Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Washington's big upset in Las Vegas; Three more head to semis
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The biggest upset in the history of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament was as wild as it was unlikely.
Missy Peterson’s deep, 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds to go sealed the deal as the 11th-seeded Washington Huskies ousted No. 3 Oregon State 68-67, winning their second straight game at MGM Grand Garden Arena Friday night and punching a most unpredictable ticket to the semifinals.
The Huskies become the first 11 seed to reach the semifinals since Washington State did it back in 2012, the only 11 seeds to advance to the final four of the Pac-12 Tournament since it began in 2002.
Oregon State, meanwhile, exits the tournament for the second straight year in its opening game as a No. 3 seed. Last year, the Beavers were knocked out by No. 6 seed Arizona State.
Saturday’s semifinals are now set with top-seeded Oregon taking on No. 4 UCLA and second-seeded Stanford taking on the 11th-seeded Huskies.
The final game of a basketball-filled Friday in Vegas was a result that few could have seen coming. The Huskies came into the game with an 11-20 record, and had lost 12 of its last 13 games coming into the conference tournament. Oregon State, meanwhile, is in line for a top 16 NCAA Tournament seed and had been ranked in the top 10 for a good portion of the season.
Coach Jody Wynn welled up the moment she began to speak after the game. She talked about looking up to Oregon State coach Scott Rueck, who rebuilt a program from the ground-up the way that Wynn is doing in Seattle. And she talked about the courage and resilience of her team.
“We only had two wins coming into this tournament and everybody wrote us off, but when you have a group of people that believe in each other and love each other and inspire one another…I’m proud of their courageous effort and their resiliency,” Wynn said. “This is why I do what I do. To empower young women and give them an opportunity to do something that is great and that will stick with them the rest of their lives and maybe do something that they don't believe they can do.”
The Huskies, down by 14 in the first half, got back into the game in the third quarter against the heavily favored Beavers, were tied 51-51 at the end of the third quarter and held a 63-57 lead with 1:51 to go and watched as the Beavers, led by veteran guard Mikayla Pivec, brought her team back to even.
Pivec converted a lay-up on a spinning, dribbling drive in the lane with 4.9 seconds to go to tie the game at 65-65.
Peterson’s counter-punch three-pointer on the other end prompted a premature dogpile on the court and Washington was assessed a technical foul when a Husky player came onto the court from the bench to celebrate. It was a moment to laugh about after the game. But in the moment, it provided OSU a huge opportunity. Aleah Goodman hit a pair of free throws with 2.3 seconds to go and OSU had the ball on the in-bounds, but failed to score on the final shot, leaving the Huskies to celebrate for real.
“She’s a gutty girl and she knocked down an incredible shot,” Wynn said. “We got a little too happy on the sidelines. The officials made the right call.”
Peterson said she didn’t realize she was as deep as she was when she took the shot.
“But at that point, you've got to let it fly,” Peterson said. “When it went in, it was a great feeling. This is probably the funnest game I’ve played in my life.”
Amber Melgoza finished with 21 points and a feeling she has been waiting for all year.
“We've obviously had a tough season,” Melgoza said. “We've just worked so hard, and we've had so much toughness and grit, and just heart. I thought that the last couple weeks almost, we've really focused on our defense, and I think that's something that's really going to carry us on and carried us on in this game for a win.”
Rueck called the final moments of the game “chaotic and odd” and that he couldn’t remember getting beat by a deep 3-pointer like that in his coaching career.
“You can’t give a team hope,” Rueck said. “We were in a situation where we were in control (in the first half), and they switched their zone and that gave us trouble and we did not respond.
“They hit huge shots. They answered everything we did. I told (Washington coach) Jody (Wynn) last night that I was impressed with the way they played against Utah (the night before). They not only had nothing to lose, but they executed. Funny things happen in March. Teams get hope. And hope is a powerful thing.”
Stanford upends Cal
Who was that masked woman?
Stanford senior center Shannon Coffee, whose role is to come off the bench for moments just like this, drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:10 to go in the game to give the second-seeded Cardinal the breathing room it needed to nail down a 72-54 win over Cal in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena that was much closer than the final double-digit margin.
Coffee has been sporting a face mask much of the season after being hit in the face against Baylor back in early December, a game, incidentally, in which she hit three game-changing 3-pointers to lead the Cardinal to a win over a team that’s now ranked No. 1 in the country.
“I don't really want to get hit again,” Coffee said. “I'm down in the battlefield there with a lot of elbows going around. So, it's just kind of preventive.”
Several weeks ago, she switched to a closer-fitting black mask that she says improved her vision, and apparently, she knew a big moment when she saw one.
Cal senior Recee’ Caldwell had buried a jumper to pull the Bears within 55-52 in a game that had been nip-and-tuck throughout when Coffee nailed her sixth 3-pointer of the season and only her second since those treys against Baylor.
Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer joked that she assumes that Coffee has something against Bears, first Baylor, now Cal.
“Yeah, not that I can think of, I don’t think I necessarily have anything against bears in real life, but on the court, it seems I do,” Coffee said with a wry smile. “I’m not out there gunning. I know I have confidence in my teammates to create some other plays…when the time came, I took my shot.”
