Pac-12 12 Things: Cal drops to 1-3; OSU/ASU’s halfcourt precision

PALO ALTO, CA - JANUARY 26: State Sun Devils forward Kianna Ibis (42) gets off a jump shot for two points during the game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinals on Friday, January 26, 2018 at Maples Pavilion, Stanford, California. (Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - JANUARY 26: State Sun Devils forward Kianna Ibis (42) gets off a jump shot for two points during the game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinals on Friday, January 26, 2018 at Maples Pavilion, Stanford, California. (Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Another week in Pac-12 women’s basketball, another impact player lost to injury. Colorado dropped two games in Washington without lead guard Kennedy Leonard (foot). Here’re more from all 12 of last weekend’s games, including some of Arizona State and Oregon State’s best set actions and another glimmer of hope amid Cal’s 1-3 start.

Smith’s staggering efficiency and workload

15 games into the 2018-19 season, let’s put some numbers to how impressive Alanna Smith’s senior campaign has been. She’s up to 66.0% true shooting with a 30.7% usage rate per Her Hoop Stats. She’s shooting 48.8 percent from deep on 5.3 3-point attempts per game. And her block rate has ballooned to 8.9 percent after Sunday’s block party in Tucson.

Smith has the highest usage of anybody in the top 50 nationally in true shooting. Iowa’s Megan Gustafson (72.0% TS and 28.9% USG) and Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard (69.5% TS and 24.6% USG) are the only Power 5 high usage players in that ballpark.

We can keep saying the Cardinal won’t be as daunting of an opponent if some of Smith’s 3-pointers stop going in the basket. That shouldn’t get in the way of appreciating this level of production. Few Power 5 players in the country carry this big of a scoring load for their teams. Smith does and remains one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball.

ASU leveraging its top scorers

I’ve been pretty critical of Arizona State’s starting group and their scoring limitations. Time to eat some crow. They’re making work, particularly with sets built around options for both Kianna Ibis and Courtney Ekmark.

This baseline stagger freed Ibis up right under the rim. Had Ibis not been wide open, Ekmark would have been able to bolt around a screen at the elbow.

In what looked like the same baseline screening framework for Ibis, Ekmark sprints into a handoff at the top of the key right into an open 3-pointer.

They got Ibis a quick iso by clearing the right side of the floor. While she flashed to the right elbow, Ekmark is setting up to run around a set of screens. If Ibis gets stopped or doesn’t like her matchup, she has an immediate option to feed.

Once again, Ekmark zips around a screen as a scoring option drawing the attention of multiple defenders. Ibis ducks in for a post up at the same time.

Great execution by the Sun Devils. And they might be on track to sprinkle a third very dangerous scoring option into that mix. The flashes have been piling up for freshman guard/wing Iris Mbulito.

Cal drops to 1-3 in Pac-12 play

Cal gave up four pick and pop 3-pointers to Kianna Ibis, Arizona State’s best player, on Sunday. You think those will sting as they reflect on a one-point loss?

I mentioned six 3-pointers from McKenzie Forbes as a worthwhile takeaway from Cal’s home loss to Harvard. The Golden Bears pulled out a common two-pronged quick hitter against the Sun Devils. Forbes set a screen for Kristine Anigwe to use to establish post position, then Forbes got a screen of her own to pop to the top of the key. We saw both options come to fruition: Forbes getting an open triple and Anigwe getting a chance to get a clean catch on the block.

Cal needs more pace to the halfcourt offense. Some of their weaknesses compounded each other in the loss to ASU. Ball pressure makes it tougher to enter the ball to Anigwe. Cal’s guards aren’t very likely to burn you with straight line drives, further emboldening ASU to keep the pressure up. They haven’t been eager spot up shooters when they do get inside-out looks, which completely stalls out their offense and puts them back to square one.

Here’s an example of that pace: A simple ball screen, hard roll by Anigwe, ball reversal and an entry to Anigwe inside.

Scott Rueck pushing all the right buttons

I think this drive and kick stuff will quickly become a bigger part of their identity, particularly because of how it plays to Joanna Grymek’s strengths. She isn’t a versatile pick and roll finisher. But if she can set up shop and move from block to block looking primarily to just catch and finish, opponents have to constantly pay attention to her. Note the back screen for Mikayla Pivec leading to the second score. UCLA’s big is already locked on Destiny Slocum. Somebody was going to be open.

They also love running a shooter around a stagger. They tapped into that on Friday to play to Taya Corosdale’s strengths, both as one of the screeners slipping to the rim and as the facilitator capable of beating her defender off the dribble:

Rueck dialed up some great play calls Friday, including quick ball screens with one very simple purpose: Get Kennedy Burke off Slocum and keep the floor spread to let her go to work.

I thought this next set piece was the most fascinating thing of the weekend. The signal for it looked like a chopping motion. Slocum brought it up and a shooter was stationed near the free throw line. They then added a big at the top of the key facing the basket. The results were very intriguing for Slocum and the Beavers.

For starters, you just don’t know where Slocum is going to go. With a standard high ball screen you can at least force the ball handler to use that screen and limit the variables at play to a certain extent. This put the onus on Slocum to set her defender up to run into that stationary big facing the opposite direction.

