By Jeff Metcalfe
Other than for Washington State, the opening weekend of conference play for Pac-12 women’s basketball was mostly one of delayed gratification.
The Cougars played twice at home as scheduled, beating depleted Cal by 27 points and losing by 38 to second-ranked Stanford (also depleted, although it barely mattered).
The 10 other scheduled Pac-12 games were postponed due to COVID protocol issues for UCLA, USC, Utah and Colorado.
Oregon and Arizona State won hastily scheduled non-conference games — an early indication that coaches are worried about the ability to make up postponed games and about the prospect of additional disruption despite the somewhat relaxed conference rules for returning from COVID infection and exposure.
UCLA has not played since Dec. 11, missing five games (three canceled), while No. 4 Arizona has been off since Dec. 17, losing three games to date (one cancellation).
“I thought we were through it (COVID), clearly we’re not,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “I guess we’ll just get in as many games as we can.
“The teams that had the good success last year didn’t have any COVID issues. They didn’t have to have players sit out for 14 to 21 days.”
Stanford stays perfect vs. Washington State
Even without five players who didn’t travel, including leading scorer Cameron Brink, the Cardinal took control late in the first quarter Sunday and improved to an incredible — even for Stanford — 70-0 record all-time against Washington State.
Haley Jones had a big double-double (24 points, 16 rebounds), with Fran Belibi and Kiki Iriafen two rebounds each shy of a double-double. Belibi started in place of Brink.
Stanford trailed 13-7 before a 10-0 run, then scored the first 10 points of the second quarter. It opened the third with a 9-2 run and dominated the Cougars 24-3 in the fourth.
The defending national champion Cardinal (9-3, 1-0 Pac-12) rebounded from a pre-Christmas loss at top-ranked South Carolina, committing just 11 turnovers (a major issue in its defeats) and outscoring the Cougars 23-4 in points off turnovers.
“I have no words to say about this other than Stanford is really good, and we put a real disappointing effort into the game,” WSU coach Kami Ethridge told reporters. “We were bad in every phase.
“We spend a lot of time thinking we’re going to have a post presence, and we’re just not getting consistency there. It put us behind the 8-ball. Without Ula (Motuga), we didn’t have a go-to presence in the post. It affects how we run stuff. We’ve got to find a post or learn to play without one.”
On Friday, with Cal missing Pac-12 scoring leader Jayda Curry (20 points per game) and two others, Washington State fared much better, leading 38-14 at halftime and cruising to a win that ended a two-game losing streak.
“Obviously that was a shell of the team that Cal is, has been and will be,” Ethridge said. “I feel bad for (Cal coach Charmin Smith). They had a great start to their season, and I expect them to be a competitive team against everybody in our league.”
Oregon, ASU add non-conference games
Oregon, which had dates with Colorado and Utah postponed, picked up a non-conference game Sunday against Carroll College, an NAIA school from Montana ranked No. 5 nationally in that division.
Playing for the first time since a Dec. 18 loss at Kansas State, the Ducks dominated as expected 88-57 in a tune-up for their stiff test Friday at Stanford.
Guard Te-Hina Paopao returned for the first time since Nov. 14, scoring 12 points in 12 minutes. Nyara Sabally and Endyia Rogers played in their second straight games back from injury, scoring 15 and 12 points, respectively.
“It feels really good to be back,” Paopao told reporters. “Just being out there with my team, having fun and picking each other up. That’s what you want to do as a college athlete.”
Carroll College committed 30 turnovers that Oregon turned into 42 points.
— ASU only dropped one spot to No. 42 in the NET rankings after its 70-54 win Thursday over Lipscomb, a Division I school from Nashville in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Turner Thorne and her players found value from playing another non-conference game in place of a road trip to Los Angeles. The Sun Devils, who were without forward Mael Gilles and two others, led just 34-30 at halftime before dropping a 20-5 hammer in the third quarter.
“It was good to get a game where we could work our way back,” Turner Thorne said. “The bench played about half the game, which was great for them. I don’t know that we could have gotten more out of this game in terms of getting exposed a little bit but getting a good win.
“We’ve just got to get our team defense going. I can handle standing around on offense occasionally because we have people that can just hit shots. But defensively, the lapses, that’s what we really need to change.”
Added guard Taya Hanson: “I’m so thankful Coach got us the game. Just getting back into the flow of things is something we need. We’re going to take this game and build off it for next week.”
Turner Thorne hopes to have all 12 players (aside from freshman Meg Newman, who’s out for the season) available this week against the Washington schools.
If so, it would be the first time with all five post players because Maggie Besselink (back) has been out since Jayde Van Hyfte returned on Dec. 4.
— Player of the Week nominees: Haley Jones, Stanford; Jade Loville, Arizona State.
— Freshman of the Week nominees: Kiki Iriafen, Stanford; Tara Wallack, Washington State
— Ahead this week: Friday scheduled highlight games are Washington State at Arizona, UCLA at Utah and
Oregon at Stanford. On Sunday, UCLA is at Colorado and Oregon State at Stanford.
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