"I'm excited for the conference," said Arizona State Head Coach Charli Turner-Thorne. "I think we've positioned ourselves to make a huge statement nationally."
UCLA's Head Coach Kathy Olivier concurred. "The Pac-10 conference
is going to be just a grind. It's very competitive; I don't care
who you play, you've got to be ready."
To get you ready for what promises to be an exciting Pac-10 race, the Bear Insider presents here an in-depth look at all 10 teams. In this Part 1, we highlight the teams predicted to finish in the bottom half of the conference.
|Coaches||Media||The Bear Insider|
|1. Stanford||1. Stanford||1. Stanford|
|2. Arizona||1. Arizona||2. ASU|
|3. UCLA||3. UCLA||3. Arizona|
|4. ASU||4. ASU||3. UCLA|
|5. Oregon||5. Washington||5. Oregon|
|6. Washington||6. Oregon||6. Cal|
|7. USC||7. USC||7. Washington|
|8. Cal||8. OSU||8. USC|
|9. OSU||9. Cal||9. OSU|
|10. WSU||10. WSU||9. WSU|
Washington State Cougars
Non-conference Record: 4-5
Last year: 6-22 (2-16 conference, 10th)
Coach: Sherri Murrell, 3rd year
F Kate Benz
G Adrianne Ferguson
G Jessica Perry
F Emma Joneby
G Charmaine Jones
In her third year working to rebuild the Washington State program, Head Coach Murrell is cognizant of the progress they've made. She's also acutely aware of the challenge the Cougars face this season.
"Our problem has been that we've had good starts and good ends to our seasons, but it's the middle part that's been difficult."
The "middle part," of course, is the heart of the Pac-10 season, where the Cougars have failed to build on some early momentum. After starting last season 3-0, the Cougars lost 5 of 6 to enter conference competition on a skid from which they never recovered. This season, the Cougars have alternated wins and losses to keep a winning record until they lost two close games to Eastern Washington and Valparaiso to close with a preseason 4-5 record.
Still, Murrell has a lot to be encouraged about. Her young players got a lot of playing time last year, and now the sophomores look ready to pay dividends from those hard knocks. In particular, Adriane Ferguson and Kate Benz look ready to have breakout seasons. Benz was an all-Freshman selection last year, and already she has put up numbers (12.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg) which merit consideration for All-Conference. But Ferguson has been just as impressive; she has become the Cougs' go-to player on offense, leading the team in scoring (13.4 ppg) and 3-point shooting (39.5%). She is also third on the team in rebounding (5.4 rpg). Another impressive sophomore is Stephanie Singer, who has managed 3.8 assists per game (tied for team lead) while playing only 19 minutes a game.
The Cougs will not rely only on young players. Jessica Perry, Charmaine Jones, and Emma Joneby will help provide veteran leadership. Perry has averaged 3.8 assists a game, while Jones has made the most of her time on the court by leading the team in free throw attempts (37). Joneby is playing 31 minutes a game and is leading the team in FG accuracy (55.4%).
Transfer Keisha Moore will provide an immediate boost, as she averaged 12.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg in two years at Idaho before transferring to WSU. Freshmen Jordan McCormick, Dani Montgomery, Brynn Bemis and JC transfers Crystal Blue and Ariana Scales round out the newcomers.
"We have a lot of new players, so it's going to be important for us to take and carry over every type of experience we have, win or lose, and assess throughout. Our lack of size is going to be our biggest factor. I think we're much more athletic and competitive."
Outlook: The Cougars will be more competitive this season, and they have a
chance of leaving the cellar if they can maintain some confidence in the early
part of the season. Unfortunately, most other Pac-10 teams have upgraded as
well, and it will be difficult for the team to integrate all those new players.
Oregon State Beavers
Non-conference Record: 4-5
Coach: Judy Spoelstra, 10th year
G Shannon Howell
F Kim Butler
G Mandy Close
F Casey Bunn
F Anita Rivera
The buzz in Pullman is all about senior Shannon Howell, who has been leading
the nation in scoring (22.4 ppg) despite the fact that every team knows that
she's the Beavers' go-to player. Every since becoming eligible
for Oregon State at the beginning of the conference season last year, Howell
has been one of the Pac-10's top offensive weapons. However, this year,
Howell has diversified her game and has become even more valuable - she also
leads the team in assists (29) and steals (23). After losing much of the core
of last year's team to graduation, Head Coach Judy Spoelstra faces a
rebuilding year and will count on Howell more than ever.
"We have a lot of inexperience on this team," said Spoelstra. "When you look at the inside game, we lost a lot. But we do have Kim Butler, who is a very physical player. She plays hard every possession."
