Pac-10 Preview

For the past few years, Pac-10 coaches have spent a lot of time and energy campaigning for more respect for the conference. After a successful post-season in 2005, when 5 teams not only made the Big Dance but all won at least one game, the teeth grinding has died down. With at least that many Pac-10 teams expected to make the NCAA tourney again this March, the focus has been less on advocating for the conference and more on preparing for the expected dogfight within the Pac-10 race.

Indeed, the Pac-10 has had a very successful non-conference season. Together, the 10 teams have compiled a 64-23 record (73.6%), the best winning percentage since 1991-1992 when it was 75.8%.

Nine of the ten teams finished with winning records, with only Arizona finishing below .500 (4-5). Yet, the conference did not make much of a dent against ranked teams, finishing 5-14 against Top 25 competition, and 0-7 against the Top 10. On the other hand, eight different teams (all but OSU and WSU) have received votes for the Top 25.

But that’s all in the rearview mirror now, as the teams gear up for the earliest start ever to conference play.

Here is a preview of all 10 teams, listed in the predicted order of finish:

10. Oregon State Beavers (6-1)
Head Coach: LaVonda Wagner
6-23 (1-17 Pac-10, 10th)

New head coach LaVonda Wagner has gotten the Beavers flying high and believing in themselves. While they have not played a very tough schedule, the Beavers have gained confidence by already matching last season’s win total. OSU plays tough defense, allowing only 52.0 ppg (16th in the nation).

On offense, their go-to player is forward Kim Butler, who is making the most of her senior year (18.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 apg.). Fellow seniors Mandy Close (13.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 5.3 apg) and Anita Rivera (14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.7 apg) also score in double figures, and sophomore Tiffany Ducker (6.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.6 apg) is making good on the potential she showed last season.

While OSU is expected to be more competitive this season, it will be difficult for the Beavers to get out of the cellar, as most Pac-10 teams have improved themselves.

9. Washington State University Cougars (6-2)
Head Coach: Sherri Murrell
6-22 (2-16 Pac-10, 9th)

Pac-10 rebounding champ Kate Benz is back to clear every board (12.3 rpg, 5th nationally), helping WSU become the top rebounding team in the league (46.2 rpg, +8.6 rpg margin). The Cougars also play tough defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 35.6% (5th in Pac-10).

They struggle a bit on offense, hitting only 36.3% of their shots (10th on Pac-10). A bright spot has been the play of frosh guard Katie Appleton, who leads the team in scoring (11.6 points per game) and steals (2.3 per game), while starting all 8 games so far. Senior Charmaine Jones provides scoring help (10.5 ppg, and 89.1% FTs), but with the loss of co-captain Adriane Ferguson (broken pinky), WSU will need more scoring from other players.

Head coach Sherri Murrell is still looking for someone to step up and help out Benz down low. She certainly has some size to play with – 6’2 Keisha Moore, 6’3 Heather Molzen, 6’4 Ebonee Coates, and 6’5 Sabrina Shired. The problem is that besides senior Moore, the other three are freshmen, and consistency might be too much to expect at this point.

8. Arizona Wildcats
Head Coach: Joan Bonvicini
20-12 (11-7 Pac-10, 5th)

The unexpected and tragic death of Shawntinice Polk has left a lasting impact on the Arizona program. It does not seem right even to discuss wins and losses for this team, as they will struggle all season to cope with their grief.

For example, the Wildcats recently lost at Fresno State, in what would have been Polkey’s senior-year homecoming game. They then went to Hanford, Polkey’s hometown, where they visited her grave. After that, they were expected to play a game at Santa Barbara? It will be even more difficult once conference games begin, where familiar venues will only bring back more memories of Polkey’s dominant game and irrepressible smile.

This writer – for one – will be rooting for Arizona all this year.

7. California Golden Bears (8-2)
Head Coach: Joanne Boyle
11-18 (4-14 Pac-10, 8th)

The young Bears have been impressive so far this season, playing consistently good defense, allowing 52.7 ppg. Only one team, defending national champs Baylor, has scored more than 58 points on Cal. Boyle has not hesitated to throw her freshmen right into the fire, starting as many as four rookies.

