Pac-12 women's hoops: 12 games to watch

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We continue our preview of the upcoming Pac-12 women's basketball season with 12 games you won't want to miss:

Notre Dame at UCLA (November 23, 12:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

This game gives Cori Close a great opportunity to gauge how far her team has come and how far they still need to go, as the Irish have finished as the NCAA runners-up the last two years. The Bruins will get an up-close look at Skylar Diggins, one of the most dynamic guards in all of college basketball. Don’t expect the Bruins to be star-struck, however; UCLA played Tennessee, Baylor and LSU in last year’s non-conference slate.

[Related: 12 women to watch in the Pac-12]

Cal at Duke (December 2, TBA)

Many thought Cal should have been ranked in the top 25 at the end of last year after an impressive second-place finish in the Pac-12. At the end of the day, what probably kept Cal out of the rankings was the inability to pull out close contests against marquee non-conference opponents. Lindsay Gottlieb’s group hung very tough with Rutgers, Texas and Ohio State, but lost to the Scarlet Knights, Longhorns and Buckeyes by three, one and two points, respectively (though Cal did beat Virginia in a preseason tournament in Hawai’i). They’re already getting some preseason love, but a win against Duke, a squad that made it to the Elite 8 last year, will make sure people won’t question Cal’s credentials.

Stanford at Tennessee (December 22, TBA)

Stanford’s annual battle with the Lady Volunteers will be the Pac-12’s only pre-conference look at a Tennessee squad now led by Holly Warlick, who replaces the legendary Pat Summitt as head coach. This will be no easy task for the Cardinal as they have not won in Knoxville since 1996. That’s also the only time Stanford has won there in 12 tries.

UConn at Stanford (December 29, 1:00 p.m. PT, ESPNU)

Geno Auriemma’s team returns to the site where its NCAA-record 90-game winning streak was snapped in 2010. UConn got its revenge against the Card last year with a 68-58 decision over Tara VanDerveer's team. The Big East version of the Huskies are the Cardinal’s last chance at a signature non-conference win, as Pac-12 play begins with a trip to Colorado after this clash of women’s basketball powerhouses. There are plenty of other opportunities for statement wins in November and December, however, as the Cardinal also take on Baylor and South Carolina in addition to UConn and Tennessee.

UConn at Oregon (December 31, 12:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

The Huskies make their Pac-12 Networks debut on the back end of their two-game road trip to the West Coast. The Ducks might be heavy underdogs in this one, but it gives Paul Westhead and co. a great opportunity to put the famed run-n-gun on display for an expanded audience. It is both teams’ final non-conference tilt, as UConn will head back home to face Notre Dame (that’ll be a classic) and Oregon will stay home to face the L.A. schools.

Stanford at Cal (January 8, 7:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

The Cardinal haven’t to lost a conference opponent since Jan. 18, 2009, a span of 78 games including the Pac-12 tournaments. And who might have the Cardinal lost to on that fateful date in 2009? You guessed it -- the Golden Bears of California. Having taken Stanford to overtime in Maples last year, combined with returning nearly everyone from last year’s NCAA tournament team, the Golden Bears must be feeling like this is the year they take down the defending conference champs.

USC at Cal (January 17, 6:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

In February, these two teams met in Berkeley and and played best game of the Pac-12 regular season. Layshia Clarendon hit a game-tying three-pointer as time expired in regulation after USC had twice taken a four-point lead in the final 45 seconds. Cal then used that momentum to score the first seven points of overtime, only to see USC freshman guard Ariya Crook go bonkers and score 11 points in the final one minute and 50 seconds to lead the Trojans to a 76-75 victory.

Arizona at Utah (January 18, 6:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

Contrasting styles will be on display in Salt Lake City for this contest. Which one will win out: the up-tempo, offensive-minded Wildcats or the half-court, defensive-minded Utes? Both teams finished in the bottom half of the conference last year, but there is reason for optimism in both camps, with Arizona returning the returning Pac-12 leading scorer in Davellyn Whyte and Utah bringing back Canadian Olympian Michelle Plouffe.

Washington at Washington State (January 20, 2:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

There can’t be many losing streaks more frustrating than Washington State’s 34 straight dropped to rival Washington. Last year presented two prime opportunities to the Cougars, but they were unable to get the monkey off their backs. However, Washington State really made the Huskies sweat it out the last time they faced off, as the Huskies won a physical game by just four points. The 35th or or 36th try has to be the charm this year, right?

Colorado at UCLA (February 1, 8:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

The Bruins and Buffaloes only played once last year, and it was a dandy. Colorado held the lead for much of the second half, but UCLA’s Rebekah Gardner hit a layup with 14 seconds left to send the game to overtime. Markel Walker took over from there, scoring six points in the extra period and finishing with 24 points and 10 boards to lead UCLA to a 62-54 victory over the host Buffs. Can Chucky Jeffery and Friends get revenge in Westwood this time around?

Washington at Oregon State (February 18, 6:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

Last year, the Huskies and Beavers showed a lot of promise in large thanks to the great jobs done by head coaches Kevin McGuff and Scott Rueck. After making the WNIT last year (and playing each other in the WNIT - Washington won, 55-49), both teams have reason to believe they can take the next step and make the Big Dance. This figures to be a pivotal game for Pac-12 posturing in the standings and also potentially a big RPI game for both sides.

UCLA at Arizona State (March 1, 5:00 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks)

This will be a classic battle of strength against strength. Markel Walker thrives in half-court sets with her creativity with the basketball, but she will be going up against an Arizona State pressure defense that can get any offense and opposing player out of sorts. Veteran coach Charli Turner Thorne makes her return to the sideline in Tempe after taking a voluntary leave of absence last year.

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