Pac-12 12 Things: Utah in Oregon, Battle of the Bay

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 27: Ruthy Hebard #24 of the Oregon Ducks defends agaisnt Missy Peterson #44 of the Washington Huskies at Alaska Airlines Arena on January 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 27: Ruthy Hebard #24 of the Oregon Ducks defends agaisnt Missy Peterson #44 of the Washington Huskies at Alaska Airlines Arena on January 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

The past week in Pac-12 women’s basketball featured some signature matchups between some of the best teams in the conference. Here are some observations and notes on what we learned from the Battle of the Bay and Utah’s weekend in Oregon.

Huff’s monster weekend

What a weekend for Utah’s star forward, including a 38-point explosion Friday in Eugene. She connected on 6-of-9 3-point attempts, challenging Oregon to immediately find her in transition or track her spotting up from distance. The most impressive aspect of efficient scoring weekend may have been her quick, crafty finishes over size in the lane.

Credit Huff for putting in the work to make such a tremendous leap forward to lead the way for Utah. It’s difficult to imagine her falling too far into the third round (if at all) in April’s WNBA Draft with her ability to score in a variety of ways—spot up shooting, back to basket, pick and pop, face up drives—at her size.

OSU throws a zone at Utes

I liked Scott Rueck’s decision to try out a twist on a 2-3 zone to start the game. Destiny Slocum hung out right in the middle of the lane. From there she was able to instantly double in the post, wall off pick and roll drives and deny passes into the heart of the defense.

You could probably call it a 1-3-1 zone, too, compressed vertically to keep Taya Corosdale around the basket. Utah isn’t the same team if you manage to stop some of their pick and roll attack dead in its tracks.

They can light you up from deep, but only if you leave the wrong players open. If you lock in on Megan Huff in particular, other teams without the personnel to matchup man-to-man for 40 minutes could learn a lot from what Oregon State put on tape Sunday.

What Corosdale at C means against the best teams

Aleah Goodman replacing a nominal center in the starting lineup unlocks this team’s full offensive potential. Both low blocks are unoccupied, meaning help will often have to travel further to challenge Slocum, Goodman, Mikayla Pivec & Co. at the rim on drives.

The opponent’s center will likely need to guard Corosdale. The slow of foot will struggle to take away the pick and pop 3-pointer without getting burned on a straight-line drive. OSU is also putting bigs in unfamiliar territory more often. In guarding Corosdale or Katie McWilliams, those players may have to fight their instincts to help at all costs.

Finally, Corosdale is a nimbler pick and roll partner to catch and finish on the move than anybody else in their frontcourt. Though she missed this first quarter look against Utah, note their spacing on the backside—nobody will be eager to leave those players alone. You’re in deep trouble if you can’t defend some of those actions with just the two on-ball defenders.

The Beavers will carve teams up when they get drive and kick sequences going. Their dry spells to date often have stemmed most from an inability to get that ball rolling. Corosdale’s versatility makes doing so much easier.

Slocum on a roll

In a span of about five minutes near the end of the first half, Slocum scored 10 points right at the rim. Not ideal for the Utes.

She was able to get a head start turning the corner around some screens. Her hesitation and crossover are too good to let her pick up a head of steam unless you’ve got a top tier shot blocker hanging back at the rim.

The fourth score was the key as she put her head down even with Kiana Moore right on her hip. Slocum needs to push the envelope more often on potential drives like those. It will lead to more trips to the foul line. Drives that stop on the edge of the paint short-circuit the offense, and this team isn’t winning six straight games in March on the strength of Slocum step backs and Pivec isos alone.

Slocum is the one member of this team that can truly puncture a defense and incite some panic. That leads to all the other good stuff, namely spot up 3-pointers for McWilliams, Corosdale and Goodman—all lights-out shooters from distance.

This upcoming two weekend stretch is the time to do it some more at the Bay Area schools and in their two showdowns with the Ducks for civil war weekend.

