Archive for the 'Pac-12' Category
As the injuries mount, the conference season has arrived.
The list is long and painful and it started before the season began. A short list of the key Pac-12 talents who have missed significant time or will not be on the floor with their teams to start conference play.
USC – Jacki Gemelos (knee) out for season
UCLA – Jasmine Dixon (Achilles) out for season, Atonye Nyingifa (knee) out for season, Markel Walker (thumb) missed 7 games
Oregon – Amanda Johnson (thumb) out 4 weeks
Stanford – Alex Green (Achilles) out for season, Jasmine Camp (foot) out for season, Mikaela Reuf (foot)
Washington – Kristi Kingma (knee) out for season
Arizona – Candice Warthen (foot) out for three straight games, return unknown
Utah – Chelsea Burns (knee) out for season; Brittany Knighton (knee) out indefinitely; Ciera Dunar (knee) out indefinitely.
While there are a plethora of teams with strong records heading into conference play, the strengths of schedule, in some cases, have been less than impressive.
The Pac-12 is ranked No. 5 in this week’s RealTime RPI, the lowest among the BCS conferences.
Stanford, frankly, looks like a runaway favorite and it is the Cal Bears who have emerged as the most solid-looking No. 2.
Here’s a team-by-team preview heading into the historic first weekend of Pac-12 play.
Non-Conference Grade: B.
Outlook: The Wildcats have a great record at 9-1, the program’s best start since 1999-2000, but a strength of schedule that ranks No. 208 in the nation this week. So the question has to be asked…are the Wildcats ready to compete against the top-tier teams in the Pac-12? There is ample talent there with the backcourt of Davellyn Whyte, the league-leader with 28 3-pointers and Shanita Arnold, but there is also a hole to fill inside the paint. Sophomore Erica Barnes is playing well, while Candice Warthen is working through a foot injury, she has missed three straight games and her time could be limited early in the conference season.
Stat of note: The Wildcats rank second in the conference with 79 made 3-pointers so far this season.
Quotable: “We haven’t been as consistent as I’d like,” Niya Butts said. “I would like us to try to put 40 minutes together if we could.”
Non-Conference Grade: B-
Outlook: The Sun Devils are 8-2 – their only two losses to ranked teams. ASU is playing the usual lock-down defense, but are looking for offense. Senior guard/forward Kimberly Brandon leads ASU with 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The Sun Devils busted out for a season-high 83 points against Army before the holiday break.
Stat of note: The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 with an average of 7.0 blocks per game.
Quotable: “I had no idea difficult it would be,” said interim head coach Joseph Anders. “I am standing in the gap for Charli (Turner Thorne) and looking forward to her return. Nothing prepares you for the totality of responsibility of guiding a program and young ladies and doing our best to hold up the standards that Charli has worked so hard to build.”
Non-Conference Grade: B+
Outlook: The Bears look to be the strongest contender to be the No. 2 team in the conference after a tough preseason slate in which the Bears lost three games to ranked teams (Rutgers, Texas and Ohio State) by a combined six points. The biggest win was a victory in Hawaii in Joanne Boyle’s Virginia team. Forward Gennifer Brandon is on her way to a breakout season after sitting out 16 months with an injury. She’s averaging 10.7 rebounds per game and is capable of providing some good offensive punch in the paint. She is also a large part of the reason that Cal ranks third in the nation in rebounding margin. Freshman Reshanda Gray, the Bears’ leading scorer, is a strong candidate for league Freshman of the year.
Stat of note: The Bears have pulled down an average of 47.5 rebounds per game and a total of 570 rebounds in 12 games.
Quotable: “There’s no question about it, we can go 10 deep on a regular-basis,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb. “We can play a style that lends itself to up-tempo or aggressive play and we don’t have to worry about foul trouble or fatigue.”
Non-Conference Grade: B
Outlook: Yes, the Buffs are 11-0 (the last unbeaten team in the conference), but with a strength of schedule ranked 331st in the country, it seems like a time of reckoning might be coming. Chucky Jeffery has been the bright spot in Colorado’s early season so far with five double-doubles and three 20-point plus games.
Stat of note: The Buffs are 11-0 for only the third time in program history. The last time was 1992-93.
Quoteable: “It’s a lot of work (coming into a new conference), but it’s exactly the same as what we experienced as a staff last year I the Big 12,” said Buffs coach Linda Lappe. “The other good thing is that with six new coaches in the conference, that makes us all on a pretty even playing field.”