Forward Ashley Walker leads the team in scoring at 13.6 ppg; Hampton is close behind at 13.3 ppg. Alexis Gray-Lawson is also in double figures at 11.7 ppg, and Jene Morris, who is nursing a bad back, contributes 9.1 ppg.

Without Morris, junior Sarah Pool has stepped up her play, earning Pac-10 Player of the week (December 12) for her stellar play and near-perfect marksmanship (5-5 on threes vs. San Jose State). The Bears’ lone senior, Renee Wright, has provided stability and rebounding (7.9 rpg, 4th in Pac-10) while averaging over 33 minutes a game.

The Bears have certainly met expectations in the non-conference schedule, defeating everyone except their two ranked opponents (Baylor and New Mexico). However, questions remain with their depth and youth. Boyle has played with a very short bench all year, but will this be magnified in the Pac-10, where games are supposed to be more tightly officiated? Will the team be able to win on the road, a requirement for success in the conference? If the team continues to play fearless basketball, and if their offense continues to improve – the Bears scored a Haas-record 94 points their last time out – then seventh in the conference might be too low.

A quick start in the conference will be essential.

6. Oregon Ducks (8-1)
Head Coach: Bev Smith
21-10 (12-6 Pac-10, T-2nd)

The Ducks lost a lot to graduation last year: All-Conference performers Cathrine Krayyeveld and Andrea Bills, as well as assist-machine Cori Mizusawa. Still, while playing a less-than-challenging schedule, Oregon has raced out to a terrific record in the early season. Indeed, the Ducks’ only loss has been to top 25 Temple, in a 51-46 defensive battle. Speaking of defense, Oregon’s has been stellar this season, allowing only 48.7 ppg (4th nationally). Opponents are shooting only 29.5% against the Ducks (2nd in nation).

The Ducks are led by their sophomore forward Gabrielle Richards, who is contributing 12 ppg, 6.7 rpg and has 13 blocks on the season. She is also shooting at a 53% clip, good for 5th in the league. Oregon also has Carolyn Ganes, the most recent Pac-10 Player of the Week, who combines terrific size (6’3) with an outside touch (40% from 3). In fact, as a team, the Ducks shoot 43% from long-distance; senior guard Brandi Davis is second in the conference at 52% (13 of 25). The Ducks will also feature balance, as they have 5 players averaging between 7.9 and 9.8 ppg.

Despite all this success, it’s unclear how good the Ducks really are. Oregon played their first 7 games within the state of Oregon, only venturing out against St. Mary’s (CA) and Idaho State. Bev Smith will have a much better measure of her team after this week’s games against the LA schools. And while the Ducks again will have plenty size, they will have match up problems against the increasingly quick and athletic Pac-10.

5. UCLA Bruins
Head Coach: Kathy Olivier
16-12 (10-8 Pac-10, 6th)

Is the drama finally too much in Westwood? There is no question that the Bruins have some of the best talent in the conference. But the natives are restless as the Bruins have gotten off to an inconsistent start. Losses to Baylor (who owns the Pac-10, apparently) and Oklahoma (Courtney Paris breaking records, sigh) are forgivable, but stumbles against BYU and UCSB are less so. Then of course, there’s the unexpected transfer of highly touted Ashlee Trebilcock, who was billed as the next great UCLA guard.

Still, when Lisa Willis, Nikki Blue, and Noelle Quinn – self-billed as the Triple Threat – are on their game, they are something to behold. Willis, the least regarded of three coming out of high school, has worked herself into a Player of the Year candidate, providing the Bruins with scoring (conference-leading 20.3 ppg, on 53% shooting) as well as her tremendous defense. Noelle Quinn is now healthy, contributing 17.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg. Nikki Blue’s scoring is down, but the offense still runs through her talented hands.

So why are they picked 5th? One, because the Bruins still have no post game, and this may be the year they pay for it in the conference. It’s not that other teams have added dominant post games, but that most teams above them have upgraded the athleticism of their guards. These guards won’t be able to shut down the Triple Threat – few teams in the country can – but they’ll match up better with Willis and Co. than before.

