Each team plays a different kind of basketball, so theyll be many interesting match-ups between contrasting styles this season. While Oregon will be post-oriented, UCLA is all about their guards. Arizona counters with a lethal inside-outside combination; ASU brings waves of players and unrelenting defensive intensity. Stanford will rely on its balance, depth, and discipline.
It should the most competitive season in years.
|Coaches||Media||The Bear Insider|
|1. Stanford||T-1. Stanford||1. Stanford|
|2. Arizona||T-1. Arizona||2. ASU|
|3. UCLA||3. UCLA||3. Arizona|
|4. ASU||4. ASU||4. UCLA|
|5. Oregon||5. Washington||5. Oregon|
|6. Washington||6. Oregon||6. Cal|
|7. USC||7. USC||7. Washington|
|8. Cal||8. Oregon State||8. USC|
|9. Oregon State||9. Cal||9. Oregon State|
|10. WSU||10. WSU||10. WSU|
Non-conference Record: 7-2
Last year: 14-15 (6-12 conference, 8th)
Coach: Bev Smith, 4th year
F Cathrine Kraayeveld
G Corrie Mizusawa
C Andrea Bills
F Eleanor Haring
G Chelsea Wagner
Oregon turned some heads with their 7-0 start with impressive wins over Miami and George Washington. They even got some love from the top 25 voters, with a ranking of 24 before losing their last 2 games. The Ducks quick start has made some people question the preseason predictions by the media and coaches, who had them pegged as middle of the Pac.
"I think that for us being picked fifth [by the coaches] doesnt mean anything," said Bev Smith. "Well see where everyone ends up at the end of the season."
The biggest problem for Smith and the Ducks the last couple of seasons has been staying healthy, particularly, keeping their all-star forward Cathrine Kraayeveld on the court. After overcoming a battery of health and injury issues, Kraayeveld is back and ready to return the Ducks to the upper echelon of the conference. So far, shes picked up where shes left off, leading her team in scoring (16.6 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg), and blocks (16), as well as contributing nearly 3 assists a game. She is also second on the team in made 3 pointers (11). Most importantly, she is leading the team in minutes played (30.7 mpg), an indicator of her return to full health.
But Kraayeveld is not the Ducks only option in the post; in fact, Oregon probably boasts the tallest team in the conference. They also have 63" Andrea Bills, who was the go-to player late last year. In addition, they Ducks also have a couple of forwards from Australia: 61" Eleanor Haring, who was all-Freshman last season, and 63" Gabrielle Richards, a tough-minded player who is already the Ducks fourth leading scorer. Oregon can also throw highly touted freshman Kristen Forristall (62") and sophomore Jessica Shetters (66") at opponents. Junior Yadili Okwumabua (62") also gets limited minutes.
Lest one thinks that Oregon grows nothing but tall timber, the Ducks also have one of the premier assist artists in the country in senior Corrie Mizusawa (7.2 apg). In her second season at Oregon, Mizusawa is the classic pass-first point guard who manages to be both consistent and dazzling with her variety of no-look dimes. Also in the backcourt is Chelsea Wagner, who leads the team in three point FGs made (17), and Brandi Davis, a quick and talented big-guard who can create her own shot.
"Were very very deep," said Smith. "We not only have the numbers, but we have the experience at each position."
So far, Oregon has shown that they have the depth in the frontcourt to match up with anyone. However, they cant play 5 six footers at once, and the Ducks are not the quickest or most athletic of teams. The key to the Ducks season will be the performance of their backcourt. The loss to Arkansas (more turnovers than points in the first half) exposed Oregons vulnerability to pressure, so the Ducks will have to prove that they have ball-handlers other than Mizusawa. In addition, Wagner and Davis will need to improve on their early season numbers, as Davis hasnt been a factor and Wagner hasnt shot the ball well (30.6%), which is a problem as 53 of her 62 attempts come from beyond the arc.
