Michelle Smith WBB Feature: A team-by-team look at the final three weeks of the season

There are but three weekends left in the Pac-12 regular season and the standings are shaking out.

But with a third of the schedule still to play, there are still defining days to come for nearly all of the teams in the Pac-12. It’s time to review the position of all 12 teams and what is left before the postseason begins.

Arizona (5-7)
Home/Away: 4/2
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 4

Stretch stakes: The Wildcats, who have secured a winning regular-season record for the first time since 2010-11, are looking to position themselves for a WNIT bid. They need to pick up some wins in these final Pac-12 games, with perhaps the toughest task among all the teams in the league remaining – three of the top four teams in the conference (Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State) still on the slate. With a 9-3 home record and four home games to go, Arizona is in a prime position for upsets, but needs to find some momentum after losing three of its last four games. Five times this season, Arizona has dropped the second game of the weekend set. Can Aari McDonald unseat her head coach Adia Barnes as the program’s leading scorer in a single-season? She is going to make a run at it.

Arizona State (7-4)
Home/Away: 4/2
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 4

Stretch stakes: The Sun Devils are still in position for a top-four seed and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, and are playing well and had a a three-game winning streak going into Saturday’s game against Washington, which was cancelled because of bad weather in Seattle. Being 8-2 at home this season bodes well for a Sun Devil team that has four home games in its final six. But it’s not going to be easy, finishing the final two weekends with Stanford, Cal, Oregon and Oregon State. Arizona State, which currently has the No. 13 strength of schedule in the nation, would love another signature win or two down the stretch to impress the NCAA Selection Committee.

California (5-7)
Home/Away: 2/4
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 2

Stretch stakes: The Bears want to finish in the top half of the Pac-12 standings to improve their postseason position and to do that, they are going to need to rally themselves into some critical wins, particularly on the road. Cal has lost three in a row under rough circumstances – three straight games against top 10 teams in Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon. In the next two weekends, Cal, 1-4 on the road in Pac-12 play this season, has a chance to avenge losses to UCLA (on the road) and Arizona State (at home) before finishing on the road against the Washington schools. Kristine Anigwe continues to lead the nation in rebounding (15.8 rpg) and double-doubles (23).

Colorado (1-11)
Home/Away: 2/4
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 2

Stretch stakes: The Buffaloes, who have been without senior point guard Kennedy Leonard for nine straight games, ended an 11-game losing streak and notched their first win of the conference season with a home victory over USC thanks to an Alexis Robinson 3-pointer with 32 seconds to go. Colorado, who has had four of their conference games decided by six points or less, is more comfortable at home this season – having gone 1-6 in road games – and will need to take advantage of their remaining two games at home to finish a difficult season on an up note.

Oregon (12-0)
Home/Away: 3/3
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 4

Stretch stakes: The undefeated Ducks are in the driver’s seat for a second straight Pac-12 regular season title after their take-down of Stanford at Maples Pavilion on Sunday, with a two-game lead on second-place Oregon State and a three-game lead on third-place Stanford. But the final path to the postseason won’t be an easy one. First comes back-to-back rivalry games against second-place Oregon State, followed by a home set against hot UCLA and dangerous USC, and then a closing trip to face Arizona and Arizona State. If Oregon keeps doing what it’s doing, however, it’s hard to see anything but smooth sailing into the Pac-12 Tournament’s top seed.

Oregon State (10-2)
Home/Away: 3/3
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 4

Stretch stakes: The Beavers are well-positioned for a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, but look as if they will be jockeying with Stanford and potentially Arizona State for the top four seeds. There are some tough games ahead, including the Civil War matchups with first-place Oregon, a home game against UCLA and a road game at Arizona State.  Oregon State has won 14 of the last 15 matchups with Oregon in the series between these two rivals.

Stanford (9-3)
Home/Away: 2/4
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 2

Stretch stakes: The Cardinal will be looking to rebounding from the worst loss of Tara VanDerveer’s tenure at Stanford with four road games in their final six, including game against a surging UCLA squad and a home game against Arizona State, two teams battling hard for a top-four seed in the conference tournament. Stanford’s Oregon loss aside, the Cardinal, who rank No. 3 in strength of schedule nationally, are positioned well for a high NCAA Tournament seed, a host bid and an opportunity at another long NCAA run.

UCLA (8-4)
Home/Away: 4/2
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 4

Stretch stakes: UCLA is one of the hottest teams in the league, currently on a six-game winning streak and playing its best basketball of the season while positioning themselves for a top four seed for the Pac-12 Tournament. But the stretch run is a huge challenge to their momentum with home games against Stanford and Cal, followed by a road trip to face Oregon and Oregon State, and closing at home against Utah and Colorado.

USC (4-8)
Home/Away: 4/2
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 4

Stretch stakes: Losing to previously winless Colorado was a blow for a USC team that had won three straight games before their stumble in Boulder. The closing stretch is a rough one, including home games against a hungry Cal team and Stanford, followed by a road trip to Oregon to face the two teams at the top of the standings.

Utah (7-5)
Home/Away: 2/4
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 2

Stretch stakes: Since peaking at No. 17 in the national rankings, the Utes have lost four straight games, dropped their spot in the rankings and are in danger of falling out of position for a first-round bye in the tournament, currently sitting in sixth-place in the standings. The Utes, however, only have one ranked team left on the regular-season schedule in Arizona State and a chance to make a move back into the top four.

Washington (1-11)
Home/Away: 2/3
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 2

Stretch stakes: The Huskies have five games left on the schedule, including three in a row on the road. Washington saw its Saturday game against Arizona State cancelled by bad weather, and finish with a tough home set against Cal and Stanford. Amber Melgoza has scored more than 20 points a game in seven conference games giving the Huskies a chance to pull off an upset or two down the stretch.

Washington State (3-10)
Home/Away: 3/2
Games remaining vs. Pac-12 top half: 2

Stretch stakes: The Cougars ended a seven-game losing streak with a win over Arizona last weekend that included 37 points from Borislava Hristova. With five games to go, and three of those at home, WSU has a chance to close the schedule on a strong note with only one ranked team in that final group of Washington, Colorado, Utah, Cal and Stanford.

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. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page. She was just named winner of the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball.
 
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