The reality is that between positions 3-5, it’s a pick’em, and I just believe more in the depth and consistency of the other teams.

4. Washington Huskies (7-2)
Head Coach: June Daugherty
14-16 (9-9 Pac-10, 6th)

The Huskies had perhaps the most impressive start of all the Pac-10, going on the road and winning two tough games (Alabama, Florida State), then coming home to upset #25 Utah. They did not play well on the road trip to Texas and dropped the only two losses of the young season (to Baylor and Texas A&M), but have since rebounded with 4 consecutive wins.

Coach Daugherty is reaping the benefits of playing a deep bench the last couple of years. Everyone seems capable of contributing; Daugherty has been able to shift her line-ups around. The Huskies’ depth will allow them to match up with most teams in the conference.

A standout has been junior guard Cameo Hicks, who has elevated her game this season (16 ppg, 6.3 rpg). Junior Breanne Watson and sophomores Dominique Banks, Emily Florence, and Andrea Plouffe join Hicks in the starting line up.

The Huskies are terrific on the offensive glass (19.56 rpg, 1st in conference). But they will have to shore up their shooting (38.9%) if they want to make a serious run at the top of the league. As always, their vociferous fan base will make winning in Seattle a very difficult proposition. Look for UW to return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

3. USCTrojans (6-3)
Head Coach: Mark Trakh
20-11 (12-6 Pac-10, T-2nd)

After an unexpected – and glorious – return to prominence last season (a 2nd place Pac-10 finish and a last second loss to national runner-up Michigan State) USC finds itself amongst the elite, ranked in the many preseason polls and hauling in a top-ranked recruiting class.

Clearly the future is bright at USC. Still, coach Trakh has been trying to downplay the adulation, claiming that the Trojans do not buy the hype, and that it takes more than one good year to establish a top-25 program. Say what you will, coach, the target is on your back now, and ‘SC will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.

The Trojans, despite some injuries, have performed as expected in the early season. ‘SC has defeated everyone they were expected to beat, except for the hiccup against Long Beach State. Their other two losses were to ranked teams, at Notre Dame, and against Ohio State at home, in a very winnable game.

The Trojans are making up for their poor shooting (38.6% FG, 61.9% FT) with athleticism and team defense. USC leads the conference in steals (12.89 spg), led by guard Jamie Hagiya (3.22 spg, T-1st). Shay Murphy is also in the top 5 in steals (2.56 spg) as well leading the Trojans in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg). Chloe Kerr is right behind at 6.9 rpg and has provided length and quickness inside. But perhaps ‘SC’s most exciting player is sophomore guard Camille Lenoir, who leads the team in assists (4.11 apg, 5th in conference) and in off-balance, corkscrewing, acrobatic shots.

Look for the Trojans to find the sledding a little tougher this year. However, their athleticism and team play will keep ‘SC in contention all season long.

2. Stanford Cardinal
Head Coach: Tara Vanderveer
32-3 (17-1 Pac-10, 1st)

What? The Cardinal not picked to win the conference? Don’t they still own the most lethal inside-outside combo in the league in Brooke Smith (15.4 ppg) and Player of the Year Candice Wiggins (18.0 ppg, 3.86 apg, 2.29 spg)? Not to mention coaching legend TV?

Well, yes, yes, and yes. And the Cardinal are still a step (or 3) above the other 8 teams in the conference. However, they are no longer the clear-cut dominant favorite.

They enter the Pac-10 with more question marks than in years past. First and foremost is the question at guard. Stanford will miss Susan Borchardt more and more as the season wears on. True, with their offensive system, they may not need a true point guard anyway. But by letting Wiggins bring up the ball, they may be taking away from her other talents. How soon will the other guards be able to step on a consistent basis will determine how far this team goes.

The Cardinal lost a lot of seniors. Stanford’s young players may be just as (or more) talented, but they may not yet have the toughness of those veterans. This toughness will be tested in the battles of the Pac-10. The (re-)emergence of Kristen Newlin (10.3 rpg, 2nd in Pac-10) will help them with this toughness, as she was the dominant player in the win against Texas Tech.

That said, the Cardinal are extremely talented and Vanderveer will have them ready to play every night, so it will not be a great surprise if Stanford once again in crowned champ at the end.