Outlook: The Ducks are clearly much improved over last year. As long as Kraayeveld stays healthy, Oregon will be in every game. And perhaps only Stanford can match up with the Ducks in the post. However, the Ducks might have problems with quick, athletic teams (think UCLA, UW) or teams with more balance offensively (ASU, Stanford, AZ). Expect the Oregon to battle for second to fifth place and to get one of the berths to the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks will get an early gauge of where they stand when they host Cal and Stanford then travel to Los Angeles to face UCLA and USC. A 3-1 start will show them to be true contenders.
Non-conference Record: 6-3
Last year: 17-13 (11-7 conference, T-3rd)
Coach: Kathy Olivier, 12th year
G Nikki Blue
G Noelle Quinn
G Lisa Willis
F Amanda Livingston
F Lindsey Pluimer
The Bruins are hoping to build on last seasons NCAA appearance, when they gave eventual Final Four participant Minnesota a scare in the first round.
"Last year, it was a really good experience for us to get back into the tournament," said Olivier. "We have some very talented players who needed to experience that."
The Tourney was a showcase for UCLAs "Triple Threat"guards Nikki Blue, Lisa Willis, and Noelle Quinn.
Junior Blue is the 2-time All-conference point guard who runs the team. Her numbers have been down so far this season due to some injuries, including a concussion that sidelined her for the loss to Ohio State. But Blue has also been more content to look for her teammates more, as evidenced by her terrific assist-to-turnover ratio (39 to 22). Make no mistake, Blue can still take anyone one on one, but she has diversified her game and has become even more valuable to her team.
A bit overshadowed by Blue and Quinn last year, junior Willis is a terrific player in her own right, as she is second on the team in scoring (14.8 ppg). She is also the teams top 3-point threat, having already attempted 61 treys this year. When she gets hot, she is without conscience, as Cal found out last year, when she hit 6 of 8 treys at Haas Pavilion. Willis also leads the team in steals (33) and is a great rebounder (5.9 rpg). Look for Willis to make the all-conference team this season.
But the best player on the Bruins roster is Noelle Quinn. At 6 foot, she has the size to bang in the paint, as evidenced by the rebounding numbers (7.4 rpg), yet she is also terrific shooter from the perimeter and is so smooth driving to the basket or dishing a no-look pass. In short, she has it all, and while only a sophomore, she may be the early favorite for conference Player of the Year honors.
While each player is terrific individually, together, the trio is one of the most exciting and potent backcourts in the nation.
"Theyre as good as anyone Ive coached," concurred Olivier. "All three have put in so much time and are so committed to being very good. They have a special bond, and theyre all about team. Our team has some really good chemistry."
Beyond the Triple Threat, UCLA will be relying on some really young players. They have another high-impact frosh this year in Lindsey Pluimer, a high school All-American who has stepped right in and contributed (10.6 ppg). Although she has the height (63") to grab almost 6 rebounds a game, Pluimer prefers to face the basket. Thus sophomore Amanda Livingston will need to do most of the dirty work down low, with some help from Emma Tautolo. Lauren Pedersen and Ortal Oren will also get some looks in the backcourt.
Outlook: The Bruins quickness is unmatched in the conference, and they will cause much havoc on a nightly basis. The Triple Threat makes UCLA a dangerous team who can beat anyone (see their wins over Texas and Purdue). However, Olivier has a shallow bench, and if any of the Top 3 is out for a significant amount of time, the Bruins are in huge trouble (see losses to TCU, Illinois, and Ohio State). Also, UCLA is awfully thin in the frontcourt as wellah, the damage the Bruins would wreak had they but one of Oregons posts. Ultimately, UCLAs on-dimensionality will keep them from winning the conference title.
Non-conference Record: 8-2
Last year: 24-9 (14-4 conference, T-1st)
Coach: Joan Bonvicini, 14th year
G Dee Dee Wheeler
C Shawntinice Polk
G Natalie Jones
F Shannon Hobson
G Jessica Arnold
Any talk about the Wildcats usually begins and ends with their tremendous inside-outside combination of Shawntinice Polk and Dee-Dee Wheeler. Both are All-Conference performers who are looking to lead their team to another Pac-10 title.
"Good players make good coaches, and great players make great coaches," said Bonvicini. "We learned a lot about ourselves last year when we were shared the conference title with Stanford. Once youve done something, you have the confidence to do it again. Our team definitely expects to do it again."