VanDerveer was equally impressed with Coffee’s defense on Kristine Anigwe and the way she “facilitated” the Cardinal offense during the critical stretch.
“I am so proud of Shannon,” VanDerveer said. “She’s worked so hard. She’s been kind of a role player for three years. This year, she’s really stepped up and made some big plays for us. She’s played behind (people) and now she’s saying ‘Hey, it’s my turn’ and she’s doing a great job for us.”
Coffee’s shot sparked Stanford to a 17-2 run to close the game out, including a 3-pointer from junior guard Kianna Williams – who finished with a season-high 23 points - and another open drive in the lane by Williams to make it 63-52 in just a matter of moments.
Defensively, the Cardinal bottled up Cal star Anigwe, who finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but went 4-of-15 from the floor. It was, in reality, a tough shooting night for most of the Cal starters. Starting guards Asha Thomas and Kiana Smith struggled from the floor, shooting 4-of-25 from the floor. Something that Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb said will “never happen again.”
Yet the Bears, who have had their two worst shooting games of the season against their rival Cardinal, were in the game until the final moments, looking for an opportunity to take a lead. Ultimately, they could not take advantage of that moment.
“To have a one-possession game (late) speaks to how they bought into our messages about being better against Stanford, how they hung tough when it was hard,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “I think we're going to get a shot against a team of this caliber in the NCAA Tournament at some point, maybe in the first round, second round, whatever it is. And I think we're going to be ready because of the way that we approached this.”
Bruins battle to the finish
Seven fourth-quarter turnovers stifled a Sun Devils comeback and ASU’s opportunity to reach the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals as they fell to fourth-seeded UCLA, 73-69.
The Bruins (20-10), who have won 11 of their last 13 to break back into the national rankings a couple of weeks ago for the first time this season, reach the Pac-12 semifinals for the fourth straight season.
Japreece Dean, who found out earlier this week that she has been granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA to return to UCLA next season, led the way with 24 points. Michaela Onyenwere added 20 points.
“You know, I couldn't sleep last night because I was thinking about it and so much was on my mind, and I just tried to get it off,” Dean said. “Because I don't play with a bunch on my mind. But I don't think it had much of an impact. I just knew I was going to be on an attack mode, whether that was defensively or offensively or creating for others, and that's what I did.”
ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said her team’s lack of discipline, not only with the turnovers, but also some key foul trouble, was uncharacteristic.
“We’re very disappointed,” Turner Thorne said. “We are not a team that turns the ball over…and we are not a team that fouls, so we were just not the disciplined team that we normally are. So it’s a little tough to swallow, but give UCLA credit. They’re playing really well.
It was a rough couple of games for ASU centerpiece Kianna Ibis, who left Thursday night’s first-round win over USC with an injury and then sat for extended periods during Friday’s loss to fourth-seeded UCLA with foul trouble.
Asked after the game how she is feeling, Ibis responded, “Well, I mean, I bet everybody in the Pac-12 right now is feeling -- it's the end of the season. Everybody's feeling a little beat up and sore and stuff. I just have to play through it better.”
Top-seeded Oregon took another step toward its defense of the Pac-12 Tournament title with a 77-63 win over Arizona. The Ducks would be just the second team in the history of the tournament to win back-to-back titles (Stanford has streaks of three straight and seven straight) and the first since 2013.
Ruthy Hebard, still recovering from a knee injury sustained two weeks ago, led the way with 21 points (9-for-11 from the floor) and with 10 rebounds, her first double-double in six games.
“The 9-for-11 is what we kind of what we’ve come to expect from her,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. “I thought we did a better job in the second half of getting her the basketball, and you know, that made a big difference…Ruthy’s a force, no question about it. When she’s playing her best, she’s one of the best post players in the country, certainly.”
Sabrina Ionescu, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, added 18 points and 13 assists, tying a tournament single-game record. She needs one more assist to break the tournament’s career-assist record held by UCLA’s Jordin Canada and Nikki Blue and she will have at least one more chance to get that one too.
It was a game that the Ducks led start to finish, but also a game that Graves called “a grinder.”
“It might have been those first-game jitters,” Ionescu said. “We're all super nervous and, honestly excited to get out there and play. And I think that definitely took that play into this game. But we'll be fine.”
The Pac-12’s leading scorer, Aari McDonald, turned in the fourth-highest single-game scoring performance in tournament history with her 34-point performance, one that kept the Ducks tested until the end.
Arizona coach Adia Barnes assessed her team’s postseason prospects, something she wouldn’t have thought do to last season, an illustration of how far the program has come this year.
“I think we've given ourselves some chances. There's been some opportunities. I think that we are someone that the NCAA Tournament would consider. I think there are some key games we lost that hurt our chances to be in the tournament,” Barnes said. “But my main thing is we've changed so much. This wasn't even a conversation last year. We won two games in the Pac-12, and six overall. So I'm proud that we've come a long way in a year. It's because of these two talented young women beside me. And whatever happens, happens, whether it's the NCAA Tournament, or the NIT, we're going to try to go win it.”
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.