Pac-12 12 Things: NCAA Tournament preview edition

PALO ALTO, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Oregon Guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) roars in celebration during the women's basketball game between the Oregon Ducks and the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on February 10, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Oregon Guard Sabrina Ionescu (20) roars in celebration during the women's basketball game between the Oregon Ducks and the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on February 10, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Six Pac-12 women’s basketball teams will be playing in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Here’s a preview of what each of them will be facing as they strive to make a run to the Final Four in Tampa.

Cal — No. 8 seed, Greensboro

Cal’s first-round matchup is a must-see if you have even a fleeting interest in the WNBA Draft prospects in the NCAA Tournament. This one pits Kristine Anigwe against North Carolina point guard Paris Kea.

Recee Caldwell has been a consistent threat from the outside for Cal, but as always the question remains: How much scoring will they get from everybody else?

UNC has wins over UCLA, Rice, Notre Dame (without Jackie Young) and NC State this season.

The primetime matchup inside between Anigwe and Baylor’s Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox will be looming large in the minds of viewers during Saturday’s first round action.

Biggest obstacle: No. 1 overall seed Baylor

Most likely outcome: Round two loss to (1) Baylor

Arizona State — No. 5 seed, Portland

The Sun Devils drew an opponent in UCF that also likes to grind wins out with the defense. You could look at that two different ways. On one hand, they won’t have to worry about getting upset in round one by a team that can really spread them out and score in the 80s on a good defensive team. But UCF has to like their draw for the same reasons.

UCF is very reliant on guard Kornelia Wright (18 points per game with a 30.3 usage rate per Her Hoop Stats) to carry the load offensively. ASU has plenty of capable guards to throw at her, beginning with starters Reili Richardson and Robbi Ryan.

If ASU can get by a potential date with No. 4 seed Miami in round two, I’d love to see how a showdown with No. 1 seed Mississippi State would play out. The Sun Devils won’t win many games in the 70s or the 80s, but if they keep Teaira McCowan off the glass and limit transition points, they’re the kind of team that would relish a chance to get into a physical game with the Bulldogs.

Biggest obstacle: size and skill of the Beatrice Mompremier-Emese Hof Miami frontcourt

Most likely outcome: Round two loss to (4) Miami

Oregon — No. 2 seed, Portland

Ruthy Hebard (knee) returned in time for the Pac-12 tournament after the scary fall last month at Oregon State. For my money, she looked close enough to full strength in Las Vegas to expect their starting unit to be operating at full capacity after the week off.

That group is a special collection of talent, both in sum and how the pieces fit together once you roll the ball out. It was fun to see the regions and top seeds align for Mississippi State and Oregon to end up as the top two seeds in Portland, putting the two on a collision course—the Ducks beat them by eight in December in Eugene.

I’ve talked myself in and out of the Ducks completely cruising through the first three rounds. Texas has been prone to falling in early holes, and Oregon is the type of team more likely to turn a 15-point lead into 30 over letting a team back into a game. They’ve already seen Syracuse this season. I doubt their pressure would give them any troubles, and Hebard is too much for them in the paint.

Biggest obstacle: any semblance of foul trouble for one of their starters, (1) Mississippi State

Most likely outcome: a date with Notre Dame or Stanford in the national championship game

Stanford — No. 2 seed, Chicago

The Cardinal enter the tournament riding a wave of confidence after defeating Oregon, the team that beat them by 40 earlier this season on their home floor, in the Pac-12 championship game.

I can’t shake the feeling that somebody surprising is going to stick around late in a game by zoning them. I’ve noted all year that doing so can take away a lot—the back cuts, the screening actions, the Alanna Smith post-ups—of what makes them so tough to guard.

Kiana Williams can really cement herself with a strong tournament run as a top-two scoring option, which will be key heading into next season as Smith graduates and moves onto the WNBA.

Round three will be very fun if we see them against the high-octane offense of either DePaul or Iowa State. The latter would make for a very entertaining head-to-head matchup of top draft prospects Smith and Bridget Carleton.

Stanford isn’t an offensive juggernaut like Oregon, but they have so many pieces defensively that allow them to bog down even the top scoring teams in the country. Maya Dodson has elevated her play in year two to become one of the nation’s most physically imposing presences altering and blocking shots around the basket.

DiJonai Carrington, Lacie Hull, Lexie Hull, and even Anna Wilson can hold their own one-on-one on the perimeter. And Smith is the glue that holds it all together, erasing shots around the basket and transitioning seamlessly between assignments in the paint and out at the 3-point line.

Biggest obstacle: Smith foul trouble, (1) Notre Dame

Most likely outcome: a one-possession game with (1) Notre Dame with 5:00 to play, with the winner emerging as the favorite to advance to the national championship game

UCLA — No. 6 seed, Albany

The Bruins aren’t just a team nobody wants to play because they won a bunch of games to close out the season. Their main ingredients are tough for any opponent to match up against.

Even if they flame out in round one, it’s important to note now that Japreece Dean has answered every possible question about her potential to be UCLA’s lead guard. Her confidence has continued to soar in her abilities to score at the rim or from beyond the arc. She creates many of those shots for herself off the bounce and can shake most defenders off with ease with her nasty crossover.

The athleticism of Kennedy Burke and Michaela Onyenwere at the 3/4 spots is extremely difficult to match, and those two can even slide up when coach Cori Close wants to lean on a smaller lineup.

Onyenwere has assumed the role of a leading scorer after being a bit player off the bench last year as a freshman.  The rise she gets on her turnaround jumpers from the post make them impossible to block, and she’s only scratching the surface of how she can unleash her explosiveness as a finisher at the rim.

In order for the Bruins to make a deep run, there’s no question that everybody else will need to step up and knock down some open jump shots. Lindsey Corsaro, who has impressed as a starter after two lost seasons to injury, is candidate number one.

If you caught their overtime game against