1. Arizona State Sun Devils
Head Coach: Charli Turner-Thorne
24-10 (12-6 Pac-10, T-2nd)

ASU has made noise nationally in the early season, following up their Sweet Sixteen appearance with a 9-1 record, with their only loss against North Carolina (who also beat them in the Tourney last year).

The Sun Devils were the only team with a winning record against ranked teams, beating both Vanderbilt and New Mexico. They now sit at #10 in the Coaches’ Poll, their highest ranking in over 20 years.

The Sun Devils have been closing the gap on Stanford, and this may be the year they overtake the Cardinal at the top of the conference. Led by Turner Thorne and her team approach, ASU continues to play rugged defense that forces opponents out of their game.

They out-rebound their opponents by 7.2 rpg, as they only allow 28.8 rpg. They are also second in the conference in steals, at 11.22 spg.

However, this season, Turner Thorne will have a lot more offensive firepower at her disposal. No longer will the Sun Devils have to win 50-48. So far this season, ASU is third the conference in scoring (74.3 ppg) while shooting just under 50% as a team (49.2% FG, 76.0% FT, both tops in Pac-10). They also dish out 20 assists per game.

ASU is led by their do-everything forward Emily Westerberg (12.6 ppg, 54.1% FG, 5.5 rpg), out to improve upon her All-Conference performance last season. Making her own case for recognition is Kristen Kovedsky, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding (13.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and the conference in shooting (59.5% FG). As a bonus, the Sun Devils once again have the services of Jill Noe, a former all-conference guard who has provided ASU with perimeter scoring (11.7 ppg, 39.5% 3-Point FG).

Bolstering ASU’s depth are three freshmen. Danielle Orsillo has not yet found her shot at the college level (37.5% FG) but still manages to contribute 6.2 ppg in only 12.5 minutes a game. Briann January is one of the league leaders in FT % (84.4%), and she has already gone to the line 32 times. Finally 6’6 Kristen Thompson is shooting over 50% while contributing a shot-blocking presence.

Most importantly, Turner Thorne seemed to have imparted her fearless nature to her team, and the Sun Devils won’t back down from anyone. In the end, that swagger and their balanced, deep team will leave ASU atop the conference.


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Indeed, the Pac-10 has had a very successful non-conference season. Together, the 10 teams have compiled a 64-23 record (73.6%), the best winning percentage since 1991-1992 when it was 75.8%.

Nine of the ten teams finished with winning records, with only Arizona finishing below .500 (4-5). Yet, the conference did not make much of a dent against ranked teams, finishing 5-14 against Top 25 competition, and 0-7 against the Top 10. On the other hand, eight different teams (all but OSU and WSU) have received votes for the Top 25.

But that’s all in the rearview mirror now, as the teams gear up for the earliest start ever to conference play.

Here is a preview of all 10 teams, listed in the predicted order of finish:

10. Oregon State Beavers (6-1)
Head Coach: LaVonda Wagner
6-23 (1-17 Pac-10, 10th)

New head coach LaVonda Wagner has gotten the Beavers flying high and believing in themselves. While they have not played a very tough schedule, the Beavers have gained confidence by already matching last season’s win total. OSU plays tough defense, allowing only 52.0 ppg (16th in the nation).

On offense, their go-to player is forward Kim Butler, who is making the most of her senior year (18.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 apg.). Fellow seniors Mandy Close (13.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 5.3 apg) and Anita Rivera (14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.7 apg) also score in double figures, and sophomore Tiffany Ducker (6.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.6 apg) is making good on the potential she showed last season.

While OSU is expected to be more competitive this season, it will be difficult for the Beavers to get out of the cellar, as most Pac-10 teams have improved themselves.

9. Washington State University Cougars (6-2)
Head Coach: Sherri Murrell
6-22 (2-16 Pac-10, 9th)

Pac-10 rebounding champ Kate Benz is back to clear every board (12.3 rpg, 5th nationally), helping WSU become the top rebounding team in the league (46.2 rpg, +8.6 rpg margin). The Cougars also play tough defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 35.6% (5th in Pac-10).

