Pac-10 Women's Hoops Midseason Analysis

At the midpoint of the Pac-10 women's basketball season, the Bear Insider takes a look at where things stand. Aside from a surprise or two (hello, USC!), things are shaping up as many have expected. The second half of the season promises to be exciting, as teams battle for NCAA Tournament berths.

Team Pac-10 record Overall Streak
1. Stanford 8-1 17-2 Won 8
2. USC 7-2 13-5 Lost 1
3.(tie) Arizona 6-3 14-5 Won 3
3.(tie) Arizona State 6-3 14-5 Won 2
3.(tie) UCLA 6-3 12-6 Won 1
6. Oregon 5-4 12-6 Lost 2
7. Washington 4-5 8-11 Won 2
8. CAL 2-7 8-10 Lost 5
9. Oregon State 1-8 5-13 Lost 3
10. Washington State 0-9 4-14 Lost 11

1. Stanford
That the Cardinal are leading the Pac is no surprise, but the fact that their 8 victories have been by an average of 25.4 points is an eye-opener. While the Cardinal achieved a #2 ranking in the early season, they’re only now hitting their stride, with the return of their famed outside shooting and of Susan King Borchardt. The Cardinal has wonderful senior leadership, but it’s been their newcomers who have folks talking about a National Championship. Duke transfer Brooke Smith has been unstoppable down low (61% FG, 2nd in conference), and while the focus has been on her pretty hook shots, it’s been her passing in the Triangle offense that has been the difference-maker. And of course there is Candice Wiggins, already the runaway choice for Freshman of the Year. So far, Wiggins is third in scoring (17.4 ppg), fourth in steals (2.79 spg), and sixth in free-throw percentage (81.6), on the way to two Pac-10 Player of the Week honors. Beyond the numbers, Wiggins has helped to transform the Cardinal with her quickness and her energy. This year’s Cardinal is now a pressing and fast-breaking team. Tara VanDerveer now has the depth and variety to match up with any team in the country. While Stanford can be beaten, it will take an off-day by the Cardinal and a superlative effort by their opponent (see loss to Oregon).

2. USC
The surprise team of the first half, USC has proven that they are no fluke. They ran off seven wins in a row, including an impressive sweep of the Arizona schools, before running into the Stanford buzzsaw. First year Coach Mark Trakh has the Trojans believing in themselves and playing team ball. Case in point: no Trojan is in the conference top 20 in scoring, and the Trojans are a poor-shooting team (37.8%, 8th). In fact, USC ranks in the middle of the conference in most categories. But the Trojans excel in rebounding, leading the conference for most of the season (currently 40.4 rpg, 2nd). They also block a lot of shots (3.78 bpg, 3rd). On offense, they rely on the 3-point shot, making 5.89 a game, with frosh guard Brynn Cameron contributing 2.22 treys per game while shooting at a 46% clip (2nd). They have also gotten excellent point guard play from freshman Camille Lenoir (3.06 apg, 6th) and sophomore Jamie Hagiya (2.83, 9th). It will be interesting to see if Trakh and the Trojans can keep the momentum in the second half. Coincidentally, the Trojans were also 7-2 at this point last year before falling apart down the stretch.

3. Arizona
Several weeks ago, the Wildcats were in deep trouble, with two of their starters (Shawntinice Polk and Jessica Arnold) sidelined by injuries. But Arizona seemed to have weathered the storm and came out on the other side, winning their last 3 games. Player of the Year candidate Dee-Dee Wheeler has elevated her game this year, as she is second in the conference in scoring (18.5 ppg), third in assists (4.89 apg) and steals (2.84), and sixth in minutes played (32.7 mpg) and treys made (1.68 pg). Perhaps most impressive, she’s also in the top 20 in rebounds (5.1 rpg. 17th). Finally, Wheeler also leads the league in providing bulletin-board material, as she has been quoted calling Nikki Blue a "street-baller" and criticizing Kathy Olivier for not providing her team more structure. For a second there, we almost had this year’s version of the Pac-10 guards throw-down (remember Kylan Loney and Giuli Mendiola last year?). But alas, Blue has refused to respond.

3. UCLA
The Bruins are another team which has been hampered by injuries. Nikki Blue (13.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 5.65 apg) is finally healthy, but now the Bruins have lost sophomore guard Noelle Quinn--probably for the rest of the conference season--to a knee injury. Quinn was having an All-American caliber season (16.9 ppg and 7.1 rpg, both 4th in the conference) before going down. The Bruins ran off five wins to start the conference season, but then they lost three in a row before managing a win against Cal. Without Quinn, Blue and Lisa Willis (15.3 ppg and 6.1 rpg) will be counted on even more heavily in the second half of conference play. The Bruins will also count on younger players, including the Pac-10’s second-best freshman, Lindsey Pluimer (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), who has made an immediate impact by playing 31.39 minutes per game, 10th in the conference. Quinn’s injury will also provide an opportunity for frosh Lauren Pedersen and junior Ortal Oren. Sophomore Amanda Livingston (49.2 FG %, 8th) plays some of the best interior defense for a player her size and can beat most posts down the floor in transition.