Butler, a transfer from Santa Clara, has given Oregon State a lift and a much-needed inside presence. She is scoring in double figures (10.7 ppg) and already has 11 blocks this season. Also helping out inside is sophomore Casey Bunn, who leads the team in rebounding (6.0 rpg) and is second in steals (13). Also stepping up is guard Mandy Close, a junior who is providing the Beavers with a solid third option on offense (9.4 ppg). Also playing well is NorCal product Tiffany Ducker, a freshman from St. Mary's high school in Stockton who has shown a knack for offensive rebounds. But without much depth, Spoelstra will build her team around defense.
"I really believe that you have to put the backbone in first before you put in the arms and legs, and the backbone is defense and rebounding. We are just going to play and fight the best we can and be the scrappiest team."
Despite Spoelstra's desire to ugly-up the game, the Beavers' defense has not had much luck so far this season. In their 5 losses, they have given up an average of 76.8 points.
Outlook: The Beavers have thrived on exceeding expectations; they have surpassed predictions in preseason polls the last five years. However, they will be hard-pressed to get out from the bottom of the Pac-10 this year, as the talent and the experience just isn't there. They will scratch and claw and make life miserable for some teams, and they will win a few games when Howell carries them on her broad shoulders, but ultimately, it won't be enough.
Non-conference Record: 6-3
Last year: 15-13 (11-7 conference, T-3rd)
Coach: Mark Trakh, 1st year
G Meghan Gnekow
F Eshaya Murphy
G Brynn Cameron
G Jamie Hagiya
G Camille Lenoir
The big news for ‘SC this year is their new coaching staff. Mark Trakh and his assistants came over from Pepperdine, replacing Chris Gobrecht.
"The transition has been really smooth," Trakh claimed, pointing out that he knew many of the current Trojans from his years spent recruiting for the Waves.
"The good thing about it is that for the first time, I haven't had to coach effort. You just go out there and teach and implement the system without having to tell them to focus or to play harder."
Gobrecht's teams were often viewed as talented under-achievers. Many observers thought that with all-star Ebony Hoffman, the Trojans should have made more of an impact on the national scene. Now that Hoffman has gone on to the WNBA, the Trojans no longer have a go-to player.
"I told the kids that we don't have any great players," Trakh continued.
"But we have good players. I use the analogy of the Yankees, when they've had good players, they've had great teams, but the last few years, they've had great players, but their teams were only good."
Gobrecht did not leave the cupboard bare. Besides the talented Gnekow (9.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Jamie Funn (7.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg), and Rachel Woodward (9.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Trakh will also have point guard Jamie Hagiya, who averages well over 3 assists per game. He also welcomed a highly rated group of freshmen, including Camille Lenoir, who followed him from Pepperdine. However, the surprise so far has been freshman guard Brynn Cameron, a sharpshooter who has already hit 21 threes and leads the team in scoring (10.7 ppg).
The Trojans had a good pre-season, with wins over Massachusetts, Loyola Marymount, and Harvard, as well as 4 point loss to then #6 Notre Dame. They also pulled out a close victory at TCU in their last game, so USC should have good momentum heading into conference play.
Outlook: On talent alone, the Trojans should finish in the middle of the Pac. Trakh's challenge will be how quickly he can get the team to play together. The schedule is favorable, as they start off with a tough game at UCLA, then with the four teams from the Northwest, and a confidence-building good start (2-3 or even 3-2) is very possible. On the other hand, this is a difficult year to be in transition, as most of the Pac-10 has improved from last year. Trakh will change the culture of USC basketball for the better, but anything above 8th place might be too much to ask this year.
Non-conference Record: 4-6
Last year: 18-13 (9-9 conference, 6th)
Coach: June Daugherty, 9th year
G Kayla Burt
G Kristen O'Neill
G Cameo Hicks
2 others (starting assignments unsettled)
Kayla Burt's return to basketball after missing almost two seasons because of a heart condition has been the story in the Pac-10 so far this season. As Burt has re-adjusted to basketball, she has found herself also adjusting to a team that has a different focus – and style - than the one she left.
"We have a relatively different team," asserted Daugherty. "We're a very athletic group, the fastest, most agile team I've ever had."
For the last two years, June Daugherty has been advertising that she is remaking
her team into one built for speed. With this season's young team (no
seniors), Daugherty proclaims the transformation complete. No longer will there
be former POY Giuliana Mendiola bailing them out with a smooth jumper as the
shot clock expires. In her place will be aggressive, quick players who will
generate offense through their in-your-face defense.
"We've really worked hard to get kids who can play 94 feet of pressure defense," continued Daugherty. "We now have the depth to run for the whole 40 minutes."
The pressure defense has resulted in creating many turnovers, and the Huskies are +67 on turnovers, including 40 more steals than their opponents so far. However, while they are deep enough to run and press all game, the question remains whether they can score for the whole 40 minutes. The Huskies have deposited just 65.7 points on average in the non-conference slate, almost 10 points below their average of two years ago.
Leading the team is Burt at 10.8 ppg. No other player is averaging double figures, although 5 Huskies are averaging 7 points or more a game. UW's FG% of 35.5 is the lowest in the conference. They also struggle at the free-throw line, hitting 66.1% as a team. Due to their lack of size, Washington has been hoisting up almost 20 treys a game, hitting about a third of them.
