Michelle Smith breaks down the Pac-12 women's basketball teams in the NCAA Tournament
The NCAA Tournament brackets are out and based on the last few years of stellar Pac-12 performances, it’s the showcase time of year for this conference. Last April, two Pac-12 teams took the floor to play for the NCAA title for the first time in league history, with Stanford winning its first national championship since 1992 over upstart Arizona.
Six Pac-12 teams reached the NCAA field this season. After a season in which key injuries and COVID pauses had an impact on the conference’s ability to flood the tournament bracket with some of regular entrants, like UCLA, Oregon State and Arizona State, some new faces have emerged. Colorado and Utah will be in the field for the first time in a long time. Washington State makes it two-in-a-row. Arizona and Oregon will look to maintain their high national profiles and Stanford, a No. 1 seed, wants to mount a stout defense of its championship and become the first repeat champions since 2016.
Let’s break it down for each of the conference teams that punched their tickets to a tournament that now includes the “March Madness” moniker, four play-in games and renewed energy with the return of host sites, regional sites and best of all, crowds of cheering fans.
- Seed: 1
- Region: Spokane
- First Round Opponent: No. 16 Montana State (22-12, Big Sky champions)
- Date/Time/Location/TV: Friday, March 18 - 7 p.m. PT - Stanford, Calif. - ESPN2
- Recap: The Cardinal finished a perfect Pac-12 season and ran its winning streak to 20 with a win over Utah in the Pac-12 Tournament title game last Sunday, strengthening its status as the NCAA Tournament's No. 2 overall seed. The Cardinal is opposite South Carolina in the bracket, which sets up a possible clash of the titans in the national championship game, should both teams get that far.
- Outlook: The Cardinal is motivated to make its defense of the NCAA title by running through Spokane, the hometown of seniors Lexie and Lacie Hull. Home cooking worked out pretty well last year for Stanford, winning a trophy in senior Kiana Williams' hometown of San Antonio, why not try that again? Stanford certainly looks poised for a very long run, and what do they need to finish it off — 3-point shooting, great defense and keeping Cameron Brink out of foul trouble.
- Take Note: Stanford has been a No. 1 seed 12 times and six times since 2010.
- Seed: 4
- Region: Greensboro
- First Round Opponent: No. 13 UNLV (26-6, Mountain West champions)
- Date/Time/Location/TV: Saturday, March 19 - 7 p.m. PT - Tucson, Ariz. - ESPN2
- Recap: The Wildcats, last year’s NCAA runners-up, salvaged their host seed despite the fact that they exited the Pac-12 Tournament in the quarterfinals. That was likely a function of the return of senior Cate Reese, whose absence from the lineup with a shoulder injury was clearly felt when Arizona lost three of its final four games. Arizona will host an NCAA Tournament game for only the second time in program history (1998).
- Outlook: The Wildcats have a great chance to sell out the McKale Center and create a serious home-court advantage in the first two rounds. There is no Aari McDonald to capture the national imagination and become the go-to scorer in the postseason. Arizona will need to defend well, they will need to rebound (they ranked last in the Pac-12 this season) and they need balanced scoring from Reese, Shaina Pellington, Sam Thomas and Lauren Ware. With only Reese and Pellington averaging in double-figures this season, offensive balance is going to be so important in making a long tournament run.
- Take Note: Two big storylines in this one. Arizona senior Sam Thomas will be facing her sister Jade, a sophomore at UNLV in this game. And UNLV is coached by former Stanford standout Lindy LaRoque, who spent three years on Tara VanDerveer’s staff before taking on her first head coaching position last season. She will know Arizona well.
- Seed: 5
- Region: Wichita
- First Round Opponent: No. 12 Belmont (22-7, Ohio Valley champions)
- Date/Time/Location/TV: Saturday, March 19 - 2:30 p.m. PT - Knoxville, Tenn. - ESPN2
- Recap: The Ducks left Las Vegas more frustrated than anything else, after a semifinal loss to Utah that probably cost them their chance to host the first two rounds at home. Kelly Graves said that his team, which has lost three of its last five games, is going to have to get off the roller coaster they’ve been all season in time for the NCAA Tournament.
