12 Things: Best Pac-12 Tournament Moments

STANFORD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Stanford Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer talks to Stanford's DiJonai Carrington (21) during a break against the Arizona State Sun Devils in the third quarter at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)
STANFORD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Stanford Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer talks to Stanford's DiJonai Carrington (21) during a break against the Arizona State Sun Devils in the third quarter at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif., on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images) /

Stanford defeated Oregon last weekend in Las Vegas in the championship game of the Pac-12 women’s basketball conference tournament. Next week’s column will preview NCAA Tournament matchups for the Pac-12 schools. This week we’ll take a look back at the best moments from the Pac-12 Tournament.

“You’re right. You’re included.”

A question about blocking out WNBA Draft noise and speculation during Oregon’s postgame presser after a quarterfinal win over Arizona devolved into a fun exchange between Sabrina Ionescu and Kelly Graves. Graves made a playful jab about Arizona’s Aari McDonald going for 34 points against the Ducks, and Ionescu fired right back.

The McDonald highlight factory

I don’t know where to draw the line, but Aari McDonald crossed the threshold to ‘Just Show the Highlights and Get Out of the Way’ a long time ago.

Her arrival in Tucson has revitalized a fan base and immediately pushed the rest of the conference to get better. This is an NCAA Tournament team next season with McDonald, year two improvements by Cate Reese and a tad more outside shooting.

Molina turning the corner

Washington State lead guard Chanelle Molina went right at Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Kristine Anigwe in pick and roll. The results were quite good for the Cougars, as she scored or assisted on seven layups, allowing WSU to hang around before Cal pulled away in the fourth.

Missy Peterson lights up the opening rounds

Washington knocked off a depleted Utah team still looking to bolster its potential NCAA Tournament resume. They followed it up Friday night by stunning Oregon State.

Peterson led the way, scoring 42 points in the first two games on 15-of-23 shooting, including 11-of-14 shooting from deep. You’ve likely seen the dagger 3-pointer against Oregon State and even the pull-up jumper to ice Thursday’s victory over the Utes.

The sophomore hit several deep 3-pointers and tossed in some tough reverse finishes on top of the two crunch-time buckets, which ought to give her plenty of confidence heading into next season.

Rees rains threes

Nearly 25 percent of Darcy Rees’ 3-point attempts this season came Friday night against the Beavers, who made it clear they were willing to let her fire away in order to keep their centers closer to the basket.

Rees obliged and knocked down four of the 13 attempts. Note the latter two coming as the Huskies trailed by double digits. Credit Rees for shooting each one of them with confidence. She only made seven in 30 games prior, but those triples put UW into a higher variance game—exactly what you need as a heavy underdog.

The black mask

Shannon Coffee logged more minutes in Vegas than in any four-game stretch of her Stanford career. She clarified in Friday’s presser that she can actually see better with her black mask versus a clear one because it’s closer to her face.

Coffee played rock-solid defense inside, establishing position early to keep opposing bigs from carving out deep post position. Her presence as a third consistent contributor up front for the Cardinal will be key in the NCAA Tournament. Dodson elevates their defense in ways few players anywhere in the country can, but Coffee opens up the floor by playing out at the 3-point line, even if she isn’t getting up very many attempts.

“Early on in practice Shannon was shooting the best three-point percentage on our team,” VanDerveer said Friday. “So I personally have a lot of confidence in her three, and I like the fact that she’s not a gunner. She takes the three when we need the three. Not just coming down and thinking I’m going to shoot, shoot, shoot.

“So I was not surprised at all. I was happy to see it go in, obviously. But it wasn’t just that. Her whole play was fantastic. She was facilitating our offense. She was talking out there and very calm and just really mature.”

VanDerveer came away even more convinced that her senior may have something against bears, pointing to strong outings earlier this season against Baylor and UCLA.

Miller a spark off the bench

Lauryn Miller gave the Bruins quality minutes off the bench against the Ducks, highlighted by a stretch in the first half that included an assist, a block, and two forced turnovers, with the second leading to a UCLA transition 3-pointer.

She gives UCLA an important continuity advantage up front when she’s making plays on defense. The Bruins won’t overwhelm you with their size at the 5 with Miller and Lajahna Drummer. But Drummer set a tone for this team because she plays incredibly hard, doesn’t make mistakes and pursues every rebound and loose ball with a tremendous sense of urgency.

