Michelle Smith WBB Feature: An early look at the 2019-20 Pac-12 women's basketball campaign
For the 10th time in the last 12 seasons, there was a Pac-12 team represented in the NCAA Women’s Final Four. Oregon fell in the national semifinals in a thrilling game against eventual national champion Baylor, but the Ducks got a great consolation prize with the news that Sabrina Ionescu, the Wade Trophy winner and two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year, will be returning for her senior season.
Ionescu and the Ducks will be hungry for a return to the Final Four and they may well not be the only ones.
With a new season a little more than six months away, we can already anticipate another highly-competitive, high-level season in the Pac-12.
Here is a quick, early status check on all of the Pac-12 teams heading into the 2019-20 season.
Arizona. After winning a WNIT title in front of a packed house at the McKale Center and going from six to 24 wins in one season, the Wildcats have all five starters returning from that incredibly valuable postseason experience, poised for a breakout in the Pac-12. The Wildcats will feature Aari McDonald, one of the best scorers in the country, back for her senior season, as well as rising sophomore Cate Reese. This team will be pointed directly at the NCAA Tournament next spring.
Arizona State. The Sun Devils' biggest asset for the new season, besides the confidence built by a trip to the Sweet 16 this spring, is an experienced backcourt of Riley Richardson and Robbie Ryan, as well as Jamie Ruden in the frontcourt. Eboni Walker, the No. 9 ranked prep small forward in the nation, joins the roster from Centennial HS in Nevada.
California. Next season will be one of great change for the Bears, who will be moving forward without Kristine Anigwe, the best player in program history, as well as floor leader Asha Thomas, a graduating senior, and Kianna Smith has decided to transfer. In addition, associate head coach Charmin Smith took a WNBA job with the New York Liberty. A rebuild will be happening in Berkeley.
Colorado. The Buffs had a tough season and the loss of longtime leaders Alexis Robinson and Kennedy Leonard signals a new era for the program. Colorado returns a young nucleus that includes rising sophomore Peanut Tuitele, Annika Jank, Hollingshed and Quinessa Cayalo-Do, and welcomes a recruiting class that four players deep.
Oregon. The Ducks want to get back to the Final Four and with Ionescu back, along with Ruthy Hebard, Satou Sabally, Erin Boley and Sabally’s young sister Nyara, whose freshman season was halted by an injury, there is every reason to think they will have a good chance to return. The biggest replacement will happen at point guard, where Maite Carzola was such a steadying force. Australian point guard Jazmin Shelley will have a chance to fill those big shoes. Expectations on Oregon will be higher than ever, but having Final Four experience is a valuable asset with which to begin a season.
Oregon State. The Beavers will have the core of their team back on the floor with point guard Destiny Slocum, Mikayla Pivec, Aleah Goodman and Kat Tudor will be back from the knee injury that ended her 2018-19 season. In fact, four of OSU’s top scorers will be returning as the Beavers will be looking to continue to be among top teams of the Pac-12. Six-foot-six incoming recruit Kennedy Brown enters the mix and be mentored by a team with experience in the biggest games.
Stanford. The Cardinal will miss the versatility of Alanna Smith, but have plenty to look forward to with the return of most of its key players, including guards Kianna Williams and DiJonai Carrington, twin forwards Lexie and Lacie Hull, Maya Dodson and Nadia Fingall, and the addition of the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, headlined by No. 1 national prospect Haley Jones and dunking sensation Fran Belibi. Assuming these young players are ready for prime time, the Cardinal look positioned to be immediate national title contenders.
UCLA. The Bruins are moving forward without forward Kennedy Burke, but with plenty of reasons to be excited about the future. UCLA returns Michaela Onyenwere, who had a star-making sophomore season, the return of point guard Japreece Dean for a fifth season, perimeter shooter Lindsay Corsaro as well as a top 10 recruiting class that includes guard Jaden Owens and Charisma Owens. Natalie Chou, a transfer from Baylor, will be eligible to play as well, and will be joining a team that’s confident after a long NCAA Tournament run.
USC. One of the top five recruiting classes in the country will come into Los Angeles to join a team that includes Shalexxus Aaron and Kayla Overbeck. Minyon Moore’s decision to transfer hurts, but an infusion of young talent will be a good consolation prize for Mark Trakh. That recruiting class includes guard Endyla Rogers, forward Alissa Pill and 6-foot-5 center Angel Jackson from Richmond, Calif.
Utah. News that Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Dre’Una Edwards has decided to transfer is another blow in a season full of them in Salt Lake City. Edwards’ departure leaves the Utes with two returning starters heading into next season, guard Dru Gylten and forward Kiana Moore. The Utes will also have the services of two transfers who sat out last saeson - Julie Brousseau and Ola Makurat - and a pair of incoming recruits.
Washington. The Huskies’ impressive run in the Pac-12 Tournament, and three wins in their final six games, gives them something to build upon to start a new season, including the return of high-scoring guard Amber Melgoza, who will be a senior. In fact, Washington returns its top four scorers, including Australian forward Darcy Rees and guard Missy Peterson, who will be a junior and a strong perimeter threat. The rebuilding of this team looks to make a big jump in 2019-20.
Washington State. Kamie Ethridge’s second season will include the return of the talented Molina sisters (Chanelle, Celina and Cherilyn) - and the biggest question mark will be whether Borislava Hristova will return for another season after three productive years in the Cougars program.
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.