Pac-12 women’s basketball midseason check-in

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The UCLA women’s basketball team has been meeting with a mental trainer during the course of the season. He has been talking to them about success on the road.

“We talk about how home court advantage is not a place, it’s a feeling. And if it’s a feeling, you can take it with you,” said Bruins coach Cori Close. “It’s a feeling, a comfort zone. And we are really trying to embrace that.”

UCLA came home from the Bay Area with a split, a loss at Cal on Friday that was salved Monday night with a big win at Stanford on national television, the program’s first win at Maples Pavilion since 1999 and UCLA’s first road win against a ranked team in the last 16 attempts.

UCLA is 12-0 at home this season and 4-5 on the road. No win was bigger than Monday’s.

“I’m proud of our resilience. The Stanford win was a major milestone for us,” Close said of her Bruins squad, who now sit in third place in the conference standings at 9-3. “Our team has to play a certain way and we don’t have a lot of margin for error. We have to play possessions, force turnovers, we need passion plays.”

UCLA will spend four of the next five weekends on the road, including the Pac-12 Tournament. “We have known this all year and we are prepared for it,” Close said. “You need a good point guard to be good on the road, you need to have a go-to person in the post, you need to shoot well. That’s the formula for being a good road team. We haven’t quite shown that yet. But (Monday) night was some of the best basketball we have played all year.”

View from the top
The view is pretty good from the top of the Pac-12 standings. While the conference’s top teams have done epic battle through the bulk of the conference season so far, only one has emerged almost entirely unscathed.

Oregon State assumed a one-game lead with six to go following UCLA’s upset win over Stanford Monday night. Meanwhile, Oregon State took care of business against the Arizona schools on the road.

“Winning is fun,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck.

Hard to argue.

The Beavers continue to ride their stellar defensive play and the leadership of Sydney Wiese in a bruising, but successful Pac-12 run.

“We have gotten the stops we’ve needed, and we have a closer in Syd,” Rueck said. “Our execution down the stretch has really closed the door in tough games.”

The Beavers will host the Los Angeles schools this coming weekend, before heading to Colorado and Utah and then finishing with the Bay Area schools in Corvallis before the Pac-12 Tournament.

“This conference is what it is, an absolute grind,” Rueck said. “I just want to see some increased offensive efficiency and to maintain what we are doing on defense. We have six tough games, but I like the maturity of our team on the road.”

Sun Devils regrouping
Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost four of their last five games – and 5 of 7 overall - to drop to 6-6 in the conference standings.

It was an undeniably tough stretch, facing Stanford, UCLA and Oregon State over the course of a four-game span, and ASU didn’t get what it wanted, at least one big, statement-making win.

“We are hanging in there,” said ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne. “It’s nice to get back on track and get some perimeter shooting.”

The Sun Devils are still playing without one of their top perimeter scorers, guard Kelsey Moos. Moos who has missed 10 games with a foot injury, might be ready to return to the lineup as soon as this weekend at Washington State and Washington. But Turner Thorne sounded skeptical.

“She’s day by day, but I’m not super confident she will be ready this weekend. I think it will be one more week,” Turner Thorne said.

But Moos will bring back a level of experience that the Sun Devils need as they move forward with three freshmen averaging 28 minutes a gain in the backcourt.

“It is what it is,” Turner Thorne said. “I’m excited for this group. I don’t think I’ve ever had four freshmen and a sophomore as my perimeter game. They are positive, they work hard and we are getting better. I think we’d be right there in the mix, had Kelsey not gotten hurt. But she did. And I think we have what it takes to finish strong enough to get a decent seed in the conference tournament.”

Cardinal potential postseason
Stanford has been ranked 300 straight weeks, second behind Connecticut’s streak of 445 straight weeks. According to women’s basketball guru Mel Greenberg, Tara VanDerveer (518 weeks) needs five more AP women’s basketball poll appearances to move to No. 2 behind Pat Summitt (618) and ahead of Andy Landers (522).

Stanford made the biggest jump from No. 12 to No. 8 in the NCAA Top 16 rankings, a preview of the team’s that might be in position to host NCAA Tournament games next month.

But there is one small problem for the Cardinal. Stanford will be unable to host NCAA Basketball games in March in the first and second rounds because Stanford will be hosting the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships at Maples Pavilion, meaning the Cardinal will have to go on the road for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, even if they are a top 4 seed. That puts Stanford in the unenviable position of potentially a second-round game against a lower-seed team on their home floor.

Buffs make a push
Colorado pushed Washington to the limit in Boulder last Sunday, the Huskies pulling out a 79-75. Only once in their previous 21 victories did the Huskies win in single-digits before the Buffs gave them a run.

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