Helping the cause will be junior Natalie Jones, an athletic guard who will need to step up and become a consistent third option this year. In particular, they need her to take the scoring load off of Wheeler and Polk. In addition, Bonvicini will look for help from underclassmen like sophomore Shannon Hobson and freshman Jessica Arnold. At 63", Hobson is super-quick and provides a different challenge to defenses than does Polkey. Arnold, who was not heavily recruited out of high school because everyone knew Arizona was her dream school, has been one of a handful of freshmen who have made an immediate impact. Arnold leads the team in treys (14) and is fourth in scoring (8.2 ppg). Beyond the starters, some newcomersguard Ashley Whisonant and forward Che Oh--are also getting major minutes.
"We are deeper this year," claimed Bonvicini. "Last year, we felt that our lack of depth hurt us in the Pac-10 tournament."
The Wildcats have handily beaten everyone they should beat and losing to only #10 Ohio State and #11 Georgia, teams ranked above them. So its difficult to gauge their progress entering the Pac-10 slate. One thing is clear: of late, Dee Dee Wheeler has been making her case for Conference POY by carrying the team on her back (19, 20, 16, 35, and 20 points in the last 5 games). Polk, however, has had a slower start to the season. Polk and Wheeler are still enough to beat most teams, but against the elite teams, Polk will get doubled and Wheeler will get neutralized by a quick guard. Arizona will need the other players step up if they hope to get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Also, while the Wildcats are a good shooting team, they are poor from the free throw line. This will be a liability in close games, as teams with a deep frontcourt (ASU, Oregon, Stanford) will simply foul and take their chances with Polk (56%) or Hobson (39%) on the line.
Outlook: While the Wildcats will still be very good, they havent improved much from last year, and the other top teams may have passed them by. The early conference schedule is favorable, as they start with the Washington schools before taking on rival ASU in Tempe. Then they get Cal and Stanford at home in Tucson. They will need at least a split against Stanford and ASU to show that they intend to defend their crown.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Non-conference Record: 8-2
Last year: 17-12 (11-7 conference, T-3rd)
Coach: Charli Turner-Thorne, 9th year
G Kylan Loney
F Kristen Kovedsky
F Emily Westerberg
F Amy Denson
G Carrie Buckner
The Sun Devils have played one of the toughest out of conference schedules in the country, and they have represented the Pac-10 well, with upsets of #11 Georgia and #8 Connecticut, and losses to perennial NCAA participants New Mexico and #1 LSU, both on the road. As a result, ASU believes they are well prepared not only for the Pac-10 but also for the postseason. But this year, ASU is picky about what their postseason destination.
"I want to share a story with you," explained Turner-Thorne. "The team had a pumpkin-carving contest during Halloween, and the pumpkin that won the Scariest Pumpkin was carved by Betsey Boardman and Amy Denson, and it said, NIT."
However, Turner-Thorne also believes that this year her team will not only make it to the Dance, theyll be staying a while.
"Were at that point of our program now. We feel we can compete with and beat any team in the nation. If we get to the Regionals, were in the Final Four."
Her optimism is understandable, as ASU will have one of the deepest teams in the conference, a necessity to play the all-out defensive style that has become their trademark. Leading the charge will be the four seniors, including All-Conference senior guard Kylan Loney, a spirited player with a deadly outside shot. Loney is averaging 11.6 ppg. Also providing leadership will be Betsy Boardman, a former all-conference player who is coming off a knee injury from the end of last season. Carrie Buckner is leading the team in steals (2.6) and in minutes played (25.2 mpg), and guard Lauren Stagg provides depth off the bench.
"Im just happy to have seniors this year," enthused Turner-Thorne. "Were healthy, and we have a veteran team, and Im excited."
