Pac-12 women's basketball coaches teleconference: Gauntlet of the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament begins Thursday
There can only be one victor to hoist the league trophy on Sunday, but the coaches out West all agree on one point: the Pac-12 is as tough as it has ever been. The Pac-12 holds the nation's No. 1 RPI and between Kelsey Plum's ascension to the top of the record books, Tara VanDerveer's milestone victory, Oregon State's historic three-peat and upsets galore, this conference is a gauntlet. The Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament at KeyArena in Seattle begins Thursday, and league coaches discussed what it will take to be called tournament champions and receive the NCAA automatic bid.
Lynne Roberts, Utah
The Utes rolled through non-conference play undefeated, but Roberts credits the late-season loss against Oregon as a defining moment for the team this season. The team got together and collectively bought into banding together to change. The Utes' last game of the regular season was at Seattle against Washington and they were on the losing side of Kelsey Plum's historic 57-point performance to break the NCAA all-time scoring record. What was lost in the outside world was how close the game truly was, as Roberts was impressed with her squad shutting down the rest of their opponents. "The energy in the arena was unbelievable and we never folded," said Roberts. "We'll have to be tough against Arizona State this time back in Seattle and handle the pressure".
Adia Barnes, Arizona
First-year head coach Adia Barnes returns to the Emerald City and couldn't be more excited. The 'Cats have their first-round matchup against Oregon, and Barnes says the keys to the contest are a strong defense led by their five seniors. Barnes calls for the team to play fast but smart and take care of the basketball.
JR Payne, Colorado
Like Utah, the Buffaloes have a quick return back to Seattle after finishing the regular season against the Washington schools. Payne's ask of her squad is to have an "aggressive demeanor" - their energy comes from their defense and disruption the floor. The Buffs first contest is against Washington State, and Payne sees the quick rematch as positive, "We have the opportunity to fix that sour taste in our mouths".
Charli Turner Thorne, Arizona State
The fifth-seeded Sun Devils face 12-seed Utah in Thursday's second game, an opponent they only faced once in the regular season. After being crowned regular-season co-champions last year as well as an early tournament exit, Turner Thorne sees a different mentality in this year's squad. "This group of seniors is special, they helped us get back to national status." With a few injuries to key players this season, the usual consistent Sun Devils have turned their inconsistent lineup into their strength – anyone can step up when needed.
June Daugherty, Washington State
Daugherty boasts that this year's squad is the proudest she's ever been at the helm of the program. With four injuries, losing three starters and only one senior on the squad, the Cougs still claimed the 7-seed.
WSU is a tough team, having given then-No. 2 Maryland a run for its money in non-conference play and losing their first 5-star recruit Chanelle Molina to injury.
Daugherty was sure to recognize the Pac-12's first-year head coaches for their "phenomenal jobs" in JR Payne and Adia Barnes, as this league is as tough as ever.
Mike Neighbors, Washington
Neighbors wished everyone safe travels to the 206, as Seattle saw some strange snow and lightning just the other day. The 3-seed Dawgs await the winner of Oregon/Arizona, a matchup Neighbors sees as tough. The Huskies saw Oregon in the regular season without Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in Sabrina Ionescu.
With the outside world believing Kelsey Plum would break the NCAA scoring record in postseason play, Plum put herself in plum position and took the honor in her final regular-season game as a Husky. Neighbors says the team is still riding high from the electric atmosphere of Saturday in Alaska Airlines Arena and is letting the team enjoy the ride until their first full practice. Even with all the local and national attention on Plum, and Neighbors was sure to shoutout their SID Traci Bode, he's still impressed how Plum "can focus through anything."
Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, USC
The 9-seed Trojans will face 8-seed California in the opening tournament game, and Cooper-Dyke is exciting for everyone to start back at 0-0 records. She credits the well-tuned coaching of Linsday Gottlieb's squad, and Cooper-Dyke knows the Golden Bears' force of Kristine Anigwe and the Bears' perimeter shooting. The Trojans' key to success she says will be out-rebounding and taking care of the ball.
Cori Close, UCLA
Close focuses in on the strength and unity of the Pac-12, as "it all add into the drama of the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament and national tournaments." With starter Jordin Canada coming back from an injury and a bout with an illness, some fans may have been surprised lately with Bruin players such as Kennedy Burke and Nicole Kornet stepping up. With the Bruins' mantra "uncommon", Close reassures this to be no fluke. Between UCLA's Director of Mental Training as well as assistant coach Jenny Huth, they have been asking their players to bring out each other's strengths.
Scott Rueck, Oregon State
The Beavers are off of their third-straight Pac-12 title, a feat no other team not named Stanford has been able to say in this league. Oregon State claims the tournament's top-seed, and Rueck has seen "an incredible will of competitiveness". Rueck states how "pressure is a privilege", as even though the Beavs were a Final Four team last year, OSU is still a young squad. "It's not going to be an oil painting every night," Rueck says referencing Chicago Cubs' manager Joe Maddon's quote. The team was picked by both the coaches and the media to finish fifth in the regular season, and Rueck attributes the ability to defend the league crown as a testament to the culture built by the OSU program.
Kelly Graves, Oregon
The 6-seed Ducks travel to Seattle with a majority young roster and many will experience their first Pac-12 Tournament. Four wins in four days are tough for any team, but Graves challenges his team with "why not us?" The Ducks have the league's only freshmen in Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu named to the All-Pac-12 team and Graves knows how scary their upside is, especially to their opponents.
Lindsay Gottlieb, California
The Golden Bears also have a youth-filled roster who have benefitted from a season of conference play to understand what it takes to win in the West. Gottlieb sees the collective team feeling at this point last season compared to this season, as she felt Cal had to win the title last season to get that coveted NCAA auto-bid. This season, however, she sees things differently. With their strong defensive mindset, a good sense of urgency and a good group of underclassmen, Gottlieb sees her 2017 squad as a great unit.
Tara VanDerveer, Stanford
The league's longest-tenured head coach has seen the evolution of the Pac-10/Pac-12 and feels the excitement and attention the league and its players are receiving as higher than ever. VanDerveer believes her team is catching fire, but with four Pac-12 teams being ranked at some point this season in the top-10, and eight other teams capable of hoisting the Pac-12 Tournament trophy, VanDerveer believes the reward to the victor of this league should be a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
The gauntlet of the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament begins Thursday, March 2 and if the regular season is any indicator, all eyes will be on KeyArena.
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