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Michelle Smith Women’s Basketball Notebook: 2020-21 Season Preview

Nov 24, 2020
By Michelle Smith
A Pac-12 women’s basketball season like none other will begin on Wednesday. This much we know. 
What else do we know? The conference remains the center of the college women’s basketball universe.
  • Five top-25 teams in the AP preseason poll.
  • Two preseason All-Americans.
  • 18 of the top-100 freshmen in the country.
There is so much to hope for, so much to look forward to. Here is wishing everyone a safe, competitive, compelling season full of stories and moments and memories.
Five games to watch in the first half
December 4 - UCLA at Arizona: Two of the top individual talents in the country - Aari McDonald and Michaela Onyenwere - will go head-to-head in the Pac-12 opener for both teams. The two teams split the season series a year ago.
December 13 - Oregon at Oregon State: There’s no reason to expect that this won’t be a battle between two highly ranked teams and more of the same competitiveness that has characterized this rivalry in recent years.
December 21 - Stanford at UCLA: UCLA pulled off a 10-point win last year during the regular season and then fell in the Pac-12 semifinals to the Cardinal. 
January 1 - Stanford at Arizona: A battle between two teams currently ranked in the Top 10 nationally. This would be a statement win for the Wildcats.
January 3 - Oregon State at USC: The Women of Troy’s biggest upset of the season came against the Beavers last season. Let’s see if they can do it again.
Five freshmen to watch
Cameron Brink, Stanford: The 6-foot-4 forward from Oregon is the highest-rated Pac-12 freshman in the class. Brink comes to Stanford prepared to contribute inside and is already considered one of the top-20 power forwards in the nation before playing a single game.
Sydney Parrish, Oregon: The 6-foot-2 guard from Indiana is one of five five-star freshmen to join the Oregon roster this season. Parrish averaged 24.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game as a senior with eight 30-point games. She will bring instant offense.
Te-Hina Paopao, Oregon: The 5-foot-9 guard from Oceanside brings a versatile, multi-faceted game to Eugene.  As a high school senior, Paopao averaged 22.7 points, 8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.3 steals while leading La Jolla Country Day School to a 32-1 record.
Dalayah Daniels, Cal: The Bears add a McDonald’s All-American to the roster in Daniels. Daniels comes in ranked as the No. 2 post player in the nation. The 6-foot-3 forward from Seattle averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks per game as a junior in high school.
Sasha Goforth, Oregon State: The 6-foot-1 guard from Arkansas is a McDonald’s All-American rated among the top-five guards in the nation. Goforth led her high school team two a pair of state titles, winning Tournament MVP both times.
Five sophomores to watch
Charisma Osborne, UCLA: The dynamic guard from Los Angeles has proven that she is a star in the making, and the perfect complement to Onyenwere. She has 29 starts under her belt from her freshman season and scored in double digits 18 times, including four 20-point games.
Alissa Pili, USC: Pili had a great debut season, starting in 30 games and leading all Pac-12 freshmen in scoring at 16.3 points a game. Pili, who was named Freshman of the Week four times last season, has sent notice to every team in the league that she will be a factor moving forward.
Taylor Jones, Oregon State: Jones made a big first impression, leading the Pac-12 in blocked shots in her first season and averaged 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. She will need to come up even bigger in her sophomore campaign for a Beavers’ team that needs her.
Kennedy Brown, Oregon State: The 6-foot-6 center from Kansas started 23 games before she tore an ACL on February 7 and missed the remainder of the season. She will come back as one of the league’s top rebounders and go-to players in the paint.
Jaylyn Sherrod, Colorado: The guard from Alabama proved herself as one of the Pac-12’s best distributors, averaging 5.1 assists per game as a freshman to go with 9.9 points a game. The Buffaloes have high hopes for this season and Sherrod’s play is a big reason why.
Five juniors to watch
Cate Reese, Arizona: Reese is not a second-fiddle to McDonald, she is breaking out on her own. The 6-foot-2 forward averaged 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds a game last season, shooting 49 percent from the floor. Her 30-point game against Cal in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals sent a signal that this season could be her best yet.
Lexie Hull, Stanford: Hull had a strong sophomore season for the Cardinal, averaging 13.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 steals in 30.7 minutes per game while leading the team in rebounding and steals, and ranking second in points and assists. Her consistency - she scored in double digits in 22 games - will be key for the second-ranked Cardinal this season.
