Michelle Smith's 2022 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament primer
On to Las Vegas.
After a Pac-12 regular season impacted by COVID protocols and pauses, defined by the parity that took over a good portion of the standings and a dramatic race to the finish, it’s time for postseason play.
The tournament, which begins on Wednesday at Mandalay Bay's Michelob ULTRA Arena, will determine NCAA hopes and seedings for some, and for others, it will be a jumping off point for the position they want to be in come fall when a new season starts again.
Let’s break down this week’s 2022 Tournament and its many possibilities.
Coming in hot
Setting aside the top-seeded Cardinal, which has won 17 straight coming into the postseason and is positioning itself to defend its title starting on Thursday in the quarterfinals, there are other teams coming in with momentum.
- Colorado (20-7, 9-7): The Buffaloes, posting their first 20-win season in nine years, enter with the second-longest winning streak in the league behind Stanford with four straight wins (and six wins in seven games). The final weekend of the regular-season, CU swept the Oregon schools, highlighted by the double-overtime win over the No. 2 seed Ducks. It has been an impressive bounce-back for a Colorado team that was 3-6 in conference play before its current stretch of success.
- Washington State (19-9, 11-6): The Cougars finished their conference slate with a program-record 11 Pac-12 wins, and their best overall win total in the NCAA era (19), thanks to a run of five wins in their last six games that includes a home win over Arizona. WSU is one of only four conference teams with a winning record away from their home court this season.
- Arizona State (12-13, 4-9): It’s been a rough ending to the regular season for the Sun Devils, with five straight losses and the season-ending knee injury to Jayde Van Hyfte. ASU, which fell to the No. 9 seed, hasn’t reached the title game of the conference tournament since 2007 and would need a run of upsets to get there.
- Oregon State (13-12, 6-9): The Beavers finish with the No. 8 seed, their lowest since 2013, after losing seven of nine games in February. OSU’s offense ranks No. 9 in the conference, averaging 64.3 points per game, but ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounds per game (40.3), and the Beavers will need to up their scoring for a strong tournament run.
Most intriguing first-round matchup
- No. 7 UCLA vs. No. 10 USC: The Southern California rivalry comes to the desert, and UCLA will need to beat the Trojans for the third time this season to get to the quarterfinal round. The Bruins won the first two games this season, 66-43 and 68-58.
Most intriguing potential second-round matchup
- No. 3 Washington State vs. No. 6 Utah: Two teams looking to solidify their NCAA resume could clash in the second round should the Utes, who notched their highest-ever finish in the Pac-12 since joining the league, get past No. 11-seed Cal. Utah won 72-66 in the only matchup of the season between the two teams.
Five players to watch
- Cameron Brink, Stanford: The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year has 11 double-doubles on the season and ranks first in the Pac-12 in rebounds (8.2), second in field-goal percentage (55.7 percent) and third in blocked shots (64).
- Rayah Marshall, USC: The freshman forward, the Pac-12’s blocks leader and second-leading rebounder, has 11 straight games in double-figures scoring, and has at least one block in 22 straight games.
- Te-Hina Paopao, Oregon: Paopao, who came off an injury at the start of conference play, has been making up for lost time. The sophomore guard has scored in double figures in 14 of the 20 games she appeared in this season, including seven of her last eight games, and has collected 65 assists.
- Charisma Osborne, UCLA: Osborne was one of the Pac-12’s most consistent offensive players this season, scoring in double figures in all but one game and finishing the regular-season as the conference’s second-leading scorer and ranks fourth with 53 3-pointers.
- Charlisse Leger-Walker, Washington State: Last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year has avoided a sophomore slump and has vaulted her team to an historic season, ranking fourth in the conference in scoring 16.3 points per game, and has scored 20-plus points in 10 games this season.
- Anna Wilson, Stanford: In her sixth-season, Wilson set the Stanford program record for games played earlier this week. The 2021 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is a key component to Stanford’s run at another title.
- Dru Gylten, Utah: Gylten, who has started 97 games for the Utes in her career, looks like she will get rewarded for four years of leadership with the Utes with her first trip to the NCAA Tournament. Gylten has a career average of 5.3 assists per game.
- Mya Hollingshed, Colorado: The fifth-year senior post Hollingshed moved into sixth place on CU’s career rebounding list (875) and eighth on the scoring list (1,632 points) during Saturday’s win over Oregon State. She also tied Kennedy Leonard (2015-19) for ninth with 156 career 3-pointers.
- Missy Peterson, Washington: Peterson, who missed the 2020-21 season with a knee injury, returned to help new head coach Tina Langley steady the Huskies program. Peterson, who hit one of the most dramatic shots in Pac-12 Tournament history in 2019, is coming off a strong nine-point game against No. 2 Stanford on Saturday.
Don’t be surprised if…
- UCLA makes a long tournament run: The Bruins are coming off a strong weekend sweep of the Arizona schools and need a run through the Pac-12 Tournament for NCAA hopes to be rejuvenated. UCLA’s biggest roadblock will be its depth and the fact it is still regularly using only seven or eight players, which will make a long run challenging. But the scoring of Charisma Obsorne and the experience of IImar'I Thomas could make the Bruins a dangerous foe for upper seeds.
- Washington pulls an upset out of the No. 12 spot: The Huskies pushed top-seeded Stanford to the limit at Maples Pavilion on Saturday, proving that they are capable of playing with the top teams in the conference on any given day. Washington comes into the tournament having won two of its final three games, building some late-season confidence.
The Big Questions
- Who could be the surprise team in this tournament? Colorado. The Buffaloes have a 6-9 all-time record in the Pac-12 Tournament, making the semifinals once in 2015. Colorado was the last unbeaten team in the nation. The Buffs have rallied from a slow start in conference play into position for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013 and a veteran team could be poised to make the program’s biggest statement yet in the conference tournament.
- How many teams will keep playing after Vegas? Right now it looks like six — Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, Washington State, Colorado and Utah. But a strong finish by UCLA or maybe Oregon State could possibly bump that number to seven for the Pac-12.
- Can Stanford be challenged? The Cardinal’s margin of victory over its last three games has been a total of 18 points. And it has hit just 13-of-59 3-point attempts during that stretch (22 percent). On its face, that indicates that the gap is closing between Stanford and the rest of the conference. But even when Stanford isn't shooting well, it finds a way. The Cardinal is experienced and poised and very good at winning close games - after all, it won two one-point games in the Final Four last season - and that’s what makes it so difficult to take down.