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Michelle Smith WBB Notebook: It's Mailbag time again

Feb 21, 2020

It went so well the first time, we will do it again. Here is our second-ever Pac-12.com women’s basketball mailbag. With four games to go before the conference tournament, there is a lot to talk about. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions.

Are you surprised by Satou Sabally’s decision to enter the WNBA with a year of eligibility remaining?
No. Sabally is a talent on an international scale and her decision makes sense. The Ducks look positioned for a second straight shot at a national championship and one way or the other, Sabally will be ready to move on. She will be a top-four pick in the WNBA Draft and will be able to transition to an international career in which she will be a versatile, in-demand talent. With Ionescu and Hebard leaving as well, it’s time. The sad part is that she will have missed the opportunity to play with her sister, Nyara, who has been sidelined the past two seasons with injuries.

How small is the window for ASU to still end up hosting? With some help via losses elsewhere, what would they need to pull off these last 2 weeks and in Vegas?
Using the RPI as a gauge to where the Sun Devils sit right now, Arizona State has an (NCAA.com) RPI of 24, which keeps them fairly well outside the top 16, which is the unofficial cutoff point for consideration as a host seed. Opportunities are there for Arizona State over the next few weeks, but they need to be seized. ASU will host Stanford on the final weekend of the regular season and a win over the Cardinal would elevate them. As would a couple of wins in the Pac-12 Tournament. If ASU can pull off a few big wins between now and selection day, they definitely have a shot given the boost in RPI that Pac-12 victories will provide.

Can Stanford beat Oregon at Maples on Monday?
Yes. Last year, the Cardinal took a huge loss at home to the Ducks in the regular season and then pulled off an upset win over Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament title game. Never underestimate Tara VanDerveer’s ability to come up with a game plan. That being said, Stanford is a young team, and Oregon is looking pretty machine-like right now with 12 straight wins. For the Cardinal to be able to pull off a win against a team playing this well is going to take perhaps their best, most complete effort of the season to date.

Any update on Stanford injuries?
The update from Stanford is this: Haley Jones and DiJonai Carrington are recovering from injury and there is no timetable for their return. The silence from Stanford about the status of both players is telling, which leads me to believe that they are navigating medical privacy issues. But at this point, I think it’s safe to say that the Cardinal are moving forward without both Carrington and Jones, two players who clearly would have been playing huge roles for them at a critical point in the season if they were healthy. Getting Maya Dodson back is a huge add for them and gives them strong depth inside. They will need it down the stretch of the season.

How do you think Adia Barnes turned things around in Arizona, including filling the stands?
The power of personality.  And her ability to convince Aari McDonald to come to Tucson with her. In her fourth season as a head coach, Barnes has proven to be a strong recruiter with a keen eye for talent and international connections that have allowed her to bring in talented foreign players to fill out her roster. McDonald’s arrival at Arizona opened the door for more players to see what Barnes was building. Cate Reese led an early big recruiting class, and the program’s success will bring more. Last year’s WNIT run was the best thing that could have happened to Arizona. The opportunity to play six more games at the end of the season, to solidify their culture and endear themselves to the community - largely through Barnes’ efforts on social media and a strong marketing plan - have changed everything for the Wildcats program. And Barnes gets almost all of the credit.

Are there any coaches you feel have underperformed this season?
Honestly, it’s tough to tag anyone with an “underperformed” label but in this case I would honestly say no. This has been a brutal, top-heavy and yet competitive a Pac-12 season. As competitive as perhaps there has ever been. It’s easy to make an argument that most of the teams in the bottom half of the standings are better than they were a year ago. Colorado has had some good moments, including pushing Stanford to the limit twice. Washington is likely disappointed that they were not able to build more off of last year’s late-season run, but could come to Vegas thinking they can do it again. Washington State could be dangerous in the conference tournament. USC has played really well of late without many W’s to show for it. Both Cal and Utah are relying heavily on young players. The coaches of these teams are building rosters, confidence, depth for the future. Can’t fault ‘em if the wins don’t come right away.

What happened to Oregon State?
Injuries happened to Oregon State, and that’s as good a place as any to start. Taya Corosdale and Kennedy Brown were playing big roles for the Beavers. Corosdale’s early injury gave OSU time to adjust, Brown’s injury in some ways is more difficult because they have been counting so heavily on her contributions inside. But a 4-7 record over the last 11 games can’t be tied to only one or two players. The Beavers are averaging 66.9 points a game in Pac-12 play, a dropoff from non-conference play. They hit 202 3-pointers in 12 non-conference games, but just 95 in the 14 Pac-12 games that have followed. For a team that’s relied heavily on its ability to shoot well from beyond the arc, the difference is putting pressure on the OSU offense. There is ample talent and experience on the Oregon State roster to carry them the rest of the season and into a strong postseason run. But first they will have to overcome the confidence quake that has come with the last month of disappointments.

If USC goes to the WNIT, how do you think they will do?
The first question is would USC get an invitation to the WNIT, and I think they are a bubble team at this point at 13-12, but they have wins over UCLA and Oregon State that certainly make them appealing. The next question is would USC accept an invitation to the WNIT, and I think at this point that the answer is yes. With a young team, and seeing how valuable the experience has been for programs like UCLA and Arizona in recent years, there is no downside to doing it unless your ranks are too thin to play more games come March. USC has a chance with four games against teams in the lower half of the conference standings to build some momentum heading into the conference tournament and, considering how tough an out they have been at points during this conference season, they will be a team that could be a dark-horse pick for a long run in Vegas.

Can ASU win it all? 
If all means the Pac-12 Tournament, I think it will be an uphill climb. Arizona State is going to have to up its offensive game to keep up with the top scoring teams in the conference. I have always been a firm believer that defense only takes you so far. In six Pac-12 losses, ASU has averaged 57.2 points a game. In eight conference wins, they have averaged 66.4. The top four scoring teams in the Pac-12 are averaging more than 74 points a game. Winning the Pac-12 Tournament is going to mean being able to keep pace at some point.

Is Aari McDonald worthy of being a first round pick? Where is the ideal situation for her in the WNBA?
McDonald, who is eligible for the 2020 WNBA Draft if she chooses to forgo her final year of college eligibility, is a borderline first-round pick, likely late in the first round. The ideal situation for her in the WNBA is someplace with established guards who will be able to mentor her and provide time for her to adjust to the physicality of the pro game. Her quickness, and her ability to get to the rim, is going to be tempered by bigger, stronger perimeter players. She will need to become a more consistent 3-point shooter- she is shooting just 28 percent from beyond the arc this season - and improve her mid-range game. And she needs to take better care of the ball (95 turnovers this season). There would be worse things than seeing her land with the defending champion Mystics. Washington head coach Mike Thibault has a way of developing young guards.

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.