Posted on December 10, 2020
The off-season was hectic and things haven’t gotten any better for Pac-12 women’s basketball teams. Quarantines and scheduling are still major thorns in the sides of Pac-12 coaches, and one team has had to take its home court on the road.
It was still a positive week for the Pac-12, however, as everyone except Washington State played at least one conference game.
On the Court
Right off the bat, the best league in the country had a Top 10 matchup as then-No. 9 UCLA traveled to Tucson to take on then-No. 7 Arizona. Both games had just one warmup game to get ready for the big game, but it wasn’t something that concerned Bruins head coach Cori Close.
Close said that she usually scheduled a tough team within the first few games to get a read on where the team was and what they needed to do. While they certainly have played tough teams in nonconference play every year, you have to go back to 2017-18 to find the Bruins playing a Top 10 team quite this early in the season.
That season, Jordin Canada, Kennedy Burke, Monique Billings and the rest of the No. 8 Bruins rudely welcomed the No. 3 Baylor Lady Bears into Pauley Pavilion with an 82-68 blowout in the third game of the season. The fourth game? A two-point loss to No. 1 Connecticut, also in Pauley.
The Wildcats have never played a Top 10 team outside the Pac-12 under Adia Barnes. Since they usually have 11 games to prepare for conference play, facing a top team prior to conference play is not typically on the schedule. Going into the game, Barnes felt that would diminish the level of play.
“We’re not playing at that level right now and I don’t think UCLA is either,” Barnes said. “I think we’re both trying to figure things out.”
She was right.
The play was ragged to start things off. Neither team shot well. Arizona hit only five field goals in the first quarter while turning the ball over four times. Aari McDonald had two fouls at the 5:40 mark. Foul trouble and poor shooting meant she had just three points in the first half.
On UCLA’s end, they had just four field goals in the first.
The Bruins would eventually build an 11-point lead but were not able to hold the Wildcats off. A comeback late in the second that resumed after halftime saw Arizona take the lead with about three minutes to go in the third quarter.
UCLA would tie it up once in the fourth but were never able to regain the lead.
The game that was either going to be the 70th win in Barnes’ young head coaching career or Close’s 200th victory at UCLA went the way of the newer coach. Close would get to that 200 mark two days later at ASU instead.
Most of the first week went as expected. That is until Utah visited No. 15 Oregon State on Tuesday night.
The Utes had a delayed start to their season after pandemic-related cancelations. After being crushed by No. 8 Oregon on Sunday to open their year, they hoped to get back on track at Oregon State.
They more than did so. Led by preseason All-Pac-12 honoree Brynna Maxwell, the Utes left Gill Coliseum with the 85-79 victory.
Basketball in a Pandemic
Other coronavirus-related disruptions kept Stanford and Washington State from starting at the same time as the rest of the league.
The Cardinal were set to host the Washington schools at Maples Pavilion when Santa Clara County issued an edict shutting down all practice and games in the county. The Stanford administration was able to arrange for the team to relocate for the week to the Thomas and Mack Center at UNLV. The Cardinal played UNLV, then were set to host Washington and Washington State at UNLV.
Stanford got the win over the Lady Rebels and the Huskies. COVID-19 issues in the Cougar program forced a postponement of that contest, though.
Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, who is set to tie the late Pat Summitt as the all-time leader in wins with her next victory, said that the team is currently just playing things by ear. The Cardinal’s next game is due to be played at California on Sunday, Dec. 13.
The Cardinal are not due to host another game at home until Jan. 8, but they will need to arrange practices and living quarters until then. For now, that means staying in Las Vegas. If they return to Santa Clara County, the county health authority requires them to quarantine for two weeks.
In the Polls
The opening two weeks of NCAA women’s basketball saw a lot of uneven play, near misses and upsets. Perhaps the biggest upset was the loss by No. 1 South Carolina to North Carolina State. That opened the way for Stanford to take over the top spot in both the AP and USA Today/WBCA polls.
Arizona moved up one spot in the media’s poll and two spots in the coaches’ poll to No. 6 in both after the wins over UCLA and USC. After setting a previous program record at No. 7, the Wildcats once again reached their highest-ever ranking.
UCLA’s loss at Arizona allowed Oregon to jump over them in the media poll. The Ducks landed at No. 8 in both polls.
Meanwhile, the Bruins fell out of the Top 10, landing at No. 11 in both polls.
Both polls were issued before the Beavers’ loss to Utah, so Oregon State moved up. They were tied for 15th in the AP poll and sat alone at No. 16 in the USA Today/WBCA poll.
Arizona State continued to receive votes in both polls.
Players of the Week
Having to take things on the road didn’t slow down Stanford sophomore Haley Jones, who was voted the Pac-12 Player of the Week. The guard put together two games averaging 27 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game as the Cardinal easily dispatched UNLV and Washington.
The Oregon State Beavers may have had a hiccup against the Utes, but that didn’t figure into this week’s voting for Freshman of the Week, which took place on Sunday. OSU guard Sasha Goforth averaged 17.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game as the Beavers beat the University of San Francisco and Colorado.
While the game probably will not be competitive—the California Golden Bears are now down to seven scholarship players after losing three key players to injuries for the season—Stanford’s visit to Haas Pavilion on Dec. 13 is a potentially historic occasion.
With VanDerveer just one win from tying Summitt on the all-time wins list, it’s a game worth watching. Fortunately, the Pac-12 has planned to put it on television. Now, the world of women’s college basketball has to just cross its fingers and hope the pandemic doesn’t intervene.
This rivalry week also features tough games in Tucson and Los Angeles. Arizona State will travel to Tucson to take on No. 6 Arizona on Thursday, Dec. 10 in what should be a tough defensive match-up.
On Wednesday, Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said that she foresees the game being decided by which team can play better defense while avoiding foul trouble, which has plagued her Wildcats in both Pac-12 games so far. The game will be shown on Pac-12 Network at 4 p.m. MST/3 p.m. PST.
No. 11 UCLA visits USC on Sunday, Dec. 13 for a game that will air on Pac-12 Los Angeles.
USC has yet to play a game at full strength. The Women of Troy have been missing last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Alissa Pili due to an ankle injury. Despite the injury problems and playing only seven players against Arizona, USC made it difficult for both the Wildcats and Sun Devils last weekend. Can they do the same against the similarly short-handed Bruins?
Now, it’s just a question of how many of these games actually get played. Stay tuned.
—More from Kim Doss—
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New Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff Sets PrioritiesEmphasis placed on football and men’s hoops in introductory press conference - May 13, 2021
Doss: Week 5 in Pac-12 Women’s Basketball—Best vs. BestAll four teams ranked in the top 10 in preseason will be in action against each other - January 1, 2021
Doss: Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Blazing TrailsStanford defeated Pacific on Tuesday to give Tara VanDerveer her record-breaking 1,099th victory - December 18, 2020