Another troubling trend is the Huskies' propensity to go cold in the second half. UW's FG% has dipped to 33% in second halves, while their opponents have shot 52%. This has resulted in Washington giving up 58 more points than their opponents in second stanzas. This may be a result of Huskies' inexperience, or perhaps due to a brutal non-conference schedule with losses to Colorado, top 25 Utah, and top 10 teams Notre Dame and Baylor. The Huskies did beat Final Four participant Minnesota, which played without star Janelle McCarville.
But all is not gloomy in Seattle, as the Washington roster is full of talented
young players. NorCal products Cherri Craddock and Dominique Banks are solid
contributors, as is super-quick frosh guard Emily Florence, who has already
collected 20 assists (3rd on team) and 12 steals (T-2nd). Jill Bell is already
one of the top rebounders (7.1 rpg) and shot-blockers (17) in the conference,
and guard Cameo Hicks is a star in waiting. The Huskies' fans, some of
the most ardent and supportive in the Pac-10, will have a lot of fun watching
this team mature and improve in the next few years.
"We've led the Pac-10 in attendance two years in a row," beamed Daugherty. "And that's one of the reasons why we have the first and second rounds of the Tournament back at UW. The team is excited about that, and it is certainly added motivation for our players."
Outlook: With such a young team, the Huskies have bigger concerns than making the NCAAs. After losing 5 of the last 6, the immediate challenge for Daugherty and the coaching staff will be to keep up the team's confidence heading into conference play. There is real danger of continuing the slide, as the early schedule is treacherous. The Huskies host Arizona and ASU to start the season before heading to the Bay Area, and they could play well and still be looking at a 1-3 start. If the players can keep their chins up, they are talented enough to make some noise in the conference. However, with the inconsistency they've exhibited so far, it's difficult to pick them any higher than 8th - but we'll give them credit for the tough schedule and pick the Huskies 7th.
California Golden Bears
Non-conference Record: 6-3
Last year: 12-17 (4-14 conference, 9th)
Coach: Caren Horstmeyer, 5th year
G Kristin Iwanaga
F Leigh Gregory
C Jessica Lawson
G Sarah Pool
F Renee Wright
The Bears have had an up-and-down non-conference slate. They started off with a bang, beating Navy by 30. They then proceeded to lose three winnable games in the Rainbow Wahine Classic. They hung in tough against heavyweight TCU, who ended up winning the whole tournament, but then defensive lapses cost the Bears in losses to Idaho and Hawaii. Returning to the familiar confines of Haas Pavilion, the Bears seemed to have righted the ship in winning 5 straight entering conference play.
Offense has been a bright spot, as Cal currently boasts 4 players scoring in double figures: Gregory (13.3 ppg), Iwanaga (12.9 ppg), Lawson (10.1 ppg), and Kiki Williams (10.0 ppg). All four have taken turns sharing the scoring load, with Gregory and Lawson leading the way early, then Williams breaking out for a few games. Lately, it's been Iwanaga taking the reins of the team. KI has never been known for her scoring, but for her senior season, she has really stepped it up, shooting better than 50% from the field-- including a ridiculous 75% from 3-point land -- and 96.9% from the free-throw line. Both her 3-point and free-throw percentages lead the nation. As a team, Cal is shooting 46.3% from the floor, 52% from beyond the arc, and 75% from the charity stripe.
While offense has been clicking, defense has been an area of concern for the Bears in this young season, as they gave up 75.8 ppg over the first four games. However, after re-focusing on defense in practice, Cal has since allowed only 56.8 ppg in their last 5 wins. Contributing to the improving defense is the bigger post presence provided by senior Khadijah Coakley and freshmen Jessica Lawson and Krista Foster. Coakley is very quick and uses her great hops to both snatch rebounds and block shots (7). Lawson has the ability to change opponents' shots, but her effectiveness has been limited by foul trouble. Finally, Foster has been Cal's most versatile defender, showing in the last few games that she is able to defend both big-bodied posts and big guards on the perimeter.
Cal's relatively weak preseason schedule raises some concerns about the Bears' readiness for what will be a rough Pac-10 slate. Also of concern is the fact that Cal will probably cool off from long-distance, coming back to more earthly numbers; what happens then?
Outlook: On paper, the Cal's personnel scare nobody. In fact, most teams in the Pac-10, including USC and UW, arguably have more talent than the Bears. But by shooting so well, they have raised some eyebrows around the conference. And because there is something to be said for team chemistry and for senior leadership, we can expect the Bears to hold their own with the teams at the bottom of the conference, and to post a couple of upsets along the way against the contenders.
The early schedule, with 5 of 7 on the road, will be a major test. If the Bears can come away with a 3-4 record and keep improving, they might be looking at their first winning season in years.
Click here, to read part two of the Pac-10 women's basketball preview.
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