Pac-12 12 things: Anigwe dominates inside and out; Gylten, Leonard dealing

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 03: Cal Bears Kristine Anigwe drives to the hoop during the women's Pac 12 college tournament game between the Oregon State Beavers and the California Golden Bears on March 03, 2017, at the Key Arena in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Aric Becker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 03: Cal Bears Kristine Anigwe drives to the hoop during the women's Pac 12 college tournament game between the Oregon State Beavers and the California Golden Bears on March 03, 2017, at the Key Arena in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Aric Becker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

We’re back for week three with 12 things from around Pac-12 women’s basketball. Call this one the extended Thanksgiving weekend edition.

1. Aari McDonald getting into the post

So this was fun!

McDonald is quicker than just about everybody, so why not find more ways to get it to her closer to the basket with a live dribble? Highly touted freshman Cate Reese has scored 15 or more in four straight games. If Reese is hitting jump shots, Adia Barnes will have plenty of leeway in setting up McDonald to make plays from different spots on the floor.

2. ASU holds Durr to 5-of-18 shooting

I can’t say that Arizona State unleashed some complex master plan to limit one of the most explosive scorers in the country. Durr missed some really good looks from the outside and came through to hit a tough pull up jumper in crunch time when Louisville really needed a bucket. But this was an encouraging possession for freshman Taya Hanson on an island against Durr:

ASU has some really interesting pieces on its bench that could really raise the team’s ceiling, especially in what they could mean to the team’s halfcourt offense. Which brings us to…

3. Tough decisions loom for Sun Devil closing groups

ASU essentially closed the Louisville game with its starting group. (Sophia Elenga and Charnea Johnson-Chapman exist in a perpetual minutes share at center.) They only managed to score two points in five possessions thanks to a loose ball foul. Then things got weird in the final 30 seconds as Louisville almost threw the game away.

That ASU group lacks scoring balance. Kianna Ibis touches are too easy to prepare for and their second option is hoping Courtney Ekmark will be open enough to catch and shoot running off a screen. Elenga missed a bunny over a wing. Reili Richardson was left wide open to launch a 3-pointer as her defender walled off an Ekmark drive. Robbi Ryan was a reasonably efficient offensive player last season but struggles mightily to create any sort of separation on her own.

Iris Mbulito already has looked like their best off the bounce creator. Hanson and Ekmark together could open up more driving lanes or room in the post for Ibis. ASU will need to explore some new combinations to squeeze as much value as possible out of late-game possessions.

4. Andrea Aquino to redshirt for OSU

We’ll have to wait to see one of the top bigs from the 2018 class in action for Scott Rueck and the Beavers. “I just want to use this year for her development,” Rueck told Steve Gress of the Gazette Times. Even without Aquino, Rueck has plenty of pieces to balance with his front line as he works to find the best combinations for this Oregon State bunch.

Joanna Grymek backed up Marie Gulich last season and was the natural first name to mention in filling those shoes, at least in title as starting center. Janessa Thropay, listed at 6-foot-2, has started several games giving the team somebody more mobile at that spot. And true freshman Patricia Morris, listed at 6-foot-7, has played in the team’s first six games but has not logged more than seven minutes in any of them.

5. About OSU’s centers…

I decided before the season that I’m going to wait until the midway point of Pac-12 play before making any grand claims about OSU’s center rotation. This team is too talented at the top of the roster to pick at the center rotation. Oregon State as constructed did lead Notre Dame for a hearty portion of the championship at the Vancouver Classic. We knew this team wouldn’t replace Gulich’s offense right away.

But Grymek and Morris have looked slow on the other end. They’ll need to stay home close to the basket to maximize their impact. Even there, both have a long way to go in learning to use their size as an asset. Thropay’s relative mobility adds an important layer to what they can do defensively. When left alone under the rim, she’ll need to continue to prove that she can make teams pay when they spend too much time watching OSU’s guards out at the 3-point line.

6. Utah’s spread attack

The Utes don’t have any major tests looming. They may rip right through their non-conference schedule into their Pac-12 opener with Colorado without blemish. Piling up wins, regardless of the strength of schedule, is impressive for a team whose starting lineup is book-ended by two freshman. Dre’una Edwards is a matchup problem as a five that can attack off the dribble. Dru Gylten is starting at the point after redshirting last season. Gylten has assisted on 36.2 percent of the team’s buckets (and turned it over on 32.3 percent of possessions) while on the floor through six games per Her Hoop Stats.

Returning starters Megan Huff and Daneesha Provo have been shooting the ball extremely well from the outside, combining to hit 25-of-56 3-point attempts. Those four are a nice foundation for a spread pick and roll attack.

Here’s Gylten using an Edwards screen, seeing the help already in the lane and slinging a one handed cross-court dime to Provo for an open 3-pointer:

7. A-three-gwe

It’s all coming together for Kristine Anigwe.

Cal’s star center scored 42 points, shot 57 percent from the field and grabbed 26 boards in their wins over Tulane and USD. Let’s just skip right to the best parts. It’s worth noting that she shot 3-of-4 from deep against Tulane.

