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Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Feature: Sweet 16 Preview

Mar 26, 2021
Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics
And then there were three. The Pac-12 is one again well represented in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament with top seed Stanford, No. 3 Arizona and No. 6 Oregon moving on to some of the highest-profile matchups of the upcoming weekend.
 
Let’s take a look at those games.
 
No. 3 Arizona (18-5) vs. No. 2 Texas A&M (25-2), Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2
 
History: Texas A&M leads the series 3-2. The two programs haven’t faced off since the 2010-11 season.
How the Wildcats got here: A nail-biting win over BYU in the second round lifted Arizona to its second Sweet 16 in school history and the first one since 1998, when the Wildcats were led by their head coach Adia Barnes. Now they are playing for their first-ever trip to the Elite Eight Senior standout Aari McDonald, who has the longest streak of double-digit games in the county at 89, willed the Wildcats to their second-round win with 17 points and 11 rebounds out of the backcourt, but it’s been defense that has been the Wildcats’ backbone during the postseason, where they have allowed opponents an average of 48 points a game. Junior Cate Reese has stepped up in the Tournament so far, scoring in double figures in each game for the first time since mid-February.
What about the Aggies: Texas A&M, making their third straight trip to the Sweet 16, has had the Tournament’s most dramatic finish so far, with Jordan Nixon’s buzzer-beating floater in overtime vaulting the Aggies into the Sweet 16 with a win over Iowa State. And their first-round game against Troy was too-close-for-comfort as well. At this point, Gary Blair’s team is battle-tested, but perhaps too much so for a team that has championship aspirations. A&M starts four seniors and all five starters average double-digit scoring. Senior guard Aaliyah Wilson leads the way with 12.6 points per game.
Deciding factor: Rebounding. If Arizona can win the boards - an effort likely led by Trinity Baptiste - they can win the game. Texas A&M has been out-rebounded in its first two NCAA games, and played to the wire and it’s hard to imagine that getting out-rebounded for a third time will result in another win.
 
No. 1 Stanford (27-2) vs. No. 5 Missouri State (23-2), Sunday, Noon, ABC
 
History: Stanford faced the Bears in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, also in the Sweet 16, Stanford winning 55-46. This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams, all NCAA Tournament games and the Cardinal are 3-0. 
How the Cardinal got here: Senior point guard Kiana Williams has made the most of her homecoming so far, setting the passion and the pace for Stanford in its first two games. The Cardinal cruised to an 87-44 win over Utah Valley State, but battled into the final minutes to end up with a 73-62 win over Oklahoma State in the second round. As usual, the Cardinal are spreading out the offense with six players averaging at least 7.5 points a game in the NCAA Tournament and holding opponents to 33.3 percent shooting on the defensive end.
What about the Lady Bears: Missouri State, playing in their fifth NCAA Tournament, come into this game on a 19-game winning streak (tied with Baylor for the longest active streak in Division I) after defeating 13th-seeded Wright State in the second round. Brice Calip leads the Bears in scoring at 13.5 points a game. Jasmine Franklin is the team’s leading rebounder at 9.6 points a game.
Deciding factor: Three-point shooting. Stanford has made 28 3-pointers in two NCAA Tournament games so far. If the Cardinal are scoring from the perimeter at that kind of clip, they are very difficult to beat.
 
No. 6 Oregon (15-8) vs. No. 2 Louisville (26-3), Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN
 
History: The Ducks are 2-3 all-time against the Cardinals with three-straight losses, including a 2019 defeat at the Paradise Jam tournament.
How the Ducks got here: Heading into the tournament, Oregon was focused on “righting the ship” after a late-season slide, and the Ducks have pulled it off to reach their fourth straight Sweet 16. The focus has come in the paint with the critical play of Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince. Sabally and Price combined for 37 points and 14 rebounds in Oregon’s hard-fought second-round win over Georgia. Senior Erin Boley’s 22-point effort against South Dakota was critical in the first round and another strong offensive night on the perimeter would take some of the pressure off the paint and allow Sabally and Prince to set the tone inside.
What about the Cardinals: Led by All-American Dana Evans, Louisville joins Oregon as two of the six teams to make the Sweet 16 in each of the last four Tournaments, a group that also includes Baylor, UConn, Stanford and South Carolina. The Cardinals had to rally from an 18-point deficit to complete a comeback win over Northwestern in the second round, the third-largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history.
Deciding factor: Paint dominance. Oregon is a team playing without two of its most productive guards in Ta-Hina Paopao and Jaz Shelley. The Ducks need more of what Prince and Sabally have brought inside, particularly against an undersized Louisville team, in order to have a shot at reaching another Elite Eight.