Non-Conference Grade: C-
Outlook: Losing Amanda Johnson is a tough blow for the Ducks, who will be without their top player for at least a month after she fractured her left thumb on Dec. 11 vs. Denver. She will spend a total of four weeks in a hard cast and then will be re-evaluated. In the meantime, the Ducks need to find somebody to replace the 20 points and 11 rebounds a game she was providing. The Ducks, who have lost four of six heading into the Pac-12 schedule, will find that the level of competition once conference play starts jumps substantially.
Stat of note: The Ducks have yet to win on the road this season.
Quotable: “There’s a whole new world coming up for all of us with the start of conference play and I won’t be as naïve to it as perhaps I was in the past,” said Oregon coach Paul Westhead.
Non-Conference Grade: B
Outlook: At 7-2, the Beavers are making the best out of an improving situation. Scott Rueck has recreated this program and is relying heavily on junior college transfers this season. There are six new players on the Beavers roster, five of them from the JC ranks. Freshman guard Ali Gibson has scored in double figures in seven games so far this season.
Stat of note: OSU ranks second behind Stanford in scoring margin, winning by an average of 20.3 points a game.
Quotable: “What I’ve liked is that the returning players have set the tone for us,” OSU coach Scott Rueck said. “I would say that it has gone how we had hoped up to this point.”
Non-Conference Grade: A-
Outlook: The Connecticut loss is the only black mark on the Cardinal’s non-conference season. The high points including road wins over Texas and Xavier and home victories over Gonzaga and of course, Tennessee. But it has not been an easy preseason for Stanford, still working on settling into rotations on the floor and now dealing with season-ending injuries to their young guards. Nneka Ogwumike is the best player in the Pac-12 by a wide margin and sister Chiney Ogwumike is probably the second-best. If Toni Kokenis can consistently provide offense from the point guard spot, the Cardinal could go another season without a conference loss.
Stat of note: Stanford have won 57 straight games against conference opponents dating back to 2009.
Quotable: “I am really looking forward to playing Utah and we haven’t played Colorado in a long time. I like the new look that we have as a conference,” Tara VanDerveer said. “I think it will bring extra excitement.”
Non-Conference Grade: B-
Outlook: This season may turn out to be a huge comedown for the Bruins after finishing second to Stanford in each of the past two years. Injuries are devastating this team, contributing to the four-game losing streak headed into Pac-12 play. First it was the preseason loss of Jasmine Dixon to an Achilles injury. Markel Walker missed the first seven games after recovering from thumb surgery and now the team’s emerging go-to player, Atonye Nyingifa is out for the year with an ACL. Cori Close’s first season as the UCLA coach is going to be a supremely challenging one.
Stat of note: The Bruins rank 12th in the conference in scoring at 63.0 points per game.
Quotable: “I’ve told our team to embrace the struggle,” Close said. “We are trying not to focus on what we don’t have, which could have been a lot of days. We are going to discover some of our other strengths and bring those to the forefront.”
Non-Conference Grade: C
Outlook: The Women of Troy scheduled tough and paid for it. They head into conference play with a 5-5 record and will have to scramble to a very good Pac-12 record to get to the NCAA Tournament. There is no shame in losing to Georgia or Notre Dame or Texas A&M. But losing to Arkansas State. That’s the kind of thing that keeps you out of the field of 64. USC looked like the No. 2 team in the conference when the season started, but the loss of Jacki Gemelos to a knee injury that ends her college career is a big one.
Stat of note: The Women of Troy rank 10th in the league in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
Quotable: “We are already weather-tested,” coach Michael Cooper said of his team’s tough schedule. “The key is going out on to the road so we can understand what it takes. That’s what it’s about. We want to become a good team.”
Non-Conference Grade: B-
Outlook: The Utes lost four games during the preseason – all on the road and by a total margin of 19 points – and they could very well be a top 6 team in the conference. But injuries have done major damage to the depth on the roster despite the return of four starters. Sophomore forward Michelle Plouffe leads the Utes and ranks seventh in the Conference with 15.8 points per game. She is the highest-scoring underclassmen in the league. Center Taryn Wicijowski is averaging more than 14 points a game as well.
Stat of note: The Utes led the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 51.5 points a game heading into the conference season.
Quotable: “We have defended well and we continue to get better at that,” said Utes coach Anthony Levretz.