Whether Drummer runs into foul trouble again or coach Cori Close simply needs another big body on the floor, look to see how Miller responds in those moments in the NCAA Tournament.

Burke getting buckets

Kennedy Burke has now scored 20-plus points eight different times in her UCLA career. The two most recent instances came against the same opponent, the Oregon Ducks. Her production keyed the upset in Eugene and the near-upset in Vegas.

Her outside shot has been more of a bonus on the right nights. She still puts a lot of pressure on opponents with her unique combination of size, length, strength and skill level attacking from the perimeter.

The Bruins need her to maintain an aggressive mindset going to the basket and running the floor hard in the NCAA Tournament. Seen just in Saturday’s game against Oregon: going right through a like-sized player to finish at the rim, finishing over smaller guards and running the floor to fuel UCLA’s transition attack.

Dean’s list

Japreece Dean’s emergence and brilliant crunch time play in the second half of this season makes the Bruins one of the top teams nobody will want to see in the NCAA Tournament beyond the top 16.

She got into the teeth of one of the top defenses in the country three different times to score in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Arizona State:

Dean followed that up in the semifinals against Oregon as she tied the game two different times in the final minutes of the fourth and gave the Bruins a lead with a pull-up 3-pointer with less than a minute to play:

UCLA has two of the main ingredients you’d like to see in a team looking to make a deep run in March: a top tier defense paired with a guard that can break people down and make tough shots late in games with the shot clock winding down.

Ready for Ruthy

Maya Dodson was a much bigger obstacle around the basket to Ruthy Hebard, especially with her post defense. Contrast Sunday’s three first-half blocks with Hebard’s three easy first half buckets in February’s regular-season meeting between the two teams.

Note that Stanford did send some help inside, something Hebard will need to adjust to if Oregon’s NCAA Tournament opponents do the same.

Sound process for Alanna Smith

Oregon did not use the second matchup with the Cardinal to prove that they are any closer to limiting the best looks for Stanford’s best player. Alanna Smith got up 11 3-pointers Sunday—four in transition, three because of over-helping by Satou Sabally, one out of a well-timed set piece and three due to miscommunications on Stanford’s favorite screening actions.

Through 32 games, Smith has posted a 61.0 true shooting percentage per Her Hoop Stats along with 59.0/39.5/73.6 shooting splits. Planning for the All-American candidate has been much more difficult than it was last season. In addition to the spot up shooting, Smith has taken off as a driver. We even saw her score with her off hand out of a 4/5 pick and roll early Sunday:

NCAA Tournament teams need to take note of the over-helping. Smith is too important to Stanford’s offense to cede wide open 3-pointers under any circumstance. Future opponents also need to be ready to communicate and react quickly to Stanford’s pet screening actions at the slots and in the corners.

The “screener” in these cases rarely makes contact with a defensive player, yet they regularly draw both defenders as they bolt to the rim. Smith has to be seen as the top priority in these actions whether she’s popping out looking for an open triple or diving to the rim.

DiJonai Carrington, wanting it more

We hear that phrase often after a team pulls off a big win. What does it really mean? Throw multiple all-conference players on the floor and on any given night and they’re all likely to make plays that indicate an extreme hunger to win.

Carrington left her mark on the game by scoring at the rim and attacking the offensive glass. She made one of the signature plays of the game by rebounding her own miss with Stanford up four with less than a minute to play.

She beat Sabally for a 50-50 ball in the first half and scored immediately on a putback attempt, then pulled another down early in the third and fed Dodson under the basket for an easy bucket.

The Ducks were fortunate that she didn’t cash in on the next three opportunities. Carrington pulled down another but stepped on the end line as she landed, missed a putback attempt at the horn in the third and forced a jumper in the paint that was blocked by Hebard.

Carrington made the kind of plays Sunday that the Cardinal will need from her to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Oregon, meanwhile, saw another Pac-12 foe essentially guard Ionescu pick and rolls with two players.

Few teams in the country have the personnel to reliably do so, but Oregon State and now Stanford have put that on film to at least remind future opponents that there is hope of an alternative to leaving 40-plus percent 3-point shooters wide open.

More Pac-12 Tournament coverage: Day 1 Notebook | Day 2 Notebook | Day 3 Notebook | Day 4 Notebook | Confident, capable, healthy Morgan Yaeger lifts Oregon over UCLA

Previous editions of the column: Week 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1

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