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Doss: Could Pac-12 WBB Still be Underrated?

Week 2 — UO shocks the world; Bottom holds its own; Players of Week; Up next

The Ducks celebrate after defeating the USA  Women's National Team. | Eric Evans/NBAE via Getty Images


By Kim Doss, SportsPac12


L
ast week, this column talked about the accolades already being heaped upon the women of the Pac-12. The watch lists, the rankings, the analysts praise have all been non-stop. That continued this week, with more watch lists and more praise.

But it was finally time to get on the court and prove it. Teams across the conference rose to the occasion in the first week of official play, but one in particular stood out.


Oregon Shocks the Women's Basketball World


The Oregon Ducks didn't play an official game. But that didn't keep them from getting the most impressive win of any team in the country, knocking off the USA Women's National Team 93-86 in an exhibition in Eugene.

It was the final of four games played over eight days between USA Basketball and some of the top college teams. Tara VanDerveer's Stanford team held strong for a quarter, leading by five after the first 10 minutes, but lost by 15 in a 95-80 contest.

Team USA held a slim five-point halftime lead at Oregon State, but won 81-58 going away. The Beavers, too, had to settle for the "experience" of playing the National Team. Then came a trip to Texas A&M and a 93-63 victory, before heading back to the West Coast. 

Oregon was ready.

The women of USA Basketball have won six straight Olympic gold medals. They're going for a seventh straight next summer, which would tie the record set by the U.S. men from 1936 through 1968.


Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu vs. USA Team. | Eric Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

The team hasn't lost in any competition since the semi-finals of the 2006 FIBA Women's World Championships, when Russia defeated them 75-68. In the bronze medal game of that event they rebounded by crushing Brazil by 40 points. They haven't looked back.

There had only ever been one group of collegiate players to defeat the women of USA Basketball, Tennessee under the late great Pat Summitt, on November 7, 1999, with the Lady Vols narrowly defeating the red-white-and-blue 65-64.

Twenty years and two days later, Oregon stunned the USA National team 93-86, out-rebounding the professionals by five.

Sabrina Ionescu stood out as the player of the game. After scoring just five points in the first half, the senior point guard ended the game with 30, adding 20 of them in the third quarter.

The other three exhibitions had featured a U.S. team that flexed its muscle in the second half. On Saturday, Ionescu and the Ducks showed that they weren't intimidated.


The Bottom of the League Holds its Own


Oregon may have been the biggest story of the week, but wasn't the only one by any means. The conference isn't top-heavy; its depth is what sets it apart.

Altogether, the league went 16-5 in the games that counted. Those at the top did what they were supposed to do, but the teams picked at the bottom of the league didn't shrink from the task at hand. When it comes time for the Committee to fill out its brackets, that could help everyone.

California and Washington State were picked to finish 10th and 11th in the leagues preseason polls, but still set themselves up with challenges in the early going.

"I lost my mind a tiny bit in scheduling," Washington State coach Kamie Ethridge quipped on Pac-12 Media Day. 


WSU's Jovana Subasic shots against Pepperdine. | WSU Athletics

First, Washington State defeated a relatively experienced Pepperdine squad 85-48 on Tuesday. When the second game rolled around, they didn't just defeat a BYU team that returned everybody of note from a 26-win tournament team—they won by 17, holding Brigham Young to just 50 points.

While Cal didn't emerge with a win, their season started off unexpectedly well, despite losing the best player in program history after last season, along with several other key seniors, and two former high school All-Americans via transfer.

First-year head coach Charmin Smith had to find a way to pull things together. On Pac-12 Media Day, she talked about how she was approaching it.

"What I've mentioned to them is that everyone in this program is in a new role," Smith said. "For me as a first-time head coach to every single player who's trying to do something really that they haven't done before. And what I think comes with that is an excitement, because now it's your turn, and it's your opportunity."

Smith was particularly excited about the prospects of Sara Anastasieska, and it turns out she had every reason to be. At Harvard against the fifth-ranked Connecticut Huskies, Anastasieska really stood out.

Cal came up three points short against Harvard before traveling to Storrs, Connecticut, where UConn won by an average of 36.6 points per game at home last season. They outscored their opponents by at least 40 on four occasions and had a margin of victory under 20 points just twice. The Golden Bears defied the averages, leaving with an 11-point defeat.

Anastasieska rose to the occasion against the toughest opponent. After a seven-point game against the Crimson, she scored 25 against the Huskies, going 5-for-10 from beyond the arc.


Players of the Week


The only downside to Oregon's win over Team USA last Saturday was that Ionescu was not eligible for the Conference Player of the Week award. Exhibitions don't count towards such honors, so the media had to choose from a group missing the best player.

Mikayla Pivec


Taylor Jones
The Ducks rivals in Corvallis benefited: Beavers Mikayla Pivec and Taylor Jones were voted Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week, respectively. 

In OSU's lone regular-season win last week, over UC Irvine, senior Pivec went for 25 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. She shot 76.9 percent from the floor including 3-for-5 from distance, and also had two steals. In her college debut against the Anteaters, Jones scored 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, pulled down 10 rebounds, recording a block and a steal.


—Up Next—





No. 18 DePaul Blue (2-0) at No. 7 Oregon State (2-0)
When: Thursday, Nov. 14, 7:00 p.m. PT
Streaming: Oregon State Live Stream

The Beavers opened the season in the preseason WNIT with easy wins over UC Irvine and Pacific. While Pacific made the postseason WNIT last season, UC Irvine's RPI of 171 wasn't enough to get them into the postseason, despite a 20-11 record.

Thats where DePaul comes in. The exhibition against Team USA was certainly a test, but this one counts. Head coach Scott Rueck has the chance to get the Beavers ready to play high-caliber college teams before conference play kicks off.

After DePaul, the WNIT winds up and Oregon State will have an opportunity against Miami before Pac-12 play kicks off. A match-up with BYU should have provided another opportunity, but the Cougars loss to Washington State suggests that may not be the case. If the Beavers want to host the opening rounds again, securing as many high-caliber wins as possible should start right out of the gate.


 

Arizona (3-0) at No. 22 Texas (0-1)
When: Sunday, Nov. 17 at  11 a.m. PT 
Television: The Longhorn Network

To say that the Wildcats have played a soft out-of-conference schedule for the last two years would be an understatement. Head coach Adia Barnes has stated that she needed to instill confidence in her players, given the struggles the program has faced over the past 15 years and the large number of newcomers she has welcomed each of the past two seasons.

Her caution in scheduling may be understandable, but it also can be a detriment on Selection Monday if a team is on the bubble.  That makes the trip to Austin that much more important for an Arizona team looking to return to the tournament for the first time since 2005.

On Tuesday, the Wildcats improved to 3-0 after defeating Chicago State in what can politely be called a decisive manner. That team went 2-28 last year and hadn't won more than four games since the 2011-12 season. That year, they won six games.

The Cougars may be the worst team (by a large margin) on the Wildcats schedule, but there aren't a lot of opportunities for quality wins against the rest of the slate, either. Texas had an RPI of 28 last season. The next best mark on Arizona's slate was 159 by UC Riverside. Six of the 11 teams on the schedule were well outside the top 200.

If the Wildcats can beat the Longhorns in Austin, they will certainly impress poll voters who might still be hesitant to give them votes. Arizona has received votes in both polls, but needs to get a lot more believers on board to get into the top 25.

More importantly, a win or even a competitive loss, would impress the people who will be casting votes to include teams in March. After their WNIT title last season, the Wildcats want nothing less.



Kim Doss (@KimDoss71) covers Pac-12 Women's Basketball for SportsPac12.com. 

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