They struggle a bit on offense, hitting only 36.3% of their shots (10th on Pac-10). A bright spot has been the play of frosh guard Katie Appleton, who leads the team in scoring (11.6 points per game) and steals (2.3 per game), while starting all 8 games so far. Senior Charmaine Jones provides scoring help (10.5 ppg, and 89.1% FTs), but with the loss of co-captain Adriane Ferguson (broken pinky), WSU will need more scoring from other players.

Head coach Sherri Murrell is still looking for someone to step up and help out Benz down low. She certainly has some size to play with – 6’2 Keisha Moore, 6’3 Heather Molzen, 6’4 Ebonee Coates, and 6’5 Sabrina Shired. The problem is that besides senior Moore, the other three are freshmen, and consistency might be too much to expect at this point.

8. Arizona Wildcats
Head Coach: Joan Bonvicini
20-12 (11-7 Pac-10, 5th)

The unexpected and tragic death of Shawntinice Polk has left a lasting impact on the Arizona program. It does not seem right even to discuss wins and losses for this team, as they will struggle all season to cope with their grief.

For example, the Wildcats recently lost at Fresno State, in what would have been Polkey’s senior-year homecoming game. They then went to Hanford, Polkey’s hometown, where they visited her grave. After that, they were expected to play a game at Santa Barbara? It will be even more difficult once conference games begin, where familiar venues will only bring back more memories of Polkey’s dominant game and irrepressible smile.

This writer – for one – will be rooting for Arizona all this year.

7. California Golden Bears (8-2)
Head Coach: Joanne Boyle
11-18 (4-14 Pac-10, 8th)

The young Bears have been impressive so far this season, playing consistently good defense, allowing 52.7 ppg. Only one team, defending national champs Baylor, has scored more than 58 points on Cal. Boyle has not hesitated to throw her freshmen right into the fire, starting as many as four rookies.

Forward Ashley Walker leads the team in scoring at 13.6 ppg; Hampton is close behind at 13.3 ppg. Alexis Gray-Lawson is also in double figures at 11.7 ppg, and Jene Morris, who is nursing a bad back, contributes 9.1 ppg.

Without Morris, junior Sarah Pool has stepped up her play, earning Pac-10 Player of the week (December 12) for her stellar play and near-perfect marksmanship (5-5 on threes vs. San Jose State). The Bears’ lone senior, Renee Wright, has provided stability and rebounding (7.9 rpg, 4th in Pac-10) while averaging over 33 minutes a game.

The Bears have certainly met expectations in the non-conference schedule, defeating everyone except their two ranked opponents (Baylor and New Mexico). However, questions remain with their depth and youth. Boyle has played with a very short bench all year, but will this be magnified in the Pac-10, where games are supposed to be more tightly officiated? Will the team be able to win on the road, a requirement for success in the conference? If the team continues to play fearless basketball, and if their offense continues to improve – the Bears scored a Haas-record 94 points their last time out – then seventh in the conference might be too low.

A quick start in the conference will be essential.

6. Oregon Ducks (8-1)
Head Coach: Bev Smith
21-10 (12-6 Pac-10, T-2nd)

The Ducks lost a lot to graduation last year: All-Conference performers Cathrine Krayyeveld and Andrea Bills, as well as assist-machine Cori Mizusawa. Still, while playing a less-than-challenging schedule, Oregon has raced out to a terrific record in the early season. Indeed, the Ducks’ only loss has been to top 25 Temple, in a 51-46 defensive battle. Speaking of defense, Oregon’s has been stellar this season, allowing only 48.7 ppg (4th nationally). Opponents are shooting only 29.5% against the Ducks (2nd in nation).

The Ducks are led by their sophomore forward Gabrielle Richards, who is contributing 12 ppg, 6.7 rpg and has 13 blocks on the season. She is also shooting at a 53% clip, good for 5th in the league. Oregon also has Carolyn Ganes, the most recent Pac-10 Player of the Week, who combines terrific size (6’3) with an outside touch (40% from 3). In fact, as a team, the Ducks shoot 43% from long-distance; senior guard Brandi Davis is second in the conference at 52% (13 of 25). The Ducks will also feature balance, as they have 5 players averaging between 7.9 and 9.8 ppg.

