12 Pac-12 things: Kennedy Burke, USC speeding, UW hanging tough

Just four weekends remain in Pac-12 regular season conference play. Colorado-Utah and UCLA-USC are set for their weekend doubleheaders, and Stanford and Cal will be making a must-see swing through the state of Oregon. 12 programs, 12 things — let’s dive right in.

1. Kiara Russell, twisting the knife

Arizona State needs to be in a position to grind wins out with their defense. They started the game with four turnovers Friday against Stanford, then a five-point deficit swelled to 13 just moments later. ASU went to a zone against the Golden Bears to limit Kristine Anigwe’s chances to go one-on-one inside. Cal’s offense sputtered, and the Sun Devils managed to stay above .500 in conference play.

Neither ASU nor Cal is known for their outside shooting. But you need to hit some shots to keep a defense honest. ASU shot 1-for-12 from deep against Stanford, then 4-for-12 against Cal. Cal finally came alive some in the fourth once Jaelyn Brown sparked a bit of a run, but Kiara Russell was able to silence that noise from the left wing:

2. USC, zooming up and down the court

Now at 5-5, the Trojans just might be the team to hit their stride to take a big leap between this point and the end of the conference tournament. They’ve got two prime chances for signature wins this weekend against UCLA. You can bet the Bruins won’t be taking their crosstown rival lightly.

USC flies up and down the court in transition, especially with Minyon Moore, Aliyah Mazyck and Sadie Edwards out there together. When the game slows down, they know that they can play inside-out through Kristen Simon. They needed all 40 minutes after playing from behind for much of the game against Washington State, but good grief, they made the Cougars look tired in that final period.

3. Arizona doing fun stuff amid the painful losses

It hasn’t been all that pretty for the Wildcats this year. They did manage to knock off Colorado at home and managed to put a huge scare into Cal in Tuscon on January 7. Cal played more like themselves the second time around this past Friday, holding the Wildcats to just 39 points.

Sunday’s contest at Stanford did not go much better, but there were some nice moments on the offensive end. Take this possession from the first quarter:

Stanford got up on the Wildcats in a hurry, but Arizona got into a nice rub action with the two players away from the ball moving at the same time. Good movement, good pace, good pass — the shot just didn’t fall.

4. Mikayla Pivec being assertive in the open floor

Oregon State will really top out when Pivec is looking to score and setting up her teammates. Late in the season, opponents may decide to totally stick to Kat Tudor and Katie McWilliams like glue at all costs. Pivec has shown she can get into the teeth of a defense. Here against Colorado, she went right by three people and drew a fourth to set up Marie Gulich for one of the easiest buckets she’ll get all season.

5. Cal running into a brick wall

Cal has been a tough team to figure out. The Golden Bears are in trouble if a team zones them up. Asha Thomas has been their most reliable outside threat, hitting a respectable 34%, getting up about six threes per contest.

Beyond that, where’s the offense going to come from? It gets tough to feed Kristine Anigwe — a second defender will immediately jump to her if one isn’t there already before she gets a chance to catch the ball. This was actually one of her easier attempts from Sunday:

And that’s with a second defender waiting to greet her before she catches the ball. That’s part of what makes Anigwe so great. She’ll still manage to score over four or six arms enough to hurt you. Even still, this team has got to iron out its zone offense.

6. The unpredictability of Bobi Buckets

Has anyone else ever seen a player attempt a reverse with two hands like that in a high-level game? How much easier did the attempt become by using two hands?

I’m only having fun with that single attempt because Borislava Hristova will catch you off guard with an attempt like that but make several others just like it in the same game. She’s such a gifted scorer that at times looks like she’s playing to a whole different beat — seen in the jumpers she’ll stick off the bounce and in layup attempts she’s willing to try.

7. Tori Williams bringing Utah back to life

Oregon at Utah was such a strange game on Sunday. Oregon ripped off a 13-0 run that became a 20-2 run. Emily Potter couldn’t cash in on some nice looks inside and Megan Huff was nowhere to be found. And because Oregon is Oregon, you may have thought about turning the game off.

Then Utah pulled to within eight with a 13-2 run to end the quarter. They scored the first four points of the second, then that 13-2 run became a 21-5 run.

Oregon led 23-4 seven minutes into that game. Tori Williams hit a three. Then she made another one:

Utah continued to push. Before Oregon snapped that run by the Utes, a 19 point first quarter deficit had been cut to three. The Ducks ripped off a 10-0 run and stabilized from there, leading by seven or more for the entire third quarter and by double digits the rest of the way.

Utah is sitting there at 5-5 just like USC. They’re too far from the bottom to be discouraged. This is a huge weekend for them to take care of business twice against 2-8 Colorado to give them some more confidence going down the stretch.

8. Colorado running up and down with Oregon

Utah has surely watched the film of Colorado’s game against Oregon from Friday night. A lack of awareness in their 2-3 zone is probably what hurt them more than anything. (Sabrina Ionescu should not be allowed to step right into catch and shoot threes.) The Buffs were running up and down early on, unafraid to go right at their top-10 opponent:

9. Don’t try Kennedy Burke in the open floor

I’ve already lauded the many talents of Bobi Buckets. There are just some defenders that you shouldn’t be so eager to attack. I’d score this sequence Burke II, Bobi 0:

Who’s got the official measurement of Burke’s wingspan? Somebody might need to have Debbie Antonelli bring out her tape measure.

10. UW slicing and dicing

I really get the sense through my television each week that this Huskies bunch plays without fear. They’re willing to grind their teeth on defense to get stops and rebound without much size inside. On offense, they’re very disciplined in their spacing, which unlocks a lot of fun drive and kick action for them. They’ll even slice teams up when they extend their pressure and bomb away from deep if they’re open:

11. Ionescu with the pocket pass

Sabrina Ionescu really had to whip this one to get it through two defenders. She also had to put it out in front of Oti Gildon. Of course, she managed to do both:

12. Dijonai Carrington, always doing stuff

I doubt the following statement would come as a huge surprise (if any at all) to people that have been watching Stanford closely this season: I think Carrington is the third best player on this team.

Carrington has primarily been coming off the bench this season but plays the fourth most minutes on average. She’s listed at 5’11 but rebounds like she’s 6’3. Carrington leads the team in steals and is third in both offensive rebounding and total rebounding behind Alanna Smith and Kaylee Johnson.

Carrington may not be one of the team’s main sources of offense right now, but shots like these make it all the more likely she’s one of Tara Vanderveer’s closing five in big games in March:

We’ve got Thursday basketball this week in the Pac-12, featuring Colorado at Utah. Stanford and Cal taking on the Oregon programs won’t disappoint on Friday and Sunday. Keep an eye out for Stanford-Oregon in particular, which tips Sunday at noon PST on ESPN2. USC and UCLA play each other Friday then Monday, getting an extra day off between games.