Those shots really matter when you look at how she got them–first hitting over a late-arriving contest because her defender sagged off to help in the lane then rising to a slot as a pick and roll occurred on the opposite side. Neither Anigwe nor her teammates need to go to extraordinary measures to get her those shots. And if you swap the other nine players on the floor for WNBA starters, those are shots that Anigwe will be able to get whenever she wants.

8. Off hand bonus points: Anigwe’s left

I was able to catch Cal’s game against USD in person. What stood out most in that one was Anigwe’s ability to put the ball on the deck. She doesn’t have the bulk others do at her position. Sometimes it can look like she has been severely knocked off her path. She still gets there and has the touch to finish off some plays that others in this draft class wouldn’t even attempt.

You know how much I’m drinking the Kool-Aid here? I even included a miss. Cal getting Anigwe isolated on a wing (very interesting) or at the nail (even better) will be incredibly difficult for college teams to defend. Anigwe has a huge quickness advantage and the confidence to slice teams up going in either direction.

9. Mariya Moore keeps USC undefeated

It didn’t take long to see what it looked like for USC to have another player that can go get a shot when they need it most. The Trojans escaped with a one-point win after falling in a hole early thanks to the elder Moore sister. USC managed to stay undefeated thus far even as their starting backcourt of Minyon Moore and Aliyah Mazyck missed an entire game (November 25 at Nevada) due to injuries. (Mazyck has missed two additional games this season.)

Like Utah, the Trojans are likely motivated to win out in non-conference play after being left out in the cold last season by the selection committee. The big scheduling difference between the two programs: USC plays at Texas A&M on December 19. It’s a very intriguing matchup between Chennedy Carter, one of the best scoring guards in the country, against Moore and Mazyck, two top-tier perimeter defenders. A win there would resonate with a national audience and set a nice tone for USC heading into Pac-12 play.

10. Nevada: Utah, USC and Colorado’s early common opponent

Unfortunately, it will be tough to parse much from those three games because USC was down two starters. Utah and Colorado managed to pull away for comfortable wins. It’s fitting to have seen these three programs specifically up against a common opponent because continued growth of the Pac-12 calls for all three to take a step forward in 2018-19 conference play. Another west coast team that has played three different Pac-12 opponents: Saint Mary’s. Both Oregon and Oregon State won by 20-plus points. Washington State lost by six to the Gaels at home despite getting five 3-pointers and six steals from Alexys Swedlund.

We may not be able to use any of those results to stack those teams up against one another. We can enjoy two great passes by Colorado’s Kennedy Leonard (two of her seven assists in the team’s win over Nevada). First on the break, there was a classic ‘I’m not sure if this actually was a no-look’ feed:

Then not to be outdone by Gylten, here’s another one-handed dime setting up a wide open 3-pointer:

The sneaky fun part to that sequence is what Leonard does prior to getting the ball. Standing and doing nothing away from the ball can be a huge bug-a-boo. Not when you’re a team’s top option that teams will guard or deny way out beyond the 3-point line.

Leonard uses that against the defense by biding her time before taking off on a cut to the basket. It isn’t there, so she aborts to get it out on the wing. Leonard is able to get right into a pick and roll. Because it almost happened in one fluid motion, it becomes easier for Leonard to get to the middle right away, as the defense hasn’t had time to sit back and anticipate a Leonard-led pick and roll.

11. UCLA’s Thanksgiving: the blah, the bad and the agonizing

Where should we start? The Bruins got blown out by UNC, lost by one in overtime to Kentucky and dropped a close one with USF. Playing three games in three days is really tough. UCLA still has a lot to figure out about their pecking order and the structure of their offense. Just getting to see them in close games against the latter two was encouraging. The first one was tougher to understand. UCLA had 18 turnovers to UNC’s eight, shot 26 percent from the field and sent UNC to the line 28 times. It all would have made more sense if the UNC game were the third game in three days rather than the first.

By the way, UNC is another common Pac-12 non-conference opponent we won’t be able to learn much from — UNC starting point guard Paris Kea left midway through the team’s loss to Colorado and did not return due to injury.

12. Dean bounces back

Michaela Onyenwere had a monster 28 point performance against Kentucky on 12-of-18 shooting that is very much worth talking about, but Japreece Dean’s effectiveness is the bigger story for this team in the grand scheme of things. They need her as a consistent presence to compete in conference this season. The Bruins are asking a lot of Dean, more of a volume scorer, to also set the table and get into the lane with some regularity. There is no other established option behind her, though Lindsey Corsaro, Ahlana Smith and Kiara Jefferson have had some nice early moments.

Dean finished with five assists against one turnover and scored 17 points against USF. UCLA can work with the 5-of-18 shooting. They can’t have that assist-to-turnover ratio flipped as it was against UNC, or see their starting backcourt of Dean and Corsaro combine for nine turnovers and zero assists as they did against Kentucky.

Previous editions of the column: Week 2 | Week 1