Pac-12 12 Things: four conference openers, Harvard upsets Cal


League play in Pac-12 women’s basketball officially begins in full this weekend. Here are 12 things on Cal’s loss to Harvard and conference openers between for Arizona State at Arizona, UCLA at USC, Washington State at Washington and Utah at Colorado.

Harvard 85, Cal 79

1. Anigwe sees a crowd

Sydney Skinner, a 5’7″ guard, drew the initial assignment on Kristine Anigwe. On the first possession it was clear that they weren’t paying any mind to Kianna Smith and Jaelyn Brown behind the 3-point line. Skinner worked hard to front Anigwe and made a play on the ball once it got there to ignite a transition opportunity.

Smith missed all five of her 3-point attempts in the first quarter. The combination of Harvard leaving her open and Brown hanging around near the basket made it easy to surround Anigwe with three bodies before she had even attempted to establish position.

When Anigwe did get a clean catch in the post, they came with a double team once she put the ball on the floor and crashed onto CJ West to prevent a big-to-big pass.

The Crimson didn’t just luck into a big lead in the first 10 minutes. They locked in on their opponent’s best players and completely discombobulated Cal’s offense.

2. Cashing in from deep

Harvard got wide open 3-pointers on their first five possessions and made six in the opening period. They got them in a variety of ways. This inside-out triple against Cal’s 2-3 zone was a fantastic read by Jadyn Bush to set it up:

A dribble handoff and hard roll to the basket brought help into the lane; Skinner stepped in on the ball reversal to screen that defender to free up Katie Benzan.

Benzan strung out a pick and roll about a minute later, pulling the trigger right as the big retreated but before her defender had re-entered the picture.

Benzan’s barrage continued when she flared out to the left wing but got a great angle coming off a screen to come right back to the top for another clean look.

3. Harvard movement generating easy ones

Madeline Raster found Benzan going backdoor on that same cut with an awesome bounce pass and Benzan dropped it off to Bush for a layup.

Raster wasn’t done, as she used a nasty crossover to split a pick and roll as Anigwe left too much of a gap lunging out to her, leading to another bucket for Bush.

Harvard came right out and punched Cal in the mouth with their player and ball movement. Their effort defensively had a hand in some of Cal’s stagnation offensively.

One takeaway that could be big for Lindsay Gottlieb: freshman McKenzie Forbes shot the ball well in 24 minutes off the bench. She entered the game near the midway point of the first, drilled three triples and finished the game with 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 6-of-8 from deep.

4. Washington State 79, Washington 76

The scoring in this game really picked up down the stretch. Washington ended up with possessions with about 10 seconds to play. They got it to Amber Melgoza but were unable to convert.

Washington State looks very comfortable with their pecking order, not that it is much different than what one may have expected. Borislava Hristova earned conference player of the week honors with a dazzling 38-point performance.

The Cougars had their star operating most of the time from the middle of the court, which gives her a better chance to see and utilize the whole floor. I came away most impressed with Alexys Swedlund—her comfort in her role and the hyper-awareness of her teammates to find her when she was open beyond the arc.

Swedlund appears to have been passed off three or four times during this sequence. It’s unclear how many of those Washington communicated effectively. Though it’s far from an easy shot to make on the move, that’s the type of look that will take priority on the scouting report.

5. Arizona State 39, Arizona 51

How hard was it to watch Arizona State fail to crack 40 points against Arizona?

Let’s put it this way: Only two ASU players made more than one shot from the field. At least Arizona made nearly half the shots they did take, which they needed after getting beat 13 to 2 on the offensive glass.

This is the style of game the Wildcats would want to play when aiming for an upset. No matter the opponent, Aari McDonald will be one of the best players on the floor. A low possession game makes it easier for her to dominate the ball, which in turn will up their chances of winning.

McDonald is too much to handle for just about anyone at the point of attack. The ease with which she evaded the next defender up and scored was a treat to watch.

Arizona State couldn’t goose their offense as Charli Turner Throne cycled players in and out of the game. I’d still like to see them let Iris Mbulito go through more growing pains. I think she’s the best option they have to break down a defender one-on-one to get to the rim when things break down.

In addition, she was probably their best on-ball option on McDonald:

6. UCLA 72, USC 65

UCLA needed a 31-10 third quarter push to come from behind to win at USC. Michaela Onyenwere carried them with 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting, including three 3-pointers. The 5’11” forward gets very low to the ground to establish position. But when she uncoiled as she made her move, she shot over the opposing front line with ease from midrange and in the paint.

The Bruins got four 3-pointers from Kennedy Burke, Ahlana Smith and Lajahna Drummer (including a runner off glass at the horn) in that third period.

Offense came in fits and starts for both teams. The only notable concern: Aliyah Mazyck was not the player brimming with confidence we saw in league play last season. She air-balled two 3-pointers and didn’t have her usual wiggle creating creases to get into the lane.

Utah 76, Colorado 61

7. Colorado posts up (screens) the help

A Colorado ball handler scored twice in a pick and roll when a teammate’s simultaneous duck in screened the help, paving the way to the basket for an easy score. If the help is more attentive, they can look to drop it in over the top to that post up of an unsuspecting defender locked in on the initial pick and roll action.

8. Leonard getting back into the play

I have a soft spot for any player that’s willing to give the extra effort to get back into a play after a screen knocks them off course. It’s easy to stop and calculate in your head whether that burst of energy is worth it. Many times it isn’t. Kennedy Leonard didn’t pause momentarily to think it over on this possession which allowed her to erase what was sure to be a free layup.

9. Hollingshed caught sleeping

This can’t happen. The camera barely cut to the play in time, but Andrea Torres was just standing in the opposite corner by herself. Mya Hollingshed got caught dropping back too far off of her. This was worth a mention because she got burned for 3-pointers twice earlier in the game—over-helping to leave her assignment one pass away and stopping to watch the ball after her player, Megan Huff, kicked it out and relocated behind the arc.

10. Provo locks up on the perimeter

Daneesha Provo clamped down on this possession with the shot clock winding down. Most players get beat for pressuring that far out or need to rely on the help along the baseline. She didn’t even need it this time to get the stop all on her own.

11. Robinson unleashed

I’d like to see Alexis Robinson with the freedom to try more difficult 3-pointers. This team needs it. There is only so much Leonard can do repeatedly driving into traffic. I think any quick pitch from Leonard as seen below would be a good starting point. Robinson can read the defense and take a dribble as needed in either direction to launch a triple or go hard to the rim.

12. Dime of the week: Erika Bean’s no look

Previous editions of the column: Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1