Story by Jeff Metcalfe
A week that started with Wednesday blowouts transformed into a weekend of upsets and nail biters as Pac-12 women’s basketball teams scrambled to remain relevant for the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona State and Oregon State secured splits with their nationally ranked rivals while Utah and Washington State squeezed out 2-1 weeks despite being on the losing end of routs.
First, though, it’s important to recognize Stanford, which is three-and-a-half games ahead of its closest Pac-12 pursuer — Oregon — with two weeks left in the regular season.
The No. 2-ranked Cardinal won three times, improving to 21-3 overall, remaining unbeaten in the conference (12-0) and staying hard on the trail of No. 1 South Carolina.
Going into Sunday, a case could be made that Stanford has done enough since its 65-61 loss to South Carolina on Dec. 21 to warrant making inroads on the Gamecocks in national polls. But South Carolina closed the week stronger, winning 72-54 over No. 17 Georgia while Stanford trailed Colorado 30-29 at halftime before turning it on for a 63-46 win.
“We’re playing great competition and our team is rising to the challenge,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer told reporters after her team dominated Utah 91-64 on Friday. The Cardinal also blasted Oregon State 82-59 on Wednesday and is on a 13-game winning streak.
“We’re improving. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. Different people are stepping up for us every night. It’s great for this team (to know) I’ve got to be out there and bring it because if I don’t someone else will. We want everyone bringing it every night.”
Stanford had five double-figure scorers against Oregon State, led by Hannah Jump with 19 points. Six players reached double figures against Utah, while Cameron Brink had a double-double against Colorado (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Anna Wilson chipped in 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“Everyone wants to play really hard and give their best effort,” Wilson said after Utah. “Defense is really important for where we want to go. If you can play defense every night really well, the offense will come.”
ASU pulls biggest upset of week, again
The Sun Devils produced the Pac-12’s biggest upset for a second straight week, knocking off sixth-ranked Arizona 81-77 on Friday and coming close to what would have been a stunning sweep Sunday.
But Arizona averted back-to-back losses for the fourth time this season with a 62-58 victory before 8,480 in Tucson.
ASU’s Jade Loville scored 27 in the first game but only eight in the rematch, when Arizona led 27-22 in rebounding after losing badly on the boards (42-27) in Tempe.
The split likely did little to hurt Arizona, which was the No. 6 overall seed Thursday in the NCAA selection committee’s second early look at the top 16 seeds. The Wildcats’ position likely helps ASU (12-9/4-4), which is among multiple Pac-12 teams teetering near the bubble for the 68-team postseason.
“We’re right there,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “This shows us where we’re at. They disrupted us more than they did Friday for sure.”
There were a combined 41 turnovers Sunday, when the biggest offensive difference-maker for Arizona was freshman guard Madison Conner with a season-high 16 points.
Oregon State rises up for critical win
The other rivalry series ended with a split between No. 24 Oregon and Oregon State.
Sunday’s 68-62 win in Eugene was of high priority for the Beavers (12-9/5-6), who, like Washington State and UCLA, dipped out of ESPN’s NCAA Tournament projected field going into the weekend.
Oregon won 74-66 in Corvallis on Friday, and Oregon State could not afford a fifth consecutive defeat with Stanford coming up next.
The Ducks were nowhere close to the form they showed on Wednesday in an 83-30 win over Washington State that came even without star Nyara Sabally.
Still, they pulled even at 36 with three minutes left in the third quarter. It would have been understandable for Oregon State to crack before 8,404 at Knight Arena, but the Beavers regrouped. They made 13-of-20 free throws in the final quarter (26-of-38 overall) to overcome 19 turnovers. Talia Von Oelhoffen had a 23-point, 12-rebound double-double for Oregon State.
The Ducks were No. 16 overall in the latest NCAA seeding reveal, before the rivalry games, and are still in position to host an NCAA sub-regional.
The split could affect that, and certainly the Ducks have work to do through the Pac-12 Tournament to assure they have home-court advantage for the first and second rounds.
Washington State regroups after 30-point game
Washington State’s week began so poorly against Oregon – 17.5 percent shooting, including 3-of-29 from 3-point range – that bleeding over into the weekend seemed inevitable.
“I worried about that,” Cougars coach Kamie Ethridge told reporters. “I thought this could really affect us.”
But the Cougars (16-8/8-5) pulled out a last-second 66-65 win over UCLA on Friday, then fought off USC 57-54 on Sunday to finish the week in fourth place behind the three nationally ranked teams.
Krystal Leger-Walker was the hero against UCLA with a rebound and 3-point play for Washington State’s second straight home win over the Bruins.
“It’s crazy it went in,” Leger-Walker said. “You just chuck it up and hope for the best. On the free throw, I tried not to think at all and just focus on the shot.”
— Utah blasted USC 91-69 on Wednesday, only to lose by almost the same margin to Stanford, leaving a road game against California to decide the week.
— The Bears scored last in regulation on a Leilani McIntosh shot, then Utah freshman Gianna Kneepkens took command in overtime with nine of her 21 points, including the game’s final seven in an 80-75 win.
— UCLA, Utah and ASU all are hovering around .500 in Pac-12 play with differing numbers of games played due to those lost to COVID protocol. Colorado and Oregon State are close behind.
The Cougars and Buffaloes lead in overall wins (16) among the group.
— Player of the Week nominees: Mael Gilles (Arizona State), Mya Hollingshed (Colorado), Lexie Hull (Stanford), Jordyn Jenkins (USC), Krystal Leger-Walker (Washington State), Leilani McIntosh (California), Kennady McQueen (Utah), Charisma Osborne (UCLA), Te-Hina Paopao (Oregon), Cate Reese (Arizona), Lauren Schwartz (Washington), Talia Van Oelhoffen (Oregon State).
— Freshman of the Week nominees: Jayda Curry (California), Kiki Iriafen (Stanford), Gianna Kneepkens (Utah), Rayah Marshall (USC).
— Ahead this week: ASU continues on the road for three more games — and four total in eight days. Oregon faces a third straight three-game week including a non-conference date with UCLA to make up for a game ruled a forfeit against the Bruins due to lack of healthy (non-COVID) players on Jan. 28.
The Ducks also host Stanford in a nationally televised game Sunday.
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