Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament semifinal preview: 'Cinderella' Colorado tries to keep momentum rolling
SEATTLE - And just like that, the semifinals of the 2015 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament are upon us. The 12 team bracket has been trimmed to four, with no shortage of drama and excitement occuring along the way. The final four includes a perennial powerhouse, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, a deep, dangerous, (sun) devilish team and this year's Cinderella.
Let's take a look at the No. 9 vs. No. 4 seed matchup, Colorado vs. Cal, which you can see FOR FREE on Pac-12.com or Pac-12 Now when the game tips-off at 8:30 p.m. PT Saturday night at KeyArena.
The two schools met only once in the regular season, with Cal winning 75-59 back on Jan. 5 at Haas Pavilion. Brittany Boyd stuffed the stat sheet in the Bear win, logging 19 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and seven steals. Reshanda Gray scored 17 points and Cal managed a combined 52 points in the paint. Jamee Swan and Jen Reese carried the load for the Buffs, combining for 36 points. CU committed 23 turnovers which Cal turned into 21 points.
How did they get here:
No. 9 Colorado - The Buffaloes are led by a strong senior class of Lexy Kresl, Jen Reese and Jasmine Sborov but ended the season under .500 at 15-16 (6-12, Pac-12). They entered the tournament as a nine-seed and dethroned defending champ USC in Thursday's opening round. On Friday, Colorado kept the ball rolling, pulling off the biggest upset in tournament history by beating top-ranked Oregon State 68-65.
No. 4 Cal - The Golden Bears earned a first-round bye thanks to their 21-8 (13-5, Pac-12) season. Led by the duo of Brittany Boyd and the Pac-12 Player of the Year Reshanda Gray, better known as Cornflakes and Milk, the Bears boast one of the best inside-outside games in the conference. The two helped Cal get past No. 5 Washington in the quarterfinals Friday night, 69-53.
Matchups to watch:
Lexy Kresl vs. Brittany Boyd - The two point guards will no doubt have a huge influence in how this one shakes out. Kresl was the driving force behind CU's historic upset of OSU. She buried a handful of threes early on in the game to set the tone for her team. The senior is as steady as it gets, never doing too much but always coming up big when her team needs her. The numbers (12.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) aren't mind blowing but it is when she scores and assists that matters for her team.
Boyd might be the most well-rounded guard in the conference. Her averages of 13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game shows her triple-double potential. In the win over Washington, Boyd scored 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting, while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out four assists. Her on-ball defense is strong, as well, evidenced by her pair of seven-steal games this season, including the win over Colorado in early January.
Jamee Swan vs. Reshanda Gray - Slowing down a conference player of the year is never easy, but Swan has proven to be one of the stand-out stars of the tournament. The junior, who led her team in the regular season in scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (7.9 rpg) and blocks (1.9 per game), arrived in Seattle on a roll, scoring in double-digits in 10 of her last 13 games. The good times have kept rolling in KeyArena as she is averaging 16.5 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in CU's two wins. As impressive as those numbers are, it is what doesn't show up in the box score that fuels Swan's game. Her physicality, tenacity and willingness to dive and scramble for loose balls fires up her team and frustrates opponents. If the Buffs hope to win, Swan will need to bring every facet of her game to the court.
Gray is Cal's anchor, owning the paint on both sides of the court, and is very efficient at it. Her 18.1 points per game paces the Golden Bears offense and, this season, she shot 57.6 percent from the field. That number is good for 8th best in the NCAA. Not only has Gray had a tremendous season, she is making her case as one of the best Bears of all-time. She currently sits in Cal's top-10 career leaders list in scoring and rebounds. Colorado will look to contain her, but it'll be a tough task to completely stop her. Gray will get hers, but if Swan and company can make her work for it and force Boyd to shoot more, instead of feeding Gray, they will have a head start on another upset.
Colorado - Lauren Huggins: To pull off an upset or advance to the finals of a tournament, a team must hit big shots. Colorado's seniors can't do it all, try as they might, and Huggins is as good a bet as any to be the one to drain a clutch shot against Cal. The sophomore connected on 38 threes this season, second on the team, and got better as the season went along. Over the final seven games of the regular-season, she shot 9-of-19 (47.4 percent) from beyond the arc. In the first-round win over USC, Huggins was literally perfect. She came off the bench to hit all four of her shots, including three from downtown. If Colorado advances to the finals, expect Huggins to hit a couple big shots along the way.
Cal - Mercedes Jefflo: The 5'10" sophomore guard has been trending up all season. She first made a mark with her defense and was rewarded with an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod. But since Cal's upset win over then No. 10 Arizona State on Feb. 8, her offensive has been rising, as well. She scored a career-high 23 points against UCLA with Boyd not playing due to injury, showing she can lead the charge when needed. In the final six regualr-season games for the Bears, Jefflo averaged 13.2 points per game and made 12 threes. She scored 16 points and buried four threes in the win over UW on Friday night. Boyd and Gray are believers in her game, with Boyd saying after beating Washington, "She's grown a lot since freshman year. She's willing to get better and learn. She's stepped up big time for us." Gray concurrs, saying, "She's very coachable and all about winning. She did a really good job accepting her role and stepping up to the plate."
Bottom line: It's tournament time so, who knows? USC came out of nowhere last year to win the title so maybe it's Colorado's turn. Then again, Boyd, Gray, Jefflo and the Bears have been a force in the Pac-12 over the last few years. Is it their time to shine? Either way, expect three-point shooting, great guard play and toughness in the post to be the biggest reason why Cal or Colorado advances to the 2015 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament final on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. PT.