Top-two seeds play for Pac-12 women's basketball tournament title
Two teams who posted the best records in a grinding Pac-12 season over 18 games, whose head-to-head matchups this season have been decided by a total of six points, will do battle for the Pac-12 Championship on Sunday at Key Arena.
It’s a fitting end for the best conference in the country to match its best teams – in this case, Oregon State and Stanford - to determine a title.
“Anybody could have won this tournament,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, moments after her Cardinal punched a ticket to their 14th conference tournament title game with a 71-56 win over sixth-seeded Oregon. “
Oregon State, the top seed, earned its third trip to the finals in four years with a 63-53 win over fourth-seeded UCLA.
Oregon State became only the second team in conference history to lay claim to three straight regular-season titles. The other one? Of course, it’s Stanford.
The Cardinal own longest stretch of history of dominance in the Pac-12, but it’s the Beavers who are the most recent standard-setters of excellence, especially following last year’s NCAA Final Four run.
Stanford comes into the championship game with two losses to the Beavers this season, a double-overtime loss that was the Beavers’ first-ever win at Maples Pavilion in early January, and a three-point loss just last week at Gil Coliseum.
Both games came down the closing seconds, both games were defensive grinds and both teams know they have every reason to expect the same on Sunday.
“We made big shots in those games and it came down to execution down the stretch and being able to get a stop and score, it’s that simple,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck, who sat in the stands to watch the game that would determine his team’s opponent on Sunday. “I think you are going to have two teams who are very well-prepared. It’s going to be another grind-out and it’s going to be who can knock down perimeter shots, to be honest.”
Oregon State will attempt to be the first team to beat Stanford three times in the same season since Tennessee did it in the 1990-91 season.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said her team is well aware of why they didn’t win either of those games. She wasn’t inclined to list the reasons late on Saturday night.
“I’ll talk about that tomorrow,” VanDerveer said. “Our team knows what the problems were. Basketball is not rocket science. You have to take and make better shots. Our team learned from those losses to Oregon State and they listened and I think we are playing better now.”
The semifinal victories that landed the Beavers and the Cardinal into the title game were similar in that each of them were challenged by the lower seed, found themselves down and used defensive intensity to change the tone of the game.
Oregon State was down at halftime against the surging Bruins, who took advantage of the absence of senior Gaby Hanson, the Beavers defensive stopper sitting with foul trouble. But Hanson rallied on both ends of the floor to open the second half to put Oregon State in position to win. The Beavers finished with four players in double figures, led by Sydney Wiese’s 19 points, to counter a Bruins team led by the heroics of junior guard Jordin Canada, who ended up with 27.
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.