 17-10). The Huskies are coming off horrendous losses at Stanford and California. If their psyches have recovered, their superior depth should be enough to carry them against depth-shy USC. Prediction: Washington.
UCLA vs. Arizona State. The Sun Devils' defense - opponents are averaging just 59.7 points per game -- and deep bench should counter effectively the explosiveness of UCLA's offense. Prediction: Arizona State.
Washington vs. Stanford. Less than two weeks after suffering a 100-69 loss to the Cardinal, the Huskies might be (a) too overwhelmed by the prospect of meeting Stanford again or (b) anxious to make amends for the setback. Prediction: Stanford.
Arizona State vs. Stanford. If Turner Thorne's players are as confident as their coach, ASU should win its first tournament title since it captured the first one, at Eugene in 2002.
'We have good quickness,'' Turner Thorne said this week. 'We have athleticism. We don't quite have their size but we have a little more depth than they do. I think we do have great team defense. While they're a tremendous offensive team I think we can match up with them and maybe take a few things away from them that are not usually taken away from them. Although that's not easy to do with Candice and Brooke and Co.
'I think we're at a point in our program where we can pretty much match up with anybody. I think we've proven that throughout the season. It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to come out on top but ... it's pretty fun to be in a situation where when you go into a game it's just a question about executing your game plan. You're not lacking in talent at any position and you don't have any major glaring weaknesses, either offensively or defensively. It's been fun.'
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said she is surprised that her team emerged as 'clear-cut' winners of the regular-season championship.
'We lost five seniors,'' VanDerveer said of those players who graduated after last season. 'We had to plug a couple freshmen (Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Jillian Harmon) into our lineup. Kristen Newlin was injured. I'm really proud of our team and our coaches.''
Winning, she said, has to do with respect.
'What we do is we really respect each opponent in the Pac-10 and don't place any value on one game over another,'' VanDerveer said. 'Each game is extremely important. That way we avoid peaks and valleys.''
Prediction: Arizona State.
TOURNAMENT NOTES: Since the Pac-10 tournament began in 2002, lower-seeded teams have defeated a higher seeded team in 22 percent of the 36 games played (8 of 36). The only No. 1 seed to lose was Stanford, which occurred in the first tournament when it fell to No. 3 Arizona State in the championship game at Eugene. ... Since then, Stanford has won nine straight tournament games, good enough for three straight tourney titles. .... Stanford (four times), Arizona State (two) and Arizona (two) are the only schools that have played in the championship game. ... This will be the third straight year the tournament has been held in San Jose's HP Pavilion, where it is scheduled to be contested through 2008. ... A Stanford record that could fall during the tournament is the school mark of 81 three-point shots made in a season by Jamie Carey in 2000. Closing in are Rappahahan, who has 75, and Wiggins, who has 74. ... By winning the regular-season title Stanford made everybody - coaches and media members - experts. In preseason polls both groups picked the Cardinal to win it. After that, neither group was particularly accurate. The coaches had USC, ASU and UCLA finishing second, third and fourth. The media had UCLA, USC and ASU finishing 2-3-4. The actual finish behind Stanford was ASU then UCLA, while Washington and USC tied for fourth.