Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Feature: Second-Round Difference Makers
Tuesday and Wednesday bring intriguing second-round and opportunities for players to step up and stand out.
Here’s a look at the potential second-round difference makers for the Pac-12 teams looking to punch a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.
Taylor Jones, Oregon State - If the Beavers - who have won 9 of their last 11 games - are going to pull off the big upset and knock off No. 1 seed South Carolina in the second round, they will have to get another big day from Taylor Jones in order to counter the talents of Gamecocks’ All-American Aliyah Boston, who had 20 points and 18 rebounds in its first-round game. The sophomore forward from Texas finished the first-round win over Florida State with 18 points and eight rebounds. Jones has scored in double figures in seven of her last nine games, coinciding with OSU’s late-season run of success. Jones, with her 6-foot-10 wingspan, has 90 rebounds in the last eight games, including 15 and 13 rebounds respectively in the last two games the Beavers played against Stanford, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. She has also collected 14 blocks in her last eight games. Boston is a difficult interior matchup. Jones has the size and physicality to match up, the scoring ability to make the defense have to pay attention to the paint, leaving OSU shooters open on the perimeter, and to put OSU in position for an upset.
Haley Jones, Stanford - While senior Kiana Williams is the hometown girl with the hot shooting stroke, the versatile 6-1 sophomore guard is going to make the Cardinal a very difficult matchup for Oklahoma State. Jones is a critical facilitator for Stanford, even as her scoring has dropped off over the past few games. Jones only needed to play 16 minutes in the Cardinal’s first-round win over Utah Valley, but she finished with six points, seven assists and three rebounds. Jones, who ranks second on the team in scoring and assists and first in rebounding, has collected seven double-doubles this season in the scoring-rebounding columns and 23 assists over the last eight games. Jones led the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding this season. After missing the second half of her freshman season last year with a knee injury and losing a chance to play in the postseason, Jones’ first NCAA appearance comes on a team making a title run, and they need her in the middle of everything they do to pull it off.
Cate Reese, Arizona - The Wildcats are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005, but there were no nerves to start the first round game against Stony Brook. The 6-foot-2 junior forward finished the game with 16 points and six rebounds on 7 of 9 shooting from the floor. It was her best scoring game in more than a month and that is the kind of offensive effort that balances the contributions of Aari McDonald and makes the Wildcats so difficult to beat. Reese, who has 16 career double-doubles, is averaging 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds a game this season.
Nyara Sabally, Oregon - The junior post has waited a long time to play in the postseason, injuries ending her past two seasons before they even started. And she is a catalyst for the good things that the Ducks can do. She can rebound, block shots, run the floor and score in the paint. Oregon, playing a big lineup to start the game against South Dakota, recaptured its momentum after its late-season stumbles with a 20-point win. Sabally has put up 17 games in double figures this season. Her 17-point, five-rebound game against South Dakota included three assists and two blocked shots and an 8 of 12 performance from the floor.
Charisma Osborne, UCLA - The sophomore point guard is the distributor of the Bruins’ offense and the tone-setter of its defense on the perimeter. Her performance in her first NCAA game on Monday night was impressive - 15 points, 10 rebounds out of the backcourt and four assists. Osborne has collected a career-high 85 assists this season and her 17.0 points a game scoring average was second on the Bruins team behind senior forward Michaela Onyenwere. Wednesday’s matchup against sixth-seeded Texas will be a battle inside with presumed No. 1 WNBA draft pick Charli Collier, and that will leave Osborne on the perimeter to stretch the offense and defense out of the paint.