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Week 14 in Womens Basketball

Doss: The Top Half of Pac-12 WBB Faces Off 

Week 13 — On the Court; In the Rankings; Players of Week; Up Next

Oregon dealt 11-time national champion Connecticut its worst-ever loss in Gampel Pavilion. | goducks.com


By Kim Doss, SportsPac12


L
ast week was one of upsets for the Pac-12. It wasn’t so much that the victors weren’t seen as capable of winning their big matchups; it was more about the complete dismantling that took place. 

The strength of the league isn’t just about the multiple Top 20 teams, though. The depth of the league is what makes every week a battle. Some of the teams in the bottom half of the standings reminded everyone of that over the weekend. 

On the Court


Arizona completely dominated UCLA 92-66 at home. Oregon destroyed Connecticut 74-56 on the road. But the most impressive performance of the weekend may have been from a very young and injured USC team.

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The Women of Troy took the road with only nine players available. Their top two scorers are freshmen and they have significant contributions from grad transfers who are just passing through. Kayla Overbeck is their only returning starter from last season. Yet, they gave both Arizona and Arizona State everything they could handle.

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On Friday night, USC went into Desert Financial Arena to face a Top 20-ranked Sun Devil team that had won five of its previous six games. At the beginning of January, ASU had beaten USC by nine points in the Galen Center. It was difficult to see that being closer on the road.

It was more than closer. ASU was fortunate to get away with the victory. The Women of Troy battled to three overtimes before the Sun Devils finally pulled out the 76-75 win.

Two days later, USC was in Tucson to face a Wildcat team that had just completely dismantled a Top 10 UCLA team. They didn’t give up.


USC's Allissa Pili shoots against Arizona. | Katie Chin/USC Athletics

“USC could have laid down, because they played at Arizona State triple overtime,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “They could have come in here and tanked and said, ‘Oh, we’re tired.’ But they fought and they could have beat us.”

The phenomenal play of freshman Alissa Pili kept USC in the game. She scored the first 10 points for her team getting help from no one else until early in the second quarter. Then, the rest of the team picked things up. They cut Arizona’s 10-point lead down to just three before going into the half down by six.

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When the Wildcats went up by 12 in the third quarter, the Women of Troy cut it back down to just four after 30 minutes. After a long weekend with a short bench, USC finally succumbed to the 16-point defeat, but their young players showed that the future looks bright.

“I’m proud of the kids," USC head coach Mark Trakh said. "They fought. They played hard. You know, we’re a little short. We had those three season-ending injuries to kids that would contribute. And then we have young kids who are fighting right now. They’re doing a good job.”


In the Rankings

After a dominating performance against Connecticut that was featured on national television, the Oregon Ducks still weren’t able to move up in either poll. It’s difficult to move up from third when the top two teams hold serve even if you had one of the biggest wins of the week.

The Ducks remained the top-ranked Pac-12 team in both the AP and the USA Today/WBCA polls with both panels keeping them at No. 3. The media kept Stanford at No. 6. Oregon State moved up one spot to No. 9, while UCLA dropped two spots to No. 10 after their loss in Tucson.
   
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The big win over UCLA helped Arizona tie Maryland for the biggest jump of the week. The Wildcats moved from No. 16 to No. 12. It’s their highest rank since 1998. Arizona State rounded out the six Conference teams in the AP poll. They held steady at No. 19 despite losing to UCLA at home. 

The Oregon win did help one Pac-12 team, though. While the AP poll came out too early to take the Ducks’ win in Connecticut into consideration, the USA Today/WBCA poll did not. The coaches moved Stanford up one spot into fifth, elevating them over UConn. Oregon State and UCLA flipped spots. The Beavers moved up to No. 9 while the Bruins moved down to No. 10.

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The coaches moved Arizona into a tie at No. 12 with another team coached by a Wildcat alumna, Maryland. The five-spot improvement was the largest in this week’s coaches poll.

Arizona State dropped a spot to No. 21 after the near-miss against USC and loss to UCLA. 


First Look at Tournament Seeds

The Oregon game against Connecticut was a showcase for the league. It featured another showcase at halftime.

The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament committee unveiled the first look at the top 16 seeds for this year’s tournament. In the women’s game, this has extra importance because the top 16 teams get to host the first two rounds. 

It couldn’t have been better news for the Conference of Champions. The Pac-12 had five teams among the Top 16, and they were distributed in such a way that four of the five could conceivably meet in the Final Four.

Oregon had the highest seed in the Conference, coming in as the No. 4 overall seed. They would open in Eugene for the first two rounds, then get to play in Portland as the No. 1 seed in the region if things were to remain the same.