3. Arizona State
Charli Turner-Thorne's team has been uglying up many a game, with successful results. While ASU only scores 63.5 ppg (8th), that’s been plenty, as the Sun Devils are the conference’s top defensive team, allowing fewer than 52 points per game. Sophomore Emily Westerberg leads ASU in scoring (11.7 ppg, 12th) with junior Kristen Kovesdy (10.8 ppg, 16th) close behind. Kylan Loney, while seeing a drop-off in her production due to ASU’s increased depth, continues to hit the tough shots when her team needs it most. She was the difference down the stretch in the win over Cal. The other hero of that game was senior Carrie Buckner, who was everywhere on defense. Indeed she is 6th in the conference in steals (2.45 spg). Offense may come and go, but defense is a constant, and the Devils hope to use their D to create separation from Arizona and UCLA on their way to an NCAA berth.

6. Oregon
After starting the conference slate with a bang, beating Stanford at home, the Ducks have been on a bit of a skid. Bev Smith’s team is the perfect middle of the road team, having beaten everyone they’re supposed to and losing to four of the five teams above them. They are also a perfect 4-0 at home while struggling mightily on the road. The Ducks are led by their seniors, Cathrine Kraayeveld and Corrie Mizusawa. Mizusawa leads the conference at over 7 assists a game, and she is nearing the top of the Ducks career assists chart despite arriving at Oregon as a junior. Kraayeveld (15.3 ppg and 8.8 rpg) is finally healthy and doing everything for her team. The Ducks are strong statistically in many areas—4th in scoring, 3rd in scoring and FG defense, 3rd in FG%,--suggesting that they should have a better record. They will need to make their move in the second half, and they will be aided by the fact that they will get to play at home against the L.A. schools and the Arizona schools, all teams above them.

7. Washington
The Huskies’ victories have come at the expense of the bottom three teams, plus an upset of ASU. They continue to struggle with their shooting, hitting only 36% of their field goals (9th). However, they’re not afraid to jack up the three, having hoisted 348 attempts, tops in the conference. Cherri "Machine Gun" Craddock leads the team in 3-point accuracy at 37.5%, which places her ninth in the conference. Not bad for someone who came to the team as a walk-on. June Daugherty has the Huskies positioned for second-half push, having gained some momentum by winning the last 2 games. But while the Huskies may get an upset or two and may even end up .500 in conference, at 8-11 overall, they’ve dug themselves too deep a hole to have much hope for the postseason. And the idea of not having a tangible goal down the stretch might be difficult for such a young team.

8. California
A more in-depth analysis of the Bears will be forthcoming.

9. Oregon State
As expected, the Beavers have struggled mightily this season. They have the dubious distinction of having made the biggest drop from this point last season (-3 games). While Shannon Howell continues to get her points (a league-leading 19 ppg), she hasn’t been able to lead her team to victory. Kim Butler has been a good second option, scoring 10.4 ppg (17th) on 47% shooting (10th). Casey Bunn rebounds well (5.2 rpg, 15th) and frosh Tiffany Ducker has been a positive, as she is fifth in the conference in blocked shots (1.17 bpg). Coach Spoelstra had hoped that her team would be strong enough defensively to win a series of 55-50 games, but instead, the Beavers are near the bottom of the conference in points given up (69.1 ppg, 9th).

10. Washington State
Just like last year, the Cougars find themselves once again winless through the first half of the Pac-10 slate. Washington State is the worst-shooting team in the conference (34.4%) and thus has huge trouble scoring. In fact, their scoring average (56.2 ppg) is more than 20 points less than that of league-leading Stanford (76.7 ppg). No one else in the league is scoring less than 60 ppg. Still, Sherri Murrell can find positives in the play of sophomore Kate Benz, who is making a push for All-Conference by averaging almost a double-double; she leads the league in rebounding (9.3 rpg) and is 15th in points (10.9 ppg). Another sophomore, Adriane Ferguson, leads the team in scoring (11.0 ppg), so Murrell has some pieces to build around. But this season will look to be pretty rough. The Cougars’ best chance for a victory might be this Thursday, when they entertain 8th-place Cal.

MIDSEASON AWARDS:

All Pac-10:
Nikki Blue, UCLA
Shannon Howell, Oregon State
Cathrine Kraayeveld, Oregon
Shawntinice Polk, Arizona
Noelle Quinn, UCLA
Brooke Smith, Stanford
Emily Westerberg, ASU
Dee-Dee Wheeler, Arizona
Lisa Willis, UCLA
Candice Wiggins, Stanford

Honorable Mention:
Kate Benz, Washington State
Andrea Bills, Oregon
Leigh Gregory, Cal
Kristin Iwanaga, Cal
Kristen Kovesdy, ASU
Corrie Mizusawa, Oregon
Kelley Suminski, Stanford

All-Freshman:
Jessica Arnold, Arizona
Brynn Cameron, USC
Jessica Lawson, Cal
Lindsey Pluimer, UCLA
Candice Wiggins, Stanford

Honorable Mention:
Dominique Banks, Washington
Camille Lenoir, USC

Coach:
Mark Trakh, USC


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