Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Big league games and breakout stars
The biggest weekend of the Pac-12 regular season is here.
No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 Oregon State travel to the Bay Area to take on No. 11 Stanford and California. The three top teams in the conference will jockey for the inside track to a Pac-12 regular-season title in which promises to be a two-day set of compelling, elite basketball.
Cal faces unbeaten Oregon (10-0) on Friday night, with the Beavers playing at Maples against Stanford. Sunday will match the Bears and the Beavers, and one of the feature matchups of the season in the country with the Cardinal and the Ducks. It will be the only time these teams face another this season with so much on the line.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves was asked if he was ready for a weekend of fun.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.” Graves said with a chuckle. “I don’t know how fun it’s going to be. I’ve seen those two teams play.”
Graves said he knows that his team’s Friday night opponent, Cal, is a dangerous team with Kristine Anigwe.
“Kristine Anigwe. For cryin’ out loud. She’s been incredible,” Graves said. “With Cal, they have a more balanced team this year. They shoot the ball better. They can surround her with shooters that you have to play honestly. That's what makes them different than in year’s past. You can’t just sag. Asha (Thomas), she is playing well and a senior now. They have two great seniors. I like their club.”
And Stanford, Graves contends, has more talent than any team in the conference.
“Obviously they have had some injuries inside, but now that (Maya) Dodson is back…they were missing her for those few weeks,” Graves said. “They are so good on the boards. If I had to say one thing that will be key to the whole weekend for us, I would say, rebound. You gotta rebound. They are just so active.”
VanDerveer said that Saturday’s win over Cal was a tone-setter after back-to-back losses to Utah and Cal, the Cardinal’s first back-to-back losses in conference play since 2015.
“We came off three bad games (in a row),” VanDerveer said, including a rocky performance in a win over Colorado the previous weekend. “This sets us up in a better position. I hope our team is as hungry as we were (Saturday against Cal) to come out against Oregon State. We are in a good situation. We have big games coming up this weekend and this helps people’s confidence.”
Stanford junior guard DiJonai Carrington said her team remembers well the loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament title game last March.
“We owe Oregon one. Last year, we didn’t come out the way we wanted in the Pac-12 Tournament and we let that one slip away from us,” Carrington said. “We never want to lose at home. And we know we have the capability to beat both of these teams if we play our game and we play together. But none of us can do it ourselves.”
Offense or defense? That is the question
Oregon is one of the top offensive teams in the country, averaging 89.6 points a game. If you are putting together a game plan to down the Ducks, do you focus on offense, and scoring to keep up, or defense, and trying to put a stop to what they do so well?
“It’s a great question,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “Some people would say the way you try to beat Oregon and Oregon State is to outscore them, and that is something we will continue to work on. We want to make sure we are attacking scoring spots.
“But anytime you can take away a team’s first or second option, they aren’t quite as good. Oregon is scary because their third and fourth options are so good as well. I don’t know. We will need to limit what they do well, but we definitely have to score the ball to win those games.”
VanDerveer was covering all bases. As she always does.
“We have to take really good shots,” VanDerveer said. “You can’t take bad shots, because Oregon will come back down and make you pay. A bad shot is like a turnover for them. And you have to guard them. It’s going to be very tough. Ionescu, a triple-double machine. (Ruthy) Hebard? What’s she shooting, like 89 percent from the field? You have to guard them.”
In a season that will be remembered for the performances of its stars, there are a handful of players who have already had breakout seasons and set the table for a very bright future. Here are five players who have had breakthrough seasons in the Pac-12.
Destiny Slocum, Oregon State. Slocum, the redshirt sophomore, is in her first Pac-12 season, having sat out last year in Corvallis after transferring from Maryland. She is making a huge impact for a Beavers program so adept at picking up after where it left off the year before. Slocum is leading OSU in scoring at 16.2 points a game to go with 5.3 assists per game.
Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA. In a year in which the Bruins are searching for new stars, Onyenwere has emerged. The sophomore has scored more than 20 points in nine games this season and leads the Bruins at 17.1 points a game. In Pac-12 play, she’s averaging 19.8 points and 8.8 rebounds as UCLA has reeled off four straight wins and improved to 6-4 to enter the upper tier of the Pac-12 standings.
Channelle Molina, Washington State. As the Cougars rebuild under new head coach Kamie Ethridge, Molina, the junior – and one of three sisters on the WSU roster – is cementing her status as a go-to complement to leading scorer Borislava Hristova. Molina is averaging 16.1 points a game and has scored in double digits in 13 consecutive games.
DiJonai Carrington, Stanford. The junior guard is emerging as one of the conference’s best wing players with a fearless style. Carrington currently ranks third on the Cardinal roster in scoring at 13.9 points a game behind Alanna Smith and Kiana Williams. Carrington has put up two 30-point games this season, including 33 points and 13 rebounds against Tennessee in December and last weekend against Cal, she averaged 21.0 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Erin Boley, Oregon. The redshirt sophomore who transferred to the Ducks program from Notre Dame after being named the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2016, Boley is adding depth and scoring to the league’s front-runners. Boley is averaging 13.0 points a game, including 68 3-pointers.