Michelle Smith WBB Notebook: ASU, Cal and Oregon look to build on last week's results
Charli Turner Thorne saw this coming.
Well, maybe not “this” exactly. It’s hard to predict a weekend like the one that Arizona State Sun Devils created for themselves with two stellar, gritty upset wins over two of the top three teams in the country.
“We were getting better,” Turner Thorne said. “We have some young players, we have had injuries. I knew what we could be.”
But after a Pac-12 opening loss against rival Arizona in which her guards shot 2-of-23 from the floor, she wondered a little.
“I was a little nervous after the Arizona game, like ‘C’mon guys, who is this team?’,” Turner Thorne said. “But we just kept getting better and now we need to keep building on it.”
The Sun Devils have been the toast of the college game, this week, vaulting from the ranks of the unranked to being the No. 18 team in the country. Transfer JaTavia Tapley has been named the national player of the week and the Pac-12 Player of the Week. ASU has been named the team of the week by the NCAA.
“It’s a good thing for confidence, because it’s not like we steamrolled through the preseason,” Turner Thorne said. “We were out there growing, getting people experience, learning hard lessons. This now is a great thing for us. We know who we are, more than we ever have this season.”
Winning, Turner Thorne said, is a process.
“We won a number of close games. We lost two games in the conference right way, we were playing poorly,” the ASU coach said. “But we are back to where we usually are. We showed our toughness and we know how good we can be. I feel like we are barely getting started.”
Next up is a difficult trip to Washington and Washington State.
“There’s nothing easy in this conference.”
Ducks ready for a turning point
Oregon coach Kelly Graves says it straight up.
“We have not been playing good basketball up to now,” Graves said of his sixth-ranked team. “We haven’t played our best basketball. We have not hit our stride.”
With Stanford heading to Eugene for Thursday’s nationally televised matchup, and coming off an upset loss at Arizona State last Friday, Graves is looking for a breakthrough for a team that most still believe is a national championship contender.
Expectations were sky-high for Oregon coming off last year’s first-ever NCAA Women’s Final Four appearance with four returning starters, including Wade Trophy winner Sabrina Ionescu. But the 2019-20 season isn’t a continuation of 2018-19. It probably was never going to be.
“I’m not sure that as coaches we assume it’s going to be the same,” Graves said. “I’ve had people who have come up to me and said ‘I’ve already bought my tickets. I’ve got a hotel in New Orleans.’ That’s really nice. But this is hard.
“This is an entirely different team. Everybody’s roles are different. Everybody’s expectations of their roles are different. We are a work in progress. It’s not been perfect. It’s not been seamless.”
And here comes Stanford and a matchup in front of a near sellout at Matthew Knight Arena. Those fans will see an epic battle.
“The biggest challenge they present is that they have five players out on the floor at any given time that can score and make plays,” Graves said. “They are disciplined at both ends of the floor. They are talented. They have nine McDonald’s All-Americans. We’ve got two. They have a Hall of Fame coach.
“And they never beat themselves. Ever. You have to beat them.”
Last year, the Ducks did that during the regular season, dominating the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion, 88-48, the program’s worst-ever home loss under Tara VanDerveer. Stanford avenged that loss a month later in the Pac-12 Tournament title game, with a 64-57 win.
Bears looking for their moment
Cal welcomed more than 6,000 fans to Haas Pavilion on Sunday for the back end of its rivalry matchup with Stanford, improving their performance greatly from a Friday night blowout at Maples Pavilion.
The Bears are one of two winless teams in the conference at 0-4. But Cal coach Charmin Smith is proud of the way her young team is developing. And she hopes those fans come back.
“We are learning, we are growing and we are doing it together,” Smith said. “None of this is easy. Our main thing from the jump has been our chemistry and culture and knowing that we have to stick together.
“We have been talking about this stretch of Pac-12 play (two games against Stanford, followed by the Oregon schools) since the preseason. We’ve said ‘You know what’s coming. There are going to be some rough patches. How are we going to handle that?’” Smith said.
Smith said she asked her team’s sports psychologist to address this topic with her players, how will they stay together if things don’t go their way in terms of wins and losses.
“We have established a strong enough culture that we can handle adversity,” Smith said. “That was part of this game (Sunday). I asked them ‘How does this feel right now?’ I know we lost, I know we lost by more than 20 points to our rival. It’s a big deal to us. But this felt a lot better than Friday (when the Bears lost to Stanford in Maples Pavilion). We left the locker room knowing that we are still together and that everyone competed and they gave everything they had for one another. As long as we do that, the rest of it doesn’t matter.
“We know we are building something. We are going to have a moment and we are going to get the wins, as long as we stick together.”
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including 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. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.