Good news for Gylten

Huff needed more help both days in Oregon for the Utes to have pulled off either upset. Dru Gylten shot just 3-of-10 at the rim. On the bright side: She’s getting there. She’s long. She’s a wicked smart passer. Bullet passes setting up threes like this one require a split-second read of what the backside defender is going to do. They’ve become commonplace already for this redshirt freshman.

We need a name for players that regularly get to the rim in ways few players in their role/position do, yet have a long way to go as finishers. It isn’t a backhanded compliment. Utah fans ought to take heart; Gylten passes that sniff test.

Can’t keep Pivec out of the lane

She just manages to work her way to a favorable spot in the lane to score or set up her teammates. It may take multiple dribble moves and a few fakes to get there, but to date Pivec has been Oregon State’s best and most consistent player. This key bucket really put the pressure on Utah late.

Because the Beavers surround Pivec with capable shooters, you have to try your best to defend her one-on-one. Her physical, sometimes arrhythmic style of play is tough to defend. Without an overwhelming strength advantage as a defender, Pivec will likely get the slight advantage needed to create an angle to get a shot up or draw help around the basket.

Edwards effect

Dre’una Edwards struggled mightily with foul trouble throughout the weekend. The Utes simply aren’t the same team without her. She isn’t just a solid ball handler for her position. She’s just plain fast with a high skill level. How many teams in the country have a 5 that can face up, drive and deliver a bounce pass into a tight window to set a teammate up for a layup?

Good luck guarding this

This has quickly become a favorite for Alanna Smith and the Cardinal. She’ll run toward the corner as if she’s about to set a down screen. That player in the corner will usually cut hard down the baseline. It often draws help from Smith’s defender, leaving her free to launch an open 3-pointer. DiJonai Carrington curled around the screen toward the basket that time as Cal’s rim protector Kristine Anigwe was glued to Smith at the 3-point line.

Fast-forward to crunch time of that game to see Cal handle Stanford’s ‘horns stagger’ with ease, forcing Tara VanDerveer to burn a timeout.

A switch occurs to take away Carrington on the curl. They stay locked on Smith to take away the option for her to pop out for a triple. Anigwe even shades toward Smith for a beat. That left Maya Dodson, not an outside shooting threat, open to catch the ball about 20 feet out as Anigwe had ample time to recover.

Lacie sets the tone

The Lacie Hull defensive appreciation continues for another week! She came out strong to set the tone for the Cardinal in their blowout win on Saturday.

I’m fascinated to see who she matches up with this coming weekend as Stanford will be facing three of the top pick and roll ball handlers in the country. More of the same from Lacie on that end of the floor at scale against Sabrina Ionescu, Maite Cazorla, Destiny Slocum and perhaps even Satou Sabally or Pivec would solidify her place, to me, on a Pac-12 All-Defense Team.

Chavez gets the best of Huff

Watch Oregon freshman Taylor Chavez battle inside after switching onto Huff.

You need that level of effort to succeed running a switching defense. Not every play needs to show up in the box score, either. Even preventing that player from getting a deep catch or knocking them off their intended course will help you win possessions for your team. Chavez would likely provide little resistance one-on-one against Huff in the post, but her early work prevented her from ever touching the ball on that trip.

Ruthy flexes inside

Ruthy Hebard has really made some strides as a low post scorer this season. She established good position and shot right over each of Utah’s bigs with ease Friday night.

How about that left hand! The most exciting thing to Hebard’s back to basket game: She makes you feel her. Displacing defenders with those moves allows her to get her momentum going to the rim rather than over-relying on the same turnaround jumper.

Satou gets mean

This is just mean. That’s the only word that does it justice. When Utah clawed their way back and even took a lead, Sabally stormed right back with the answer for the Ducks.

I’ll be eager to track Sabally’s isos over the weekend in the Bay Area. If you throw your best defenders at Ionescu and Cazorla in an attempt to limit the damage they do in pick and roll, Sabally is going to have a quickness advantage. (She often does anyway.)

No starting unit in the country can spread the floor better than the Ducks on those plays. We’re due for some highlights regardless of the outcome when shot blockers like Anigwe, Smith and Dodson will be the ones waiting to meet Sabally at the rim.

Previous editions of the column: Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1