Despite all this success, it’s unclear how good the Ducks really are. Oregon played their first 7 games within the state of Oregon, only venturing out against St. Mary’s (CA) and Idaho State. Bev Smith will have a much better measure of her team after this week’s games against the LA schools. And while the Ducks again will have plenty size, they will have match up problems against the increasingly quick and athletic Pac-10.

5. UCLA Bruins
Head Coach: Kathy Olivier
16-12 (10-8 Pac-10, 6th)

Is the drama finally too much in Westwood? There is no question that the Bruins have some of the best talent in the conference. But the natives are restless as the Bruins have gotten off to an inconsistent start. Losses to Baylor (who owns the Pac-10, apparently) and Oklahoma (Courtney Paris breaking records, sigh) are forgivable, but stumbles against BYU and UCSB are less so. Then of course, there’s the unexpected transfer of highly touted Ashlee Trebilcock, who was billed as the next great UCLA guard.

Still, when Lisa Willis, Nikki Blue, and Noelle Quinn – self-billed as the Triple Threat – are on their game, they are something to behold. Willis, the least regarded of three coming out of high school, has worked herself into a Player of the Year candidate, providing the Bruins with scoring (conference-leading 20.3 ppg, on 53% shooting) as well as her tremendous defense. Noelle Quinn is now healthy, contributing 17.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg. Nikki Blue’s scoring is down, but the offense still runs through her talented hands.

So why are they picked 5th? One, because the Bruins still have no post game, and this may be the year they pay for it in the conference. It’s not that other teams have added dominant post games, but that most teams above them have upgraded the athleticism of their guards. These guards won’t be able to shut down the Triple Threat – few teams in the country can – but they’ll match up better with Willis and Co. than before.

The reality is that between positions 3-5, it’s a pick’em, and I just believe more in the depth and consistency of the other teams.

4. Washington Huskies (7-2)
Head Coach: June Daugherty
14-16 (9-9 Pac-10, 6th)

The Huskies had perhaps the most impressive start of all the Pac-10, going on the road and winning two tough games (Alabama, Florida State), then coming home to upset #25 Utah. They did not play well on the road trip to Texas and dropped the only two losses of the young season (to Baylor and Texas A&M), but have since rebounded with 4 consecutive wins.

Coach Daugherty is reaping the benefits of playing a deep bench the last couple of years. Everyone seems capable of contributing; Daugherty has been able to shift her line-ups around. The Huskies’ depth will allow them to match up with most teams in the conference.

A standout has been junior guard Cameo Hicks, who has elevated her game this season (16 ppg, 6.3 rpg). Junior Breanne Watson and sophomores Dominique Banks, Emily Florence, and Andrea Plouffe join Hicks in the starting line up.

The Huskies are terrific on the offensive glass (19.56 rpg, 1st in conference). But they will have to shore up their shooting (38.9%) if they want to make a serious run at the top of the league. As always, their vociferous fan base will make winning in Seattle a very difficult proposition. Look for UW to return to the NCAA Tournament this year.

3. USCTrojans (6-3)
Head Coach: Mark Trakh
20-11 (12-6 Pac-10, T-2nd)

After an unexpected – and glorious – return to prominence last season (a 2nd place Pac-10 finish and a last second loss to national runner-up Michigan State) USC finds itself amongst the elite, ranked in the many preseason polls and hauling in a top-ranked recruiting class.

Clearly the future is bright at USC. Still, coach Trakh has been trying to downplay the adulation, claiming that the Trojans do not buy the hype, and that it takes more than one good year to establish a top-25 program. Say what you will, coach, the target is on your back now, and ‘SC will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.

The Trojans, despite some injuries, have performed as expected in the early season. ‘SC has defeated everyone they were expected to beat, except for the hiccup against Long Beach State. Their other two losses were to ranked teams, at Notre Dame, and against Ohio State at home, in a very winnable game.