Non-Conference Grade: B-
Outlook: The Huskies are no doubt improving, entering conference play on a five-game win streak, but this teams doesn’t look to have the make-up of a squad with a chance to finish in the top half of the conference standings. Losing Kristi Kingma for the season was a tough blow. A team with seven freshmen is going to have a hard time making headway against the top teams in the conference. The Huskies will be looking for signs of progress more than W’s in the standings.
Stat of note: Center Regina Rogers is making 71.4 percent of her shots from the field.
Quotable: “We have a lot of places where we have to grow to feel like we could compete at the top,” said Huskies coach Kevin McGuff.
Non-Conference Grade: B
Outlook: June Daugherty challenged her program this non-conference with a schedule that included seven straight road games, three ranked teams and the Cougars, while they didn’t win any of those games, showed themselves to be an improved program, perhaps the best team since Dougherty arrived four years ago.
Stat of note: Washington State’s scheduling includes 23 games against teams that advanced to the postseason last year.
Quotable: “As a team, I feel like we’ve found our identity,” Daugherty said. “We are committed to getting stops and getting into our running game. We have been able to use about 13 players a game, and that energy has been paying off for us.”
Predicted order of finish
- Arizona State
- Washington State
- Oregon State
Three shots in the final seconds and not one of them falls.
The Cal players looked stunned in the moments after the buzzer sounded on their 77-75 loss to 12th-ranked Ohio State at Haas Pavilion on Saturday.
Three losses this season. All to ranked teams. By a combined total of six points.
This one might have been more brutal than the others because it happened at home, it happened after the Bears battled back from a 14-point halftime deficit against the unbeaten Buckeyes, because it seemed like if they had played only a minute of two longer, the Bears would have finished the job.
“I think this was a litmus test that told us that we are not quite there yet, not quite where we want to be,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said after the game. “We want to be an elite team. We want to be a top-10 team. We want to be where Ohio State is and where other teams are now. We’re not quite there yet, but it does feel good to know that is within reach.”
The Bears look fast, deep, aggressive and talented. Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray are dynamic, impact freshmen. Layshia Clarendon, Eliza Pierre play with the confidence of veterans. Gennifer Brandon, with her 24 points and 24 rebounds, plays as if her last name should be Ogwumike.
They look like a strong candidate to be the second-best team in the Pac-12 with the conference season just a week or so away.
They look like they are this-close.
Join me for a live blog of one of the biggest games in the Bay Area this season. It’s going to be a big couple of days with Tennessee coming into town on Tuesday.
Before boarding my fight home…
To play Connecticut on the road in November in the week before Thanksgiving is less about winning than information gathering for Stanford.
But, and that’s a big but, winning would be good too.
Winning would mean you are farther than you thought you were, matching up with a team that could very well again be the best team in the nation by the time the season’s over.
Winning could mean that you’ve executed well the things you’ve been practicing over the last month and a half.
Winning would have been cool.
Stanford will have to leave Connecticut this morning with the consolation prize that Monday night’s 68-58 loss to UConn was a winnable game.
The Cardinal could have silenced the crowd at the XL Center, could have knocked the Huskies back. Could have. But they didn’t.
And maybe the valuable lessons on Monday night are ultimately more valuable.
Lesson No. 1 – Turnovers will cost you. Should be an obvious one, and there was a portend for this in Stanford’s game against Gonzaga more than a week ago when the Cardinal struggled to take care of the ball in the first half against the Zags, but did a better job in the second.
But 16 turnovers against the Huskies translated into 16 lost opportunities to score. Can’t do that against Geno’s team.
It was a rough night for guard Toni Kokenis, who had three turnovers. It was even rougher for Chiney Ogwumike, who turned the ball over five times. And neither could make up for mistakes with offense, combining to shoot 5 of 25 from the floor.
Lesson No. 2 – Foul trouble will cost you too. Grouse about the officiating if you’d like, but Nneka picking up her second foul trying to take a charge was a high risk choice on her part and it led to her spending 14 minutes on the bench in the first half. Minutes that Stanford needed her on the floor.
Lesson No. 3 – Defense needs some shoring up. Connecticut missed a lot of shots, but they weren’t bad shots. The Huskies might not have taken advantage of every opportunity, but there were a lot of them. It would sound like holding the Huskies to 35.7 percent shooting would be a win. But it’s a deceiving number.
Ok on the positive side…
Bright spots – Sarah Boothe. Boothe had her best game in a very long time. She was 4 of 5 for eight points in 19 minutes on the floor and did good, physical defensive work on Connecticut’s Stefanie Dolson, who ended up hitting just two shots from the floor.
Jasmine Camp. The freshman guard was the Cardinal’s most productive backcourt player. She scored 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting and dished out three assists with no turnovers. She was poised and played well under pressure.
Next up is a Xavier team that is frankly a shell of its former self with the departure of coach Kevin McGuff and the graduation of Ta’Shia Phillips and Amber Harris.
Time to start applying lessons.
Join me tonight a 6:45 p.m. for a live blog of Stanford vs. Old Dominion from Maples Pavilion. It is the Cardinal’s last game before they head east for Monday’s showdown against Connecticut.
1. Stanford (2-0).No cupcake start for the Cardinal. A good win at Texas without Nneka Ogwumike and a home win over Gonzaga that wouldn’t have happened without Nneka Ogwumike.
2. USC (1-0). The Women of Troy open with a home win over Fresno State and then wait a week before hitting a defining stretch that includes games at Nebraska, Georgia and then Notre Dame and likely Duke in the Bahamas.
3. Arizona State (2-0). The Joseph Anders era opens with two wins this weekend, including a hard-fought road win at Colorado State. It was ASU’s first overtime game since February 2010.
4. Gonzaga (1-1). The Zags look strong as they move forward after the Courtney Vandersloot era. This team will be ranked before the end of 2011.
5. Cal (0-1). The Bears comported themselves well on the road against Rutgers, leading at the half and losing narrowly.
6. UCLA (2-0). What do the Bruins earn for their first two wins in the Preseason WNIT? A semifinal game against Baylor in Waco on Thursday. Senior Rebekah Gardner posted her first career double-double against Tennessee State on Sunday.
7. UC Davis (2-0). The Aggies went to Washington and came home with two wins, including a big one over Washington.
8. Arizona (2-0). The Wildcats won two games on the road in Georgia behind the scoring of sophomore Candice Wirthen, who scored 49 points in two games.
9. St. Mary’s (1-1). After opening with a loss at DePaul, the Gaels rallied for a road win against Montana. Jackie Nared, the redshirt sophomore guard who transferred from Maryland, broke out for 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Grizzlies.
10. Fresno State (1-1). The Bulldogs played well on the road against a good USC team, and opened at home with a win over Santa Clara.
- Stanford– The Cardinal will be young in the backcourt, dominant in the frontcourt and the biggest question will be how long does it take the freshmen to play at a Stanford-like level? Stanford might not get through the Pac-12 unbeaten this season.
- USC – The Trojans have considerable experience and talent and right now they look like a team that belongs in the NCAA Tournament. But USC can’t afford bad late-season losses. And in the last few years, they haven’t been able to avoid them.
- Cal. The Bears get a fresh start under head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and have experience all over the court, and some great young talent coming in. If this team underachieved last season – and they did – they are setting themselves up to be a potential spoiler in the Pac-12 race.
- Gonzaga. Time to move on without Courtney Vandersloot. The Zags still look like the class of the WCC. The Nov. 13 game at Stanford will be telling for Kelly Graves’ team.
- Arizona State. The Sun Devils, playing this season under Joseph Anders, needs offense to keep up with the best teams in the Pac-12. You probably can’t stop Stanford or USC from scoring, so you better keep up.
- UCLA. Jasmine Dixon’s injury, paired with a head coaching change (from Nikki Caldwell to Cory Close) threatens to break the momentum that’s been gained in the past few seasons.
- Arizona. How to replace the post presence of Ify Ibekwe? Niya Butts’ team has the backcourt covered with Davellyn Whyte and Shanita Arnold, but questions inside.
- Utah. The Utes return four starters from a team that went to the NCAA Tournament last season and they are young with only one senior. They will be in the mix in the top half of the conference standings.
- San Diego State. The Aztecs are back to playing “95 feet” of basketball says coach Beth Burns. Not a lot of size, but a lot of quickness and athleticism in the backcourt.
- Cal Poly. Kristina Santiago, out last season with an ACL injury, is back.
Close to the 10…
UC Santa Barbara
Picked to win by the coaches
The Pac-12 –Stanford
The WCC – Not released yet
The MWC – TCU
The Big West – Cal Poly
The WAC – Louisiana Tech