Dick Rockne Predicts Arizona State to Win 2007 State Farm Pac-10 Tournament Title

Feb. 27, 2007

By Dick Rockne

It can be about relieving frustrations, achieving goals and maybe just countering a disappointing season by playing a spoiler role.

Can Arizona State erase the memory of two close losses to Stanford that cost the Sun Devils a perfect Pac-10 Conference regular-season record? Can California continue to prove that the loss by injury of a proven point guard need not result in collapse?

Can Oregon do unto Cal what the Ducks did in beating the Bears by 20 less than two weeks ago? Can Washington improve its post-season stature while at the same time end USC's hope of earning a berth in the NCAA tournament?

What about UCLA? Can the Bruins rekindle the championship memories of 2006? What about Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and Washington State?

Going into the sixth annual Pac-10 women's basketball tournament at San Jose questions abound.

And bigger than all the others when it comes to forecasting which team will win and earn the league's automatic entry into the NCAA tournament is the one involving Stanford star Candice Wiggins and the hamstring injury that has hindered the junior guard's recent past and could mar her immediate future and that of her team's.

Should Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer give her team its best chance of winning the tournament by playing Wiggins, the two-time Pac-10 player of the year? Or, should VanDerveer decide to rest Wiggins in the hope she will be at her physical best when the Cardinal begins what they hope will be a deep run in the NCAA tournament?

In a candid evaluation of the situation this week VanDerveer talked about her options regarding Wiggins while giving the impression that when it comes to tournaments the NCAA trumps the Pac-10.

'For us to be in the NCAA tournament and have Candice healthy is our No. 1 priority,'' VanDerveer said. 'We know we can compete with anyone with Candice and without her we know that we're a very different team.'

VanDerveer said she is pleased with the way freshman Melanie Murphy has been playing at point guard. Her post players, she said, 'are dong well.' Jillian Harmon 'is playing great minutes for us.

'But we need Candice in there. She makes everyone better.'

To understand the positive impact Wiggins had in Stanford winning the Pac-10 regular-season championship is to reflect on what she did against the second, third and fourth-place teams.

Against runnerup ASU on Jan. 27 she scored 30 points, including 10 in overtime as the Cardinal prevailed, 73-65. Back on Dec. 30, she scored 21 points - 19 in the decisive second half - in Stanford's 77-71 victory.

Against third-place California, Wiggins scored 18 points, pulled down eight rebounds and had seven assists in a 69-44 thrashing on Jan. 6. A month later, in the only Conference game Stanford lost, she led the Cardinal with 17 points in a 72-57 loss to the Bears.

Against fourth-place Washington, Wiggins scored 17 points, collected 10 rebounds and had four assists in a 77-66 victory Jan. 11. On Feb. 10, Wiggins scored 23 points as Stanford soared, 80-54.

VanDerveer said that in making a decision on Wiggins' playing in San Jose she will listen to Candice (who is likely to pronounce herself physically ready), observe how she looks when she is running and rely on medical reports from the team trainer and doctor.

And instinct.

'I feel like it's something I will know,'' VanDerveer said. 'It's critical to our team's success that I will know.'

Tournament Forecast

Game 1 (Friday, 6 p.m.), No. 7 seed UCLA vs. No. 10 Washington State - The Cougars' games against UCLA - a pair of three-point losses -- symbolized WSU's season-long futility in positively finishing games. The futility will continue -- UCLA.

Game 2 (Friday, 8:15 p.m.), No. 8 Oregon State vs. No. 9 Arizona - The game will feature the Pac-10's scoring leader, Casey Nash (20.3 average) of OSU and No. 7 Joy Hollingsworth (16.4) of Arizona. The teams split their regular-season games home and home. With a little more depth, Arizona will prevail on a neutral court.

Game 3 (Saturday, 11 a.m.), No. 3 California vs. No. 6 Oregon -Which Oregon team will show up? Will it be the one that beat Cal by 20 points on Feb. 15 in Eugene or the one that was held to 46 points in a loss at Washington last Saturday? Either way Devenei Hampton and Ashley Walker should effectively counter the Ducks' inside game. California.

Game 4 (Saturday, 1:15 p.m.), No. 2 Arizona State vs. UCLA - ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said after the Sun Devils' narrow victory over Arizona that she was a little disappointed in her team's offensive execution. Whatever the problems were they probably have been solved. Arizona State.

Game 5 (Saturday, 5 p.m.), No. 1 Stanford vs. Arizona - Let's assume Wiggins won't be playing. Let's also assume that it won't matter. Stanford.

Game 6 (Saturday, 7:15 p.m.), No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 USC - In terms of hard-fought intensity, this could be the best game of the tournament. Neither team shoots well, but both play hard. The Huskies are seeking a better seed in the NCAA tournament; the Women of Troy will be battling for a possible NCAA berth. USC.

Game 7 (Sunday, 2 p.m.), California vs. Arizona State - Deeper and more experienced, the Sun Devils scored victories by 16 and 12 points over the Bears in the regular season. No reason to think the outcome will be different. Arizona State.

Game 8 (Sunday, 4:30 p.m.), Stanford vs. USC - The game will be a rematch of the regular-season finale, won by the Cardinal at Stanford, 56-53. Now on a semi-neutral court, Shay Murphy will lead USC to an upset victory over the Wiggins-less Cardinal.

Game 9 (Monday, 7:30 p.m.), Arizona State vs. USC - The Sun Devils' relentless defense and depth are too much for the Women of Troy. Arizona State will win its second Pac-10 tournament title and earn the league's automatic entry into the NCAA tournament.

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