Pac-12 Preview: No. 2 Stanford favored in loaded convention | Sports activities
Stanford gets a lot of attention during the preseason with Tara VanDerveer on the verge of overtaking the late Pat Summitt as the most successful coach in women’s basketball. But the cardinal also hopes that by the end of the season they will be in the spotlight.
The cardinal returned to nine players and was selected by league coaches and media to win the Pac-12 conference regular season crown for the first time in seven seasons. They also ranked second in The Associated Press’ top 25, the highest preseason ranking in 11 years.
It takes VanDerveer five wins to beat Summitt’s 1,098 mark. If no games are canceled, this can be done in mid-December.
“I know she has four or five wins before she hits the record, but I know she has bigger goals,” said guard Kiana Williams, who averaged 15.0 points per game for the team last season cited.
Guard Lexie Hull, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.0 rebounds last season, and sophomore Haley Jones (11.4 ppg) joined Williams on the All-Conference preseason team.
Stanford isn’t the only one making headlines at what is perhaps the deepest conference in the country. Four other Pac-12 teams are also listed – No. 7 Arizona, No. 9 UCLA, No. 10 Oregon, and No. 18 Oregon State.
It could get even more competitive this season with a 22-game double round robin conference schedule. In the past seasons, the teams have played 18 conference games, which means that some participants only faced each other once.
The move this year was due to concerns over COVID-19 and leaves the teams only three non-conference games.
“Every middle name is flexible. We just have to do everything we can and enjoy every day,” said VanDerveer.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves has spoken out in favor of making the move permanent as it means there would be a true conference champion.
The Wildcats would have made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005 until the pandemic was canceled last season. They are led by senior Aari McDonald, who was named to the preseason AP All-America team after leading the conference with 20.5 points per game and 7.8 rebounds.
Coach Adia Barnes said McDonald has carried the team on her back for the past couple of seasons but she has advanced as a manager and now has a strong supporting cast.
Forwards Cate Reese and Sam Thomas have been named to the preseason all-conference squad. Reese, a junior, averaged 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds last season while scoring six doubles doubles. Thomas, a senior, was the only player at the conference to record more than 40 blocks and thefts.
“If we watch Aari and the way she pushes the ball we will play fast but we will use a lot of defense to get points from our defense,” said Barnes.
Oregon has won the regular season title for the past three seasons but has completed four starters, including record keeper Sabrina Ionescu.
Erin Boley is the only returning starter, but Graves has made the nation’s top freshman class and has eight players 6 feet 2 or more tall. Forward Sedona Price will also make her college debut after retiring after her transfer from Texas last season.
“It’s going to be a new team with a new identity. We knew it was time. I think we have a great combination, but while it’s a big change we will come back strong,” said Boley, who averages 9, 2 was points last season.
UCLA has made four direct Sweet 16 appearances, but the Bruins are struggling with depth as freshman Izzy Anstey and guard Gemma Potter – both from Australia – fail due to coronavirus-related restrictions for freshman international students were admitted into the country.
Coach Cori Close said both players have filed a lawsuit and are hoping for a decision within a few weeks. In the meantime, it doesn’t help as Close said only eight players are practicing.
The Bruins return to All America striker Michaela Onyenwere, who averaged 19.1 points and 8.6 rebounds last season.
The state of Oregon was chosen to finish fifth in the conference, but that could be a fluke. The last time (2016-17) the Beavers won the conference title in the regular season.
Scott Reuck’s team landed three players on the preseason all-conference team. Senior Aleah Goodman is a 3-point specialist while Kennedy Brown (12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) and Taylor Jones have had a strong season for newbies.
Southern California failed to train for two weeks after the team was quarantined when a player tested positive. The Trojans resumed Wednesday but only have a week to prepare for their kick-off.
“How does that affect the first game? I don’t know,” said coach Mark Trakh. “We could just roll the ball out and see what happens. We just have to be ready to change quickly and be positive.”