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Michelle Smith Pac-12 women's basketball mailbag - Jan. 26, 2022

Jan 26, 2022
Oregon Athletics

The first Pac-12 mailbag of the season is upon us! Thank you to everyone who submitted questions and with three makeup games scheduled for Wednesday, this seems like a good place to start:

Does the conference have a plan to handle makeup games due to COVID pauses or does it fall on the individual schools to work out the logistics and rescheduling themselves?

Pac-12 Deputy Commissioner Teresa Gould was hugely helpful here to share the conference’s consideration and parameters for rescheduling games.

On the women’s side, Gould said the member schools have made the following set of agreements:

  • No team will be asked to play conference games on consecutive days.
  • No team will be asked to play more than three games in any one week.
  • No team will be asked to play three conference games in consecutive weeks (unless they are willing to do so).
  • No team will be asked to play more than five conference games in two weeks (unless they are willing to do so).
  • Consideration will be given to teams coming off an extended pause, meaning they will not be asked to immediately jump into a three-game week.
  • Maximum flexibility should be provided as to location, the order of the opponent and game times, in particular. Games may not necessarily occur at their originally scheduled location.
  • Makeup games between opponents who are only scheduled to play once will be prioritized. An example would be today's Oregon State at Washington State game, which will be the only regular-season meeting between the Beavers and the Cougars.
  • The original four agreed-upon dates for rescheduled games - January 19, January 26, February 9 and February 16 has been expanded by one additional week - February 2.

“From there, it’s a process of matchmaking,” Gould said. “The overarching principle here, is that it’s clear that the goal of the reschedule is to facilitate the maximum number of Pac-12 teams in the NCAA Tournament and putting teams in position to earn the highest seed.”

Gould said that she expects “half to two-thirds” of the games to be made up.

“There are not enough weeks to make up all of them,” Gould said. “We can’t follow our parameters and accomplish that.”

Wednesday’s rescheduled games include Utah at No. 19 Oregon (11 a.m. PT), Oregon State and Washington State (1 p.m. PT) and No. 8 Arizona at UCLA (5 p.m. PT).

Curious what you think Oregon's ceiling is? 

When healthy, Oregon’s ceiling is very high. The return of Nyara Sabally, Te-Hina Paopao and transfer Endyia Rogers has transformed the Ducks from a team that lost to UC Davis early in the season into a team that can lay a 20-point beating on Connecticut.

This isn’t the highest-scoring Oregon team we’ve seen (although they do rank second in the Pac-12 at 75.1 ppg), but the Ducks are playing some pretty disruptive defense, forcing nearly 20 turnovers a game over the last six games, and they are building confidence with two wins over top-10 teams in Arizona and UConn.

And the offense comes from quite a few places. Paopao and Sabally each have three 20-point games this season and Rogers has two and 10 different players have led the team in scoring.

Staying healthy will obviously be key. Sabally is always the greatest worry, it would seem. Not only because of her injury history, but because she looked to be injured near the end of the Connecticut game last Monday and then rallied up to play a big role in Oregon’s weekend win against Washington with 20 points and 7 rebounds.

The schedule is going to be packed with makeup games and it will be noteworthy to see how that impacts the Ducks’ "big three." But in another month this will be a team that no one in the conference — or the country — wants to face. A long NCAA run looks very possible.

With conference play really just getting started, curious who are the leading candidates for Pac-12 Player of the Year so far?

My personal qualification for Pac-12 Player of the Year is that it goes to a player that is leading one of the top teams in the conference, which can narrow this list away from some players putting up great individual efforts.

That being said, at the moment, my shortlist definitely includes both Haley Jones and Cameron Brink from Stanford, UCLA’s Charisma Osborne, Arizona’s Cate Reese, and Oregon’s Nyara Sabally or Te-Hina Paopao.

How many teams have a realistic chance to make the NCAA tourney? Is the conference as a whole weaker than last season with only three teams ranked?

It’s tough to make the argument that the conference is stronger at this point, especially with so many COVID disruptions in the early part of the season, and outside of Stanford, few big nonconference wins.

But this conference is by no means a cakewalk. It could be argued in fact that most of the teams that finished in the bottom half of the conference standings a year ago are better than they were last season. 

While the Pac-12 may not be quite as top-heavy as it was a year ago, the middle of the conference race is going to be a strong one, and that’s where the best prospects for a multitude of NCAA berths will lie with teams such as UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah, Colorado looking like realistic NCAA prospects.

Can/will Stanford go undefeated in conference play?

Going undefeated in the Pac-12 has been a pretty unusual feat over the years. Stanford is the only team to have done it in the history of the conference. The Cardinal has done it seven times, and the last time was the 2011-12 season.

Oregon was 17-1 in 2019-20.

If there is one thing that goes in Stanford’s favor in terms of an undefeated season, it is depth. The Cardinal has eight players averaging double-figure minutes and it has great size at nearly every position, making for difficult matchups for virtually everyone.

Stanford’s modus operandi so far in conference play has been to start slow and allow opponents to feel they are in the game, before putting them in a second-half stranglehold and sealing the deal.

But an undefeated season in a year with many difficult teams and games left on the schedule is hardly a forgone conclusion.