The Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament: Five Big Questions
Pac-12 Tournament, KeyArena, Seattle, Wash.
- First Round: March 5
- Quarterfinals: March 6
- Semifinals: March 7
- Championship: March 8
Can Oregon State win it all?
Top-seeded Oregon State (26-3, 16-2 Pac-12) comes into the tournament as the highest ranked conference team in the national polls, with an impressive roundup of league awards and holding the first Pac-12 regular season title in the history of the program.
The media and conference coaches voted OSU alumnus Scott Rueck as the Coach of the Year. Junior center Ruth Hamblin earned the Player of the Year honor plus Defensive Player of the Year in the media awards.
Even though OSU fell to Stanford in their penultimate game of the season, they recovered within 48 hours to defeat Cal, 73-55, closing out their season. Furthermore, the Beavers swept No. 9 Arizona State (26-4, 15-3) in the season series between the two teams. The Sun Devils are the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Oregon State’s only other losses include falling to Washington 76-67 in Seattle on Feb. 6 and a 74-63 defeat at then-No. 8 Tennessee in Knoxville on Dec. 28.
With his team riding high, Rueck just wants to make sure his players have the right mindset heading into their first game Friday against the winner of the Thursday matchup between No. 9 Colorado and No. 8 USC.
“You just want to make sure their minds are right and they stay in the moment,” he said.
The keys to Oregon State making it to the final and winning the title include:
- The ability of sophomore guard Sydney Wiese to get wide open three-point shots. She holds the program record for treys in a season and is closing in on the Pac-12 three-pointers record held by Candice Wiggins (295).
- The production of junior guard Jamie Weisner. She is averaging 16.4 points per game over the last 14 games, including four 20-plus point performances and 12 double-digit outings.
- Continuing to play great defense. The Beavers have held 16 teams below 60 points this season, and have held nine opponents below 30 percent shooting.
- Last but not least, the performance of Hamblin. She averages 12.8 points per game and pulls down 8.9 rebounds per contest. Her total of 111 blocks this season are eighth in the nation and first in the conference.
After this stellar season, the tournament is Oregon State’s to lose.
Will the tournament mark the end of the Niya Butts era at Arizona?
There is no other way to say it: Arizona (10-19, 3-15 Pac-12 had a horrible season. And last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. The program is at the end of a fourth straight losing season with no more than four conference wins per season since 2011.
Seventh-year coach Niya Butts has one more year on her contract and at this point, the only thing that could save her job for the long run is winning the Pac-12 tournament. But the likelihood of that happening is nil.
The No. 11-seeded Wildcats come into Seattle with, at best, the role of a spoiler in the first round. While they did have a signature win against Stanford early in February at home, it is doubtful that any of the top four teams in the conference will let Arizona slip by them in the second round if the Wildcats even make it that far.
Arizona faces No. 6 seed UCLA (12-17, 8-10 Pac-12) in the opening round on Thursday. The Bruins trounced the Wildcats 75-41 on Feb. 22 in Los Angeles.
Can any of the lower seeded teams topple Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford or Cal?
The teams that are the most dangerous in the tournament are Washington, Oregon and USC. Each of those teams have defeated at least one of the top four this season. If you want to add Washington State’s close defeats including an overtime loss to Stanford, they could also be a spoiler in the tournament.
However, the one advantage the lower-seeded teams do not enjoy is a first round bye.
“Well, I think that the bye is meaningful,” said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb to a question posed by Hoopfeed.com during the media teleconference Tuesday. “It means you’re in the top four of an incredible conference. I think that’s an achievement. It’s tournament play. Anything can happen. There’s not a whole lot of rest once you start going. We’re definitely fortunate to get to sit and watch on Thursday a little, have a practice up there and get going. I think everyone’s excited about tournament play and once that adrenalin is going, that’s the most important thing.”
How will No. 19 Stanford fare as the underdog?
Nationally-ranked and third-seeded Stanford (21-9, 13-5) begins the tournament without frontrunner status for the first time in over a decade. With Oregon State’s incredible season, the Cardinal’s run of 14 consecutive years with at least a share of the conference regular season title ended.
However, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer indicates that she is relishing the underdog role for her team when Hoopfeed.com asked her about Stanford’s lack of a regular season title coming into the tournament.
“I think this team plays well when we’re backed into a corner,” said VanDerveer. “We know that we have to play and that we just get one game and that’s it. Personally, I like that type of pressure for our team.”
Will fans show up?
This is the third year that Seattle will be the host of the tournament. And this week the Pac-12 extended its partnership with Force 10 Sports Marketing (the owners of the WNBA Seattle Storm), the Seattle Sports Commission, and the Seattle Center to hold the event in the city through 2016.
After four years of suffering embarrassing attendance in Los Angeles, the tournament headed to the Pacific Northwest. The tournament made its debut in 2002 and was held at the University of Oregon’s campus in Eugene until moving to Los Angeles.
“We’re thrilled to keep the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament here in Seattle for another year,” said Force 10 Sports Marketing chair Dawn Trudeau. “Over the last three years, this tournament has become a first-class event for the participants, the fans and the community. This region is passionate about basketball and will continue to relish the opportunity to host such an exciting event.”
With the support of the Storm and a die-hard fan base of “Storm Crazies” in town, Pac-12 coaches including Cal’s Gottlieb have embraced the city as a home for the tournament.
“I’ve always thought that in women’s basketball you need to build a brand in a place that appreciates women’s basketball,” said Gottlieb. “Seattle is definitely one of those places with the Storm up there, with UW. It’s just a women’s basketball savvy fan base which is really good. I think us being back there for the third year now, it’ll be the best crowd that we’ve had and I think that’s a really positive thing.”