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2021 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament

March 3-7 | Las Vegas, NV
Michelob ULTRA Arena

Michelle Smith Women’s Basketball Feature: Quarterfinal Recap

Mar 4, 2021
Bryan Steffy
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - The second day of the 2021 Pac-12 Tournament is in the books and even at this late stage of the season, we are learning more about the league all the time.
Let’s take a look at the four things we learned after Friday’s four-game quarterfinal round.
Momentum matters
The first semifinal on Friday night (5 p.m. PT) is going to match the two hottest teams in the conference in what is shaping up to be an epic clash. Fifth-seeded Oregon State, has now won eight-of-nine games and looks like they could crash the championship party at this rate. Knocking out No. 4 seed Oregon in a second-straight matchup (the two teams closed the regular season last Sunday), the Beavers shot nearly 49 percent from the floor and out-rebounded the Ducks 36-31 to come away with a win that was built on a 31-point third quarter outburst, their highest scoring quarter of the entire season.
“What I'm most happy about is just this team has gone through the craziest year, as obviously well-documented, “ said Beavers head coach Scott Rueck. “And to get to this point, have an opportunity tomorrow night in the Pac-12 semifinal, not only to advance to the championship and have another opportunity to win, but maybe if it took this one to cement our spot in the NCAA Tournament, I mean that's why they came here to do these types of things.”
Senior Aleah Goodman, who finished the game with 13 points and seven assists, said she is just enjoying the ride. One that has gotten much more pleasant of late after early-season struggles and mid-season COVID pauses.
“I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun playing basketball with a group of people,” Goodman said. 
Oregon State will be playing its sixth scheduled game in a row for the first time all season when it takes the floor against the Cardinal.
“That will be new for us,” Rueck joked.
“Did we see ourselves in the Pac-12 semifinal a month ago? You know, the obvious answer would have been no,” Rueck said. “We were so disjointed at the time. Our season had been so frustrating without games that it was hard to envision what the potential of this team could be, because we hadn't had a chance to really experience it.”
That experience is coming.
Stanford (23-2), meanwhile ran its current win streak to 12-in-a-row with an emphatic 92-53 win over USC (11-12) that included 15 three-pointers for the top-seeded Cardinal, a season high (one shy of the program record) and a Pac-12 Tournament single-game record. 
More important to Tara VanDerveer, who has always had a more is more approach to tournament play, 10 players scored in the game, with 12 players getting at least nine minutes.
That is the kind of valuable playing time that the Hall of Fame coach knows can pay dividends when you have quick turnarounds in the postseason.
“You don’t usually play back to back during the season,” VanDerveer said. “It’s a grind. When you play three games in four days, and we know that we are going to need everybody. I know that we will be rested and excited to play tomorrow and I know we are going to have to play well.”
Sophomore post Ashten Prechtel, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in her strongest all-around performance of the season, said that it’s “big” at this point in the season for the Cardinal to capitalize on its depth.
“Keeping people fresh is big for us,” Prechtel said. “Oregon State is coming off some big wins, and it’s definitely going to be a battle.”
Stanford, who added to their stingy total of holding opponents to 53 or less (11 times this season) is 18-1 in the quarterfinal round.
Reigning Champs Need a Regroup
This time last year, Oregon coach Kelly Graves said Thursday, the Ducks were preparing for a coronation and that’s hard to argue. A team with stars Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally, playing dominating basketball and looking like an NCAA title favorite.
A year later, Oregon is going home after one game in the Pac-12 Tournament, failing to make the conference title game for the first time since 2016 after a tough loss to Oregon State in Thursday’s quarterfinal, a game in which Oregon was down by 15 points in the third quarter before closing to within four points in the final moments.
“We haven’t played in the championship game in a while,” Graves said. “This is a new experience...”
And not the one they wanted. The Ducks will enter the NCAA Tournament field with five losses in six games. It is not clear whether freshman point guard Te-Hina Paopao will be able to play. She has missed the past two games with a foot injury and was on the sidelines Thursday cheering her team on with a boot on her foot.
Graves said his team needs to find its confidence soon.
“It’s not fun losing,” Graves said. “And it’s especially not fun losing to the Beavers, especially when it’s the first time we have ever played one another in the tournament. I believe in our team. Somehow we have to right this ship. But man, we are sure on the struggle bus down the stretch.”
The freshmen. They aren’t afraid. 
Let us not forget that Talia Von Oelhoffen should be finishing her senior year of high school right now. In a “normal” year, she’d be leading her team into the high school postseason tournament, perhaps picking out a prom dress, ordering her cap and gown.
But in this thoroughly non-normal year, Von Oelhoffen is instead in her freshman year of college, using a “free” year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to propel the Oregon State Beavers into the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament.
The freshman guard led all scorers in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over Oregon with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists. She’s scored 39 in her first two conference tournament games. Fellow freshman Sasha Goforth finished with 10 points.
Von Oelhoffen brings confidence and talent to the Beavers roster. OSU is 8-2 since she joined the team in January.
“It was an intense moment and a big game,” OSU senior Aleah Goodman said of Von Oelhoffen’s performance. “Did I expect it? Of course, because that’s who Talia is. She is extremely competitive.”
Defense Might Win This Championship.
The Arizona Wildcats held Washington State to just 26 points through three quarters, and single-digit totals in the first and third periods to pin the Cougars to a season-low scoring effort in their 60-44 quarterfinal win. The Cats forced 23 turnovers through those same three quarters and 25 for the game.
We know that Stanford is deep and tall and talented. But the Cardinal are also one of the best defensive teams in the country, pinning USC to just 16 points by halftime of their Friday matchup. Even after a better second half, the Trojans shot 28.6 percent from the floor for the game and were just 2-for-22 from beyond the 3-point arc.
UCLA ranked among the league’s top 4 defensive teams by the end of the regular season and ranked No. 2 behind Arizona with 17.7 turnovers forced per game. The third-seeded Bruins held off Washington - who played tight until the fourth quarter - and held them to a season-low scoring output in a 58-46 win.
Oregon State, meanwhile, has always been one of the league’s most disciplined teams and is rounding into form during this run of success.
Arizona coach Adia Barnes wasn’t completely buying it. Especially when you look at the 92 points Stanford put up on Thursday. Scoring is going to matter too, said Barnes.
“Defense is definitely going to be a factor, but you also have to convert,” Barnes said. “Defense is a staple for us. UCLA and Stanford are really good defensive teams. But you still have to hit shots. You have got to be able to score. For us, we aren’t going to be a team that puts up a bunch of three-pointers. That isn’t who we are. But it’s a matter of hitting shots, getting the shots we want and how we want to score off of our defense.”
UCLA coach Cori Close acknowledged that “defense will keep you in it.”
“But you are going to have to put the ball in the hole,” Close said. “When you get to these games, scoring goes down, you are going to have to be able to execute in the half court and score deeper in the shot clock. I do not think it’s going to take one or the other to win a championship in this conference. You are going to have to do both.”
Still, at this rate, the team that wins the Pac-12 title in 2021 might well do it with a stellar defensive performance.