Coaches prepping for wide-open Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament
As of Monday, five teams from the Pac-12 Conference were projected to make the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme. The better news: None are in jeopardy of losing a postseason bid based on what happens this week at the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the KeyArena in Seattle, Washington.
However, those almost assured a bid to the women’s Big Dance – see Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Cal and Washington – can bolster their resume with a strong showing in what could be the most wide open Pac-12 Tournament ever.
On Tuesday, coaches held a media teleconference to recap the season and discuss their teams’ chances.
Oregon State (26-3, 16-2 Pac-12)
It would be easy to forgive Oregon State if coach Scott Rueck’s team had a letdown in the conference tournament.
The No. 8-ranked Beavers have already made history in 2014-15, defeating California last Saturday at Gill Coliseum to win OSU’s first Pac-12 regular season title in the history of the women’s program. The win also ended Stanford’s incredible 14-year run of either being conference champion or co-champion, all the while snapping a 15-game losing streak to the Golden Bears.
However, the Beavers, who are led by shooting guard Sydney Wiese and post Ruth Hamblin, might have added motivation after reaching the finals of the conference tournament last year before losing to USC.
Rueck’s focus is now on preparing his team to enter the tournament as favorites. As the No. 1 seed, they get a bye Thursday, then face the winner of Colorado-USC on Friday (6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks).
“You just want to make sure their minds are right and they stay in the moment,” Rueck said.
Arizona State (26-4, 15-3 Pac-12)
During Tuesday’s teleconference, Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne was quick to admit she has no idea why No. 9 Arizona State wasn’t highly regarded entering the season.
“I’ve been asked that question about 20 times, and I don’t think I have a good answer for it. I really don’t,” Turner Thorne said. “I don’t even want to try to answer it anymore. I guess we were supposed to finish seventh. I’m just really happy and proud of our team.”
It’s tough not to be.
The Sun Devils’ 26 wins are tied for the second most in the school’s history, trailing only the 2006-07 season when they won 31. ASU has won five straight entering the tourney and, as a second seed, gets a first-round bye, with a matchup against the winner of the Washington State-Oregon game set for Friday (11:30 a.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks).
Stanford (21-9, 13-5 Pac-12)
Seriously, don’t sleep on 19th-ranked Stanford.
Yes, coach Tara VanDerveer’s run of 14 consecutive seasons with at least a share of the conference regular season title is over. Yes, this team no longer has power forward Chiney Ogwumike, perhaps the most decorated player in program history.
But the Cardinal proved it can beat the best the conference has to offer during the final road trip of its regular season with a win over Oregon State. Plus, it’s currently projected to be a five-seed that has to travel to Starkville, Miss. in the first round of the NCAA tourney.
In other words, Stanford has all the motivation to finish strong when it begins play Friday at 2:30 p.m. PT against the winner of UCLA-Arizona.
“I think this team plays well when we’re backed into a corner,” VanDerveer said. “We know that we have to play and that we just get one game and that’s it. Personally, I like that type of pressure for our team.”
California (21-8, 13-5 Pac-12)
There are few teams with a more formidable, veteran 1-2 punch than Cal senior forward Reshanda Gray (18.1 points per game) and senior guard Brittany Boyd (13.1 points per game).
There are few teams that can reel off wins like Cal, which won eight in a row at one point during its Pac-12 schedule before dropping three of its final five games. Still, the Golden Bears are in great shape, with ESPN predicting they get a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance. A strong showing this week could improve that.
They face the winner of Washington-Utah on Friday (8:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks).
After entering the season with high expectations, Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb admitted her team was disappointed they didn’t take home the regular season crown. The bonus of being the lowest seeded team to receive a bye, however, wasn’t lost on them.
“The bye is meaningful,” said Gottlieb. “It means you’re in the top four of an incredible conference. I think that’s an achievement. It’s tournament play. Anything can happen. There’s not a whole lot of rest once you start going. We’re definitely fortunate to get to sit and watch Thursday.”
Washington (22-8, 11-7 Pac-12)
This isn’t exactly familiar territory for the UW women’s basketball program.
The Huskies just finished their best regular season in 12 years. They averaged 75.6 points per game, tops in the Pac-12. With an RPI index rating of 28, they are basically guaranteed to make the NCAA women’s tournament for the first time since 2007.
Pac-12 Network commentator Mary Murphy on Tuesday named the Huskies her “dark horse” to win the tournament, and it’s easy to see why. Washington will be playing in front of a home crowd, and in sophomore guard Kelsey Plum (23 points per game), the Huskies have the conference’s leading scorer.
Murphy compared coach Mike Neighbors’ squad to the 2013-14 USC team that won four games in as many days to take home the conference title.
“I don’t have a couple (dark horses),” Murphy said. “I have one and that would be Washington.”
From the rest of the field
No. 6 UCLA (12-17, 8-10 Pac-12)
No. 7 Washington State (16-13, 7-11 Pac-12)
No. 8 USC (15-14, 7-11 Pac-12)
No. 9 Colorado (13-16, 6-12 Pac-12)
No. 10 Oregon (13-16, 6-12 Pac-12)
No. 11 Arizona (10-19, 3-15 Pac-12)
No. 12 Utah (9-20, 3-15 Pac-12)
Breakdown: Among these schools, Washington State easily has the most to gain with a deep run into the tourney. With an RPI of 72, the Cougars need at least two wins this week to get some NCAA Tournament consideration. The program hasn’t made it to the women’s Big Dance since 1991.
WSU was in better position to snap said drought before senior center Shalie Dheensaw, the team’s leading rebounder, went down with a right knee injury in January and was lost for the season.
Their guard play behind Tia Presley (17.1 ppg) and Lia Galdeira (19.4 ppg) has always been there strength, though. That should provide an interesting matchup when the seventh-seeded Cougars open the tournament against 10th-seeded Oregon’s talented frontcourt at (11:30 a.m. PT). A matchup with the Sun Devils awaits the winner.
“Right now we can’t control any of that,” said WSU coach June Daugherty of WSU’s postseason chances. “We can control how hard we’re going to play, how well we’re going to play together and execute the game plan on both ends of the floor.”