Beyond the seniors, expect the Sun Devils to bring their usual army of rugged 6 footers. These include Emily Westerberg, Amy Denson, Kristen Kovedsky, Jenny Thigpin, and Aubree Johnson. Kovedsky (11.4 ppg) and Westerberg (11.1 ppg) are the other two Sun Devils scoring in double figures. Westerberg is also one of the conferences best free-throw shooter (89.7%) as she has scored about a third of her points from the charity stripe. Denson, a former high school teammate of Cals Sarah Pool, is a good passing post, leading the team in assists (3.0 apg), while Johnson is the teams best shot-blocker. Thigpin can score in bunches when called upon, as evidenced by her 18 points in 15 minutes in the Sun Devils upset win over Stanford last season. So although the parts seem interchangeable, everyone has a role to play in the Sun Devils scheme. Junior YoVanna Rosenthal and freshmen Reagan Pariseau and Jacquelyn Johnson will also be part of Turner-Thornes hockey line change substitution patterns.
Because of its depth, ASU will be able to match up with almost anyone in the conference. Because of their large rotation, they are also most equipped to withstand cold-shooting nights from their scorers and to weather the inevitable minor injuries that occur over the long season. As usual, look for the Sun Devils to wear teams down with their defensive pressure, but this year, they will also have the diversified scoring to win some high-scoring games as well.
Outlook: ASU defends their home court well, and they will benefit from the fact that they and the Wildcats form the conferences strongest tandem. If they can win consistently on the road, they will challenge for the conference title this year. They start with on the road against the Washington schools, but then get to take on contenders Arizona and Stanford at home. A 4-1 start is very possible.
Non-conference Record: 8-1
Last year: 27-7 (14-4 conference, T-1st)
Coach: Tara VanDerveer, 19th year
G Candice Wiggins
G Kelley Suminski
C Brooke Smith
F T'Nae Thiel
F Sebnem Kimyacioglu
Stanford is once again the class of the Pac-10. After sharing the conference title with Arizona last year and coming within seconds of the Final Four last season, the Cardinal will look again win the conference outright and enter the National Championship picture.
Tara VanDerveer has one of the most veteran teams in the conference, as she returns five seniors and three starters, including Kelley Suminski. Despite losing Pac-10 Player of the Year Nicole Powell, the Cardinal simply reloaded and actually looks to be better this year.
One of the Cardinals strengths will be in the post, where they have four super players, each with her own strengths. Seniors Tnae Thiel and Azella Perryman and sophomore Kristen Newlin are known quantities, but the addition of Brooke Smith, with her old school moves and unstoppable hook shot, makes the Stanford frontcourt the toughest in the Pac-10, if not the nation.
"Brooke Smith is someone who is hard to guard," remarked VanDerveer. "She runs the floor really well."
But the Stanford makeover extends beyond the paint, as guard Candice Wiggins has made an immediate impact. Leading the team in scoring (16.3 ppg), she has helped to fill in for point guard Susan King Borchardt, who has been out with an injury. Expect Wiggins to be the conference Freshman of the Year come seasons end.
"Candice Wiggins is a senior freshman; she plays with tremendous intensity and absolute blinding speed and quickness," said VanDerveer. "She brings everyone up a notch."
"We have a really different team," continued VanDerveer. "We have our most athletic team, and athleticism-- speed, quickness--has not been the trademark of Stanford basketball."
The new-look Cardinal are following Cals lead and also implementing the Triangle this year. They have also shown more zone defense than in the past. Yet Stanford will also bring their staples: disciplined play and terrific shooting. As a team, the Cardinal is averaging more assists than turnovers (135 to 127). Many of the assists have been on treys, as the Cardinal continue their traditional marksmanship with sharpshooters Kelly Suminski, Krista Rappahahn, and Sebnem Kimyacioglu.
Outlook: No one in the Pac-10 can match Stanfords balance and depth. The Cardinal has the personnel to match up with almost any team, and thus will be difficult to beat. While the early #2 ranking wasnt earned, as Stanford simply moved up without playing a game because teams above them all took losses, make no mistake: Stanford is a better team this year despite losing Nicole Powell. Tara VanDerveer and the Cardinal will continue to keep the Pac-10 in the national conversation, and by the end of the season, dont be surprised if the Cardinal are in the Final Four.
Click here, to read part one of Pac-10 women's basketball preview.
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