Stanford was next as the No. 6 overall seed. That would place them as the No. 2 seed in the Dallas regional. The No. 1 seed in that regional would be the defending champions from Baylor.

Oregon State and UCLA would both come in as No. 3 seeds in their regionals. The Beavers are currently the No. 9 overall seed while the Bruins are No. 11. They are matched up with Louisville in the Fort Wayne regional and South Carolina in the Greenville regional, respectively.

Arizona comes in as the final Pac-12 team among the top 16. The Wildcats are holding as the No. 13 overall seed. That would put them as the No. 4 seed in the Dallas regional after getting to play up to two games in Tucson.


Players of the Week

Every week, it seems like it’s a big occasion for the Arizona Wildcats. And for a program that has been down for over a decade, they are big occasions. The team’s first win over a Top 10 opponent since 2004 was just one more.

McDonald
The Wildcats’ victory over then-No. 8 UCLA once again made everyone take notice of what Barnes is doing in Tucson. It also made them take notice of Aari McDonald. It’s difficult not to. McDonald was named both the Pac-12 Player of the Week and the Naismith Trophy National Player of the Week for her role in leading her team to two victories over the weekend.

In the big win over UCLA, McDonald had 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting. The Arizona starters were removed with about five minutes to play, so she accomplished it in 33 minutes on the court. She followed that up with 20 points, eight assists, six steals and two rebounds against USC.

The two games pushed McDonald’s streak of games with at least 10 points to 58. It’s not only her entire career at Arizona, but also the longest active streak in the nation. The award marked the second this season for McDonald and the fourth for Arizona. She and teammate Cate Reese make up the only duo in the conference to each win the award at least twice.

Pili
Despite her team coming up short in both games in the desert, USC’s Pili put on a show that earned her Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors. It was the third straight for USC freshmen and the second in three weeks for Pili.

Pili put up 18 points in the triple-overtime loss to ASU. She followed that up with a game-high 21 points against Arizona where she showed off all her skills. 

“She was a handful,” Barnes said. “One-on-one we couldn't guard her. She was burying us. She's deceptively quick, she can play inside and out. She's really strong going to the basket.”

—Up Next—





No. 10 UCLA (19-2, 8-2) at No. 6 Stanford (20-2, 9-1)

When: Friday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT

TV: Pac-12 Networks

The upcoming weekend features five games between ranked opponents. Four of those will be played in the state of Oregon as the Arizona schools travel to Eugene and Corvallis. This will be the only one featuring two Top 10 teams.

UCLA was looking for a bit of redemption after their huge loss in Tucson. They got some of that by defeating ASU two days later, but it would not hurt matters to get a win over a Top 10 opponent on the road. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get the tiebreaker over the Cardinal.

A win by the Bruins would put both teams at 9-2 in the conference. Since the two teams will only play once this season, it would give UCLA the edge in the race for conference tournament seeding.

The problem is that this single opportunity comes in Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal have only lost two games all season. Both were on the road. One was to Oregon.

Stanford is a very young team, but it helps when that youth consists of a top-two recruiting class and this year’s top recruit. They have shown that they are able to get it done against top teams. The Cardinal’s best wins came over Oregon State on the road and Mississippi State at a neutral site. 

UCLA has solid wins, including against Indiana on the road, but this would be a step up compared to the rest of their resume. 

From a statistical standpoint, the Cardinal are superior to the Bruins in every way. Whether it’s points per game, points per play, scoring defense, 3-point accuracy, effective field goal percentage, Stanford has the edge at every turn. The Bruins will have to dig deep if they want to pull the road upset.



  


No. 19 Arizona State (16-6, 6-4) at No. 9 Oregon State (18-4, 6-4)

When: Friday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. PT/9 p.m. MT

TV: Pac-12 Oregon

This matchup is prime evidence for the adage, “This is why they play the games.” Despite being the higher-ranked team for the last few years, the Beavers have struggled with the Sun Devils. They are the superior team on paper, but it’s not unimaginable that they could do so again.

Last season, ASU swept Oregon State. The Devils are looking to do it again after defeating the Beavers in Tempe last month.

This game won’t be played in Tempe, though. Oregon State has been very good at home this season. As a team full of both experience and talent playing in front of the second-largest crowds in the conference, it’s to be expected.

Still, it’s not an insurmountable task for ASU. Stanford and Oregon have already handed the Beavers home losses this season. Can the Sun Devils use the grit that has led them to so many wins under Charli Turner Thorne and pull off the upset? It’s never a good idea to underestimate them.


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

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