If Slocum turns a corner at all, you’re in big trouble. You’re looking at a 14-foot race to the rim against a quicker player that has already begun accelerating. Help off either corner and she’ll see it coming from a mile away.

The simplest way to guard this is to drop your big back to de-clutter the area and have the guards swap assignments. The natural reaction of most players will be to help on Slocum, which will leave that shooter open at the top of the key more times than not. The Beavers ran the same action several times against USC:

Cherilyn Molina making stuff happen; Bobi scoreth, Bobi giveth away

Utah took an interesting approach using Dru Gylten on Borislava Hristova. Bobi simply needs to fight harder to hold off smaller guards when posting them up inside.

Her defense was a bigger concern. Chanelle and Cherilyn Molina led the charge for them to get back in it against the Utes in spite of some minimal defensive efforts by their leading scorer.

The youngest Molina sister knows where to be and can really move her feet. You won’t see many true freshmen stringing together this many impact plays in limited minutes.

Next step for Satou

I asked Satou Sabally where she feel she’s improved most as a player after Oregon’s win at UCLA on Sunday. “I would say I’ve definitely improved off getting more rebounds because the coaches really have an emphasis in practice that I would crash every time,” she said.

“And just being more aggressive getting to the basket. I think I’m doing a better job of that. Last year I wasn’t really confident in myself.”

“She started scoring in different ways. I think it’s come down to being confident like she said—being more aggressive,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves added.

Foreshadowing in Reese-Smith matchup?

The Arizona faithful got a look at Alanna Smith in person over the weekend. Much of what they saw in Stanford’s senior forward likely matches their vision for freshman forward Cate Reese. At some point—later this season, next year, two years from now—you hope she’s the one knocking down open 3-pointers and going right through opposing bigs at the basket.

Downhill Dean

I missed on the Bruins coming into the season. Their defensive personnel, led by Kennedy Burke and Lajahna Drummer, still brings enough to the table to keep them in games longer than most teams could reasonably hope to stick around.

The offense is still in question. They struggled to stay in contact with Oregon State and Oregon. Senior guard Japreece Dean has a key role in running the show. There have been games (at Stanford, home versus Oregon) in which she’s effective around the basket. In others she has relied too much on her jumper.

I asked Dean postgame what she can take from some of those drives against the Ducks. “Just having the same mindset going into every game. I have to be on attack. When I’m on attack in makes the team better and I find open people,” she said.

“We need Japreece to be a downhill player,” UCLA coach Cori Close added. “And that’s not just her job. It’s in the way that we set screens and the way we run our offense to get her different touches in different situations so that she can become a downhill player. But we’ve given her one word and that’s the one word we want her to think all the time. And that’s attack. Be on the offensive. Get yourself going downhill. Make the defense send two to guard you.

“And that’s everyone’s job. One of the layups she got was because Michaela [Onyenwere] posted so hard and shielded the defense so there couldn’t be rotations.

“So that’s where teamwork comes in. But I’m really pleased with how Japreece responded. We need her to play that way on a consistent basis. And that makes everybody else better, but that’s what we have to do.

“I think we’re starting to understand, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do this to make Japreece great. And Japreece has got to do this to make Michaela great.’ And now it’s building the habits to play to that identity on a consistent basis.”

No Leonard for Buffs

I’m not sure Colorado should be favored in any Pac-12 matchup, home or away, without Kennedy Leonard. The starting guard is day-to-day with a foot sprain after missing last weekend’s games in Washington.

The game at Washington State didn’t get away from them until the second half. I thought they missed some chances to go at Borislava Hristova more often. They were successful when they did.

They’ll need to be more ruthless picking at favorable matchups without Leonard, their one player that can create advantage situations against just about anybody.

USC goes 0-for-2

You can’t spot nine points to one of the best teams in the country and expect to win. Even before the Beavers truly began to pull away in the second half, though, they did just that giving three 3-pointers away to Aleah Goodman.

That can’t happen! Quickness, toughness and whatever platitude you want to throw out there won’t change the fact that you’re leaving a 45 percent 3-point shooter wide open! What advantage were you even gaining by sagging off her?

Goodman might be the best standstill shooter in the conference. You aren’t hanging around late in a game with Oregon State, Oregon or Stanford spotting them free points like that.

On a more positive note from the weekend, Mazyck looked more like herself after missing Friday’s contest—oozing with confidence with rare foot speed to go stride for stride with somebody as quick as Destiny Slocum.

Utah’s balanced attack prevails

Dre’una Edwards created a lot of problems for Washington’s bigs with how quickly she’s able to change ends of the floor. The ridiculous drives in a halfcourt setting, of course, are a welcome bonus.

Kiana Moore has been impressive stepping into Daneesha Provo’s spot in the starting lineup. She went 0-of-5 from deep in 64 minutes over the weekend but made sure her presence was felt at the rim:

Ready for more from Rees

The Huskies picked up their first conference win of the season against Colorado. Freshman center Darcy Rees had some nice moments in the post scoring right over Dre’una Edwards. Rees is shooting 53 percent on 2-pointers entering the weekend.

They don’t appear to be any closer to finding a secondary scoring option behind Amber Melgoza. Giving Rees a few more touches would be worth a shot if she’s going to continue seeing single coverage.

Previous editions of the column: Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1