The Trojans are making up for their poor shooting (38.6% FG, 61.9% FT) with athleticism and team defense. USC leads the conference in steals (12.89 spg), led by guard Jamie Hagiya (3.22 spg, T-1st). Shay Murphy is also in the top 5 in steals (2.56 spg) as well leading the Trojans in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg). Chloe Kerr is right behind at 6.9 rpg and has provided length and quickness inside. But perhaps ‘SC’s most exciting player is sophomore guard Camille Lenoir, who leads the team in assists (4.11 apg, 5th in conference) and in off-balance, corkscrewing, acrobatic shots.

Look for the Trojans to find the sledding a little tougher this year. However, their athleticism and team play will keep ‘SC in contention all season long.

2. Stanford Cardinal
Head Coach: Tara Vanderveer
32-3 (17-1 Pac-10, 1st)

What? The Cardinal not picked to win the conference? Don’t they still own the most lethal inside-outside combo in the league in Brooke Smith (15.4 ppg) and Player of the Year Candice Wiggins (18.0 ppg, 3.86 apg, 2.29 spg)? Not to mention coaching legend TV?

Well, yes, yes, and yes. And the Cardinal are still a step (or 3) above the other 8 teams in the conference. However, they are no longer the clear-cut dominant favorite.

They enter the Pac-10 with more question marks than in years past. First and foremost is the question at guard. Stanford will miss Susan Borchardt more and more as the season wears on. True, with their offensive system, they may not need a true point guard anyway. But by letting Wiggins bring up the ball, they may be taking away from her other talents. How soon will the other guards be able to step on a consistent basis will determine how far this team goes.

The Cardinal lost a lot of seniors. Stanford’s young players may be just as (or more) talented, but they may not yet have the toughness of those veterans. This toughness will be tested in the battles of the Pac-10. The (re-)emergence of Kristen Newlin (10.3 rpg, 2nd in Pac-10) will help them with this toughness, as she was the dominant player in the win against Texas Tech.

That said, the Cardinal are extremely talented and Vanderveer will have them ready to play every night, so it will not be a great surprise if Stanford once again in crowned champ at the end.

1. Arizona State Sun Devils
Head Coach: Charli Turner-Thorne
24-10 (12-6 Pac-10, T-2nd)

ASU has made noise nationally in the early season, following up their Sweet Sixteen appearance with a 9-1 record, with their only loss against North Carolina (who also beat them in the Tourney last year).

The Sun Devils were the only team with a winning record against ranked teams, beating both Vanderbilt and New Mexico. They now sit at #10 in the Coaches’ Poll, their highest ranking in over 20 years.

The Sun Devils have been closing the gap on Stanford, and this may be the year they overtake the Cardinal at the top of the conference. Led by Turner Thorne and her team approach, ASU continues to play rugged defense that forces opponents out of their game.

They out-rebound their opponents by 7.2 rpg, as they only allow 28.8 rpg. They are also second in the conference in steals, at 11.22 spg.

However, this season, Turner Thorne will have a lot more offensive firepower at her disposal. No longer will the Sun Devils have to win 50-48. So far this season, ASU is third the conference in scoring (74.3 ppg) while shooting just under 50% as a team (49.2% FG, 76.0% FT, both tops in Pac-10). They also dish out 20 assists per game.

ASU is led by their do-everything forward Emily Westerberg (12.6 ppg, 54.1% FG, 5.5 rpg), out to improve upon her All-Conference performance last season. Making her own case for recognition is Kristen Kovedsky, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding (13.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and the conference in shooting (59.5% FG). As a bonus, the Sun Devils once again have the services of Jill Noe, a former all-conference guard who has provided ASU with perimeter scoring (11.7 ppg, 39.5% 3-Point FG).

Bolstering ASU’s depth are three freshmen. Danielle Orsillo has not yet found her shot at the college level (37.5% FG) but still manages to contribute 6.2 ppg in only 12.5 minutes a game. Briann January is one of the league leaders in FT % (84.4%), and she has already gone to the line 32 times. Finally 6’6 Kristen Thompson is shooting over 50% while contributing a shot-blocking presence.

Most importantly, Turner Thorne seemed to have imparted her fearless nature to her team, and the Sun Devils won’t back down from anyone. In the end, that swagger and their balanced, deep team will leave ASU atop the conference.


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