Dru Gylten, Utah: Gylten, who has started 60 games over the past two seasons, led all returners in the Pac-12 after dishing out 5.3 assists per game last season. Her 21-point game against Cal showed that she can also be counted on as a scorer.
Taylor Chavez, Oregon: The reigning Pac-12 Sixth Player of the Year, Chavez is likely going to see a more prominent role for the Ducks. Chavez provides strong perimeter defense and three-point shooting as well as experience and leadership to a team with just four returners.
Haley Van Dyke, Washington: Van Dyke had a strong sophomore season, finishing second on the team in scoring at 8.2 points per game while shooting 43.2 percent from the field. She finished second in the conference with 64 steals, averaging 2.1 per game. A Huskies team starting the season with injuries and some adversity is going to rely on her experience.
Five seniors to watch
Kiana Williams, Stanford: The Cardinal floor leader will again set the pace for Stanford. Williams started all 33 games last season, averaging 15.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 34.2 minutes per game. She led her team in points, assists, minutes and made 3-pointers and will be one of the best guards in the nation.
Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA: Onyenwere is a preseason All-American, only the second UCLA player ever to receive that recognition. Onyenwere averaged 19.1 points and 8.6 rebounds a game last season. Her consistency and her athleticism are going to make her a top WNBA Draft pick by next spring.
Aari McDonald, Arizona: The All-American scorer also happens to be the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. McDonald has led the conference in scoring and steals in each of the past two seasons.
Erin Boley, Oregon: Boley, the sharp-shooting forward, is one of four returners on the Ducks’ roster, leading the team through this transition season. She enters the season as the only active player in the nation to have ranked in the top-15 nationally in three-point percentage each of the last two seasons.
Aleah Goodman, Oregon State: Goodman enters her final season first in 3-point percentage in Beaver history, and fourth in 3-pointers made. Without Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum on the floor, Goodman is going to play a key role in OSU’s perimeter offensive game.
Five comeback stories to watch
Haley Jones, Stanford: The Cardinal sophomore wing, the No. 1 recruit in the country when she came to The Farm as a freshman last fall, was having an immediate impact through 18 games for Stanford (averaging 11.4 points a game) before she sustained a knee injury at Oregon State in January and did not return for the remainder of the season.
Nyara Sabally, Oregon: The younger sister of former Ducks star Satou Sabally, Nyara has missed the past two seasons with injuries to the same knee. She begins the 2020-21 season as a redshirt sophomore. Sabally has international experience with the German national team and, at 6-foot-5, will bring size, athleticism and versatility to the Oregon lineup.
Taya Corosdale, Oregon State: Corosdale, now a redshirt junior, will play a critical role for the Beavers after missing most of the 2019-20 season after a hamstring injury that required surgery just two games into the year. She will play a key role alongside Taylor Jones and Kennedy Brown.
Sedona Prince, Oregon: The Texas transfer, a 6-foot-5 center who will immediately be considered one of the top posts in the Pac-12, has not played since 2018. Her freshman season at Texas ended before it started with a broken leg at the FIBA Americas Championship and due to transfer rules, she sat out the following season in Eugene. Prince will make her debut on a remade Oregon team, providing a strong paint presence to replace the departure of Ruthy Hebard inside.
Shalexxus Aaron, USC: Aaron has missed two of the last three seasons with knee injuries and won’t quite be ready to go as the season opens. She is expected back in the next few weeks, according to USC head coach Mark Trakh. As a freshman in 2018-19, she made 42 three-pointers at a 41.6 percent clip, among the all-time best in program history. Her perimeter game will round out the offense for the Women of Troy.
Five milestones to watch
Tara VanDerveer, Stanford: The legendary Stanford coach is four wins away from tying the late Pat Summitt for the most wins in the history of women’s basketball. With five games, she will pass Summitt, her close friend and colleague.
Aari McDonald, Arizona: The Wildcats All-American guard enters the season with 66-straight games in double figures, the longest streak in the nation. She is also on the verge of scoring 1,500 points in an Arizona uniform.
Cori Close, UCLA: The Bruins head coach needs two wins to reach 200 in her career.
Scott Rueck, Oregon State: The Beavers head coach needs seven wins to reach 500 for his career.
Kelly Graves, Oregon: The Ducks head coach needs 18 wins to reach 600 in his 26-year coaching career.
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for 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, visit the archives page.