- Outlook: Oregon remains a team stocked with talent that can play with anyone in the nation on its best day. Finding its best day will be the key for the Ducks, who need a strong backcourt of Endyia Rogers (the team’s leading scorer at 14.7 ppg) and Te-Hina Paopao hitting shots and opening up space inside for Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince, one of the most imposing post tandems in the country.
- Take Note: Oregon is 4-0 in first-round games under head coach Kelly Graves. Belmont is on a 12-game winning streak coming into the game.
- Seed: 7
- Region: Greensboro
- First Round Opponent: No. 10 Creighton (20-9, Big East at-large)
- Date/Time/Location/TV: Friday, March 18 - 10:30 a.m. PT - Iowa City, Iowa - ESPNews
- Recap: The Buffaloes made a run to the Pac-12 semifinals, had one of the best regular-seasons in program history and enter the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, and the first time under head coach JR Payne.
- Outlook: Defense is the strength of this Colorado team. The Buffaloes finished in a three-way tie with Arizona and Stanford in opponents’ scoring at 56.8 ppg and led the Pac-12 in steals per game this season, and that may carry them early on. But a team that wants a long NCAA run is also going to have to score and the Buffaloes have to hope that they can get Tameiya Sadler and Sila Finau, who has started 30 games this season, back on the floor.
- Take Note: Creighton is back in the tournament for the first time since 2018.
- Seed: 7
- Region: Spokane
- First Round Opponent: No. 10 Arkansas (18-13, SEC at-large)
- Date/Time/Location/TV: Friday, March 18 - 2:30 p.m. PT - Austin, Texas - ESPNews
- Recap: After making the program’s first-ever run to the Pac-12 Tournament title game as the No. 6 seed last weekend, the Utes, the top-scoring team in the conference this season at 76.0 points a game, bolstered their seed and built confidence among the young players that are the core of this up-and-coming team.
- Outlook: This team, which has often been called “fearless,” will have its courage tested in a whole new way in the NCAA Tournament. Can freshmen Jenna Johnson, Gianna Kneepkens and sophomore Kennady McQueen continue to play beyond their years? Can Dru Gylten and Brynna Maxwell make the most of a chance they have been anticipating for a long time?
- Take Note: Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors is familiar to Pac-12 fans after spending four years at Washington and leading the Huskies to the program’s first Final Four in 2016.
Washington State (19-10)
- Seed: 8
- Region: Bridgeport
- First Round Opponent: No. 9 Kansas State (19-12, Big 12 at-large)
- Date/Time/Location/TV: Saturday, March 19 - 8:30 a.m. PT - Raleigh, N.C. - ESPN2
- Recap: The Cougars are in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row after a 30-year absence and need to recapture the momentum that led them to win five of their last seven games. A quarterfinal loss to Colorado in Las Vegas was a disappointment because WSU had come into the tournament with a program-record 19 wins (NCAA era), the No. 3 seed and had been playing well.
- Outlook: Kamie Ethridge becomes the first coach in program history to lead the team to back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths. No one will be sleeping on the Leger-Walker sisters this year (Charlisse ranked fourth in the league in scoring at 16.0 points a game) and the improvements of Johanna Teder and Bella Murekatete make the Cougars a dangerous first-round matchup.
- Take Note: The 8-9 seed line puts the Cougars in a position to face North Carolina State on its home floor should they earn a first-round win.
- UCLA (14-12): The Bruins were hoping to be selected for the NCAA Tournament, but will miss out for the first time since 2015 when, interestingly enough, they won the WNIT. UCLA is playing its best basketball of the season, getting healthier, could make some noise and will look to finish strong before welcoming in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class. UCLA hosts UC Irvine (21-11) in the first round on Friday, March 18 at 6:50 p.m. PT.
- Oregon State (14-13): The Beavers are not in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 and will look to capitalize on postseason play to set the table for bringing in the country’s No. 3 recruiting class as well. OSU hosts Long Beach State to open the WNIT on Thursday, March 17 at 7 p.m. PT.