Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Thanks for the best Pac-12 women's basketball season ever
We didn’t know when the Oregon Ducks players and coaches climbed the ladders to cut down the nets on the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas three weeks ago that would be the last moment of the Pac-12 women’s basketball season. That the college season would be over, as well.
The signs were there that something big was coming. The elbow-bumping, the ubiquitous hand sanitizing stations, the conversations about limiting fans during the NCAA Tournament. The nervous energy was unmistakable.
But then that energy would be replaced by the squeaking of shoes, the sounds of the whistles, the cheering of the crowd. For a moment, again, it was a postseason basketball game.
Hard to imagine that anyone knew it would end up looking quite like this.
What might arguably have been the best season in Pac-12 women’s basketball history ended without, well...an ending. It feels sad and unsatisfying. For the players and coaches who poured their bodies and their hearts into this extraordinary season, it must feel so much worse than that.
The season ended without a chance to see if Oregon could win a NCAA title. Without a chance to see if Arizona could pack McKale Center for a NCAA Tournament run. Without a chance to see how Stanford’s freshmen would rise to the NCAA occasion. Without a chance to see if UCLA could shake up its bracket. Without a chance to see if postseason momentum would strike for Oregon State or Arizona State. Without a chance to see if young teams at USC or Colorado could use the experience of the WNIT to vault them into next season the way the Wildcats did last season.
Without a chance to say Thank You. And so we will do that now.
Thank you Oregon Ducks for your sustained excellence and for setting such a high bar for not only the conference, but the country this season. Thank you to Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally for sharing your remarkable talents. And thank you to Sabrina Ionescu for returning for one more unforgettable season, to set records that may never be broken, to set standards that everyone moving forward will try to meet, for putting your team in position for a championship. Your business in Eugene finishes “unfinished” but we will all be forever grateful.
Thank you UCLA for your unrelenting toughness, your passion, your tenacity at both ends of the floor. Thank you to Michaela Onyenwere became a star this season. Thank you to Japreece Dean for making the most of her fifth season. Charisma Osborne showed us what the future looks like. And it looks very, very bright.
Thank you Stanford for showing the conference how to succeed with a roster of young players. Thank you for persevering through the injuries and the setbacks. Thank you to Kiana Williams for the shot of the season (against Colorado). Thank you to Tara VanDerveer for adding another chapter to your remarkable legacy. We all look forward to celebrating next season when you become the game’s all-time winningest coach.
Thank you Arizona for turning last season’s promise into this season’s prosperity. Thank you Aari McDonald for the excitement you brought every day on both offense and defense. Thank you to the fans of Tucson for showing up, for turning your Wildcats into one of the nation’s biggest draws. Thank you to Adia Barnes for leading your alma mater to its first NCAA Tournament in 15 years. We are sorry you didn’t get the chance to show the whole country what you are building.
Thank you Arizona State for one of the biggest regular-season weekends in NCAA women’s basketball history. Beating Oregon and Oregon State back in January was unforgettable. Putting together a seventh straight 20-win season is a testament to your program’s consistent commitment to defensive excellence, the buy-in of players like senior Reili Richardson, Robbi Ryan and Ja’Tavia Tapley and coach Charli Turner Thorne.
Thank you Oregon State for your resiliency through injuries and adversity. We were ready for you to find your groove as a team in March. Thank you to Mikayla Pivec for blessing us with your big heart, your talent and for redefining what a guard can do by leading the conference in rebounding this season.
Thank you USC for introducing us to Alissa Pili and Endyia Rogers, and for showing us that a team that leans heavily on its youngest players can still find a way to make a lot of noise. The WNIT would have been an incredibly valuable experience. Here’s hoping that experience can be captured in other ways heading into 2020-21.
Thank you Utah for the growth you showed this season, growth that will serve you well next year when you return 10 letterwinners to the floor including Dru Gylten, Brynna Maxwell and Lola Pendande.
Thank you Washington for the moments and drama you provided this season. Thank you to Amber Melgoza for a great Pac-12 career with more than 1,600 points over your final three seasons. We hope these next few months provide opportunities of healing for Darcy Rees and Ali Bamberger.
Thank you Colorado for putting together a season that put yourselves in position for a postseason berth, your first winning season since 2016-17. The future is bright. You beat Arizona. You took Stanford (twice), UCLA and Arizona State down to the wire. We look forward to seeing what’s next.
Thank you Washington State for your fearlessness in taking on one of the country’s most difficult non-conference schedules. And thank you to Borislava Hristova and Chanelle Molina for your stellar collegiate careers. You will be remembered as two of the best ever to wear the Cougars’ uniform.
Thank you California. It wasn’t the easiest season for you, and we know that rebuilding a program comes with its share of bumps and bruises. But you were always tough, you were always together and you were always in the right frame of mind. Thanks to head coach Charmin Smith. Your regular-season ending upset of Arizona and your win over Arizona State in the Pac-12 Tournament was a sign of better days ahead.
There will never be another season like 2019-20. It will be a measuring stick, a memory with its own distinct place in Pac-12 history. It didn’t get the ending that anyone deserved. But gratitude is deserved all the way around. Thank you for the ride. It was amazing.
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.