Posted on December 5, 2019
You know a conference is strong when a loss by its top team means another member of the league has the opportunity to reach No. 1 in the polls. That’s the kind of week it was for the women of the Pac-12.
The league went 22-6 in its biggest week so far. The quality of opponents was top-notch for several teams, leading to more losses than in previous weeks, but there were some exciting games in the holiday tournaments.
On the Court
The Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands featured the kind of field that most tournaments dream of hosting. Five of the six teams were ranked, four of them in the Top 10 of both the AP and USA Today/WBCA poll.
For the Pac-12 fan, it was a chance to watch two Conference teams take on a stacked field—that is, if they wanted to shell out $30 for a streaming service. The lack of accessible TV coverage was a major discussion around the women’s basketball world, but it didn’t take away from the quality of the games.
The game many had marked on the calendar was No. 1 Oregon vs No. 8 Louisville. After wins over UT Arlington and Oklahoma State, the Ducks took on the ACC’s top team on Saturday. The Cardinals emerged victorious, handing Oregon their first loss of the season and opening the way to the top spot for someone else.
No. 2 Baylor had the chance to be that someone else, but the Lady Bears dropped the ball in the same tournament. The defending national champs lost to then-No. 5 South Carolina on the same day. So, the path was clear for the Pac-12 to retain the top ranking in the polls.
It looked like it might be a long weekend for No. 3 Stanford at the Greater Victoria Invitational in British Colombia, especially with senior star DiJonai Carrington out. They opened the tournament with a close call against California Baptist, managing just a five-point victory.
With two ranked teams to come, things didn’t look promising for the Cardinal. But they were able to regroup and raise their game against No. 18 Syracuse and No. 10 Mississippi State with the help of senior Nadia Fingall and freshman Haley Jones. As one of only two top-five teams to go undefeated over the week, they had to be in the conversation for the No. 1 ranking.
In the Rankings
As it turned out, the Cardinal was in that conversation. When the AP poll came out Monday morning, they were the new No. 1 team. It was their first top ranking in that poll since 2012. When the USA Today/WBCA poll came out Tuesday, it was a unanimous endorsement by the two major polls.
The hit to Oregon wasn’t extreme. They switched places with Stanford, falling to No. 3 in both polls. The coaches had Oregon State at No. 5 last week. This week, the media agreed, elevating the Beavers to their highest-ever ranking in the AP poll at No. 5. A big road win over then-No. 19 Miami showed that OSU may be even stronger than expected this season.
UCLA took their undefeated record on the road for the first time. Virginia gave them a fight, but the Bruins were able to pull out the win to go 3-0 for the week and remain at No. 11 in both polls.
The Bruins were the only Pac-12 team that stayed put, though, with
Arizona continuing its rise. The Wildcats jumped four spots in the AP poll to take over No. 20, and the coaches moved them up three spots to No. 19. It’s the first time the program has been in the top 20 since 2003.
Colorado also got some notice. The Buffaloes were selected last in the conference by both media and coaches, but have put together a 6-0 start in non-conference play. They picked up a vote from the AP panel to become the only Pac-12 team in the receiving votes category for that poll. Arizona State is the lone Conference team on the coaches’ receiving votes list.
Players of the Week
UCLA’s Japreece Dean is often overshadowed by teammate Michaela Onyenwere. Both had great weeks for the Bruins, but Dean’s triple-double against Yale propelled her to the first Player of the Week honor of her college career.
Dean went for 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against the Bulldogs in her team’s first game of the week. In the Bruins’ three games, she averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.
Stanford’s Haley Jones received what will likely be the first of many weekly awards in being named Freshman of the Week. The nation’s No. 1 recruit coming out of high school led her team in scoring as they took the title at the Greater Victoria Invitational.
Jones had 19 points on 58.3 percent shooting against then-No. 18 Syracuse. In the tournament’s title game against then-No. 10 Mississippi State, she scored 13 points to go along with career highs in rebounds (8) and assists (4). Over the weekend, she averaged 13.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.0 block per game.
Hawai’i (4-4) at Washington (6-1)
When: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. PT/8:30 p.m. MT
Streaming: Washington Live Stream
There aren’t many ranked teams facing off next week. With most schools approaching final exams, the number of games is more limited in general. The Huskies vs. the Rainbow Wahine features two teams with an opportunity to put one more notch in the non-conference belt.
Hawai’i will face No. 5 Oregon State before they head to Seattle, so it won’t be unexpected if they enter this game at 4-5. Their 13-point victory over Texas in their last contest should give them confidence as they face Washington, though.
The Huskies should take this one, but it’s worth a look to see how the Rainbow Wahine respond. It’s also an opportunity to watch Washington guard Amber Melgoza before conference play. The senior has an assist rate in the top four percent of NCAA women’s basketball and a field goal percentage in the top 25 percent. Can she help her team avoid the upset?
South Dakota State (5-3) at No. 3 Oregon (6-1)
When: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 12 p.m. PT/1 p.m. MT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
The state of South Dakota is having a good year in women’s basketball. South Dakota is either ranked or receiving votes in the major polls, and South Dakota State is coming off a solid showing in the Cancun Challenge. The problem for SDSU is that they will be the first team to face Oregon since the Ducks’ loss to Louisville.
The Jackrabbits went 2-1 in Cancun with wins over then-No. 21 South Florida and last year’s national runner-up Notre Dame, who is still receiving votes despite a difficult start to the season. They dropped a one-point decision to Florida Gulf Coast, which is also receiving votes in the polls
South Dakota State isn’t Louisville, so Oregon should take this one on its home court. Seeing how the Ducks respond to the off night of shooting they had against the Cardinals is well worth tuning in.
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