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Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Feature: NCAA Preview

Mar 17, 2021
Washington State Athletics
The 2021 postseason has arrived, the brackets are full and the Pac-12 is well represented both in the NCAA Tournament with six teams and with Colorado and Arizona State earning spots in the WNIT Tournament, where they will extend their seasons as well.
The No. 1 overall seed.
Two No. 3 seeds
A No. 6 seed in Oregon and two fearless teams on the 8-9 line who will be ready for the No. 1 if they can pull off a first-round win.
Let’s take a look at the Pac-12 matchups in the NCAA field as teams board their flights to Texas, hoping they are going to be staying for a while.
Alamo Region
1 Stanford (25-2) vs. 16 Utah Valley (13-6)
The Cardinal are the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed for the first time since 1996 (the program’s first No. 1 seed since the 2013 season), due in large part to the number of road wins they racked up during their 63-day road trip earlier this season. Stanford makes its 33rd straight NCAA appearance under Tara VanDerveer wearing the mantle as a title favorite for the first time in a decade. Stanford’s last NCAA Championship came in 1992. There have been 11 Final Four appearances since then. Is it time to return to the podium with this deep, healthy, balanced team?
Opponent’s journey: Utah Valley became the Western Athletic Conference automatic bid following a second-place finish in the WAC regular season behind unbeaten California Baptist. Cal Baptist is not yet eligible for the NCAA Tournament due to its transition from Division II to Division I. The Wolverines went 10-4 in WAC play, setting a program record for conference wins.
History lesson: This will be the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
What might come next: A potential second-round matchup against either Oklahoma State, which features one of the country’s best post players in Natasha Mack, or Wake Forest.
Fast fact: Tennessee is the only team that has a longer active streak of NCAA appearances.
6 Oregon (13-8) vs. 11 South Dakota (19-5) 
The Ducks, who this time last year would have been favorites to win the NCAA Title, will go into the tournament without freshman point guard Te-hina Paopao, who is out with a foot injury, likely for the rest of the season. Oregon, which has reached the Elite Eight three seasons running (including 2019’s Final Four appearance) will be happy for the fresh start after a difficult few weeks of the regular season.
Opponent’s journey: South Dakota is 19-5, making its third straight NCAA Tournament after winning the Horizon League tournament. The Coyotes average 75.3 points per game and looking for their first NCAA Tournament win in three appearances.
History Lesson: South Dakota (19-5) defeated Oregon in the semifinals of the 2016 WNIT. South Dakota earned an automatic bid by winning the Summit League Tournament six days ago. This will be only the second matchup between these two teams.
What might come next: A possible matchup against No. 3 Georgia, who will face 14th-seeded Drexel in the first round. 
Fast Fact: This is the Ducks’ lowest seed since 2017.
Hemisfair Region
3 UCLA (16-5) vs. 14 Wyoming (14-9)
Two weeks rest will definitely help the Bruins after their short-handed run to the Pac-12 title game. UCLA is making a fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance with four straight trips to the Elite Eight under its belt. The Bruins will need to find offense beyond Michaela Onyenwere and Charisma Osborne to advance deep. Natalie Chou’s outstanding performance in the Pac-12 Tournament (averaging 18 points a game) is a good sign that they will get it.
Opponent’s journey: Wyoming earned its second-ever NCAA Tournament bid after winning the Mountain West Tournament Championship. The last time the Cowgirls were in the Tournament was 2008. Wyoming earned the Mountain West’s automatic bid with a 59-56 victory over Fresno State in the title game of the 2021 Air Force Reserve Mountain West Women’s Basketball Championship.
History Lesson: This will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
What comes next: No. 6 Texas, featuring potential No. 1 WNBA draft pick Charli Collier, who opens against No. 11 Bradley.
Fast Fact: UCLA is one of only eight programs nationally to have notched Sweet 16 appearances in each of the last four Tournaments.
8 Oregon State (11-7) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-8)
Nobody likes to be on the 8-9 line because that puts you up against the top seed in the second round, but if there is a team in the field that might not care, it’s the surging Beavers, winners of eight of their last 10 games (those two losses coming against No. 1 overall seed Stanford), who are not only happy to be in the bracket, but prepared to do some damage. Oregon State is making its seventh straight tournament appearance with four straight trips to the Sweet 16.
Opponent’s journey: The Seminoles, coached this season by interim head coach Brooke Wyckoff as head coach Sue Semrau takes a leave to care for her ailing mother, are making their eighth straight NCAA appearance and 15th in the last 16 years. The Seminoles finished 10-8 overall and 9-7 in the ACC, garnering a fourth-place finish in the conference regular season. 
History Lesson: OSU and FSU most recently squared off in the Sweet Sixteen in 2017 in Stockton, Calif. where the Beavers fell 66-53.
What comes next: A likely date with top-seeded South Carolina would await the Beavers if they can pull off the first-round win.
Fast Fact: Scott Rueck’s record as the OSU head coach in the NCAA Tournament is 13-6.
Mercado Region
3 Arizona (16-5) vs. 14 Stony Brook (15-5)
The Wildcats are in the tournament for the first time since 2005, looking to make up for the opportunity lost last season when the tournament was cancelled. Aari McDonald, one of the country’s best two-way talents, will be playing her final games in a Wildcats uniform and wants to go out in style by making a deep tournament run. Arizona will rely on its defense to win its first NCAA game in 16 years, and look for players like Cate Reese, Sam Thomas and Trinity Baptiste to complement McDonald on the offensive end.
Opponent’s journey: After going 28-3 last season, Stony Brook is making its first-ever appearances in the NCAA brackets. The Seawolves clinched their historic bid on Friday, with a 64-60 win against Maine in the America East title game.
History Lesson: This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams.
What comes next: A first-round win punches a ticket to the second-round, where the Wildcats will face the winner of the game between sixth-seeded Rutgers and 11th-seeded BYU.
Fast Fact: Arizona has advanced past the first round in seven of its nine NCAA Tournament appearances.
9 Washington State (12-11) vs. 8 South Florida (18-3) 
The Cougars, making their first tournament appearance in three decades, will be facing off against one of the top mid-major programs in the country in South Florida. But Washington State, who has three wins against ranked teams this season, won’t be intimidated. This is a team that played four overtime games in two weeks during the regular-season. The Cougars will need a variety of scorers to succeed in the tournament, going beyond the contributions of the Leger-Walker sisters, Krystal and Charlisse.
Opponent’s journey: South Florida earned its seventh NCAA Tournament bid after winning the American Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the first time. 
History Lesson: This marks the second meeting between the Bulls and the Cougars, with USF holding a 1-0 series lead. The Bulls defeated Washington State, 82-45, on Nov. 24, 2017, in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla.
What comes next: Should WSU pull off a first-round win, a date with top-seeded North Carolina State would likely await.
Fast Fact: Charlisse and Krystal Leger-Walker will be playing on the same team in the NCAA Tournament for the first and only time. But this isn’t Krystal’s first NCAA experience, she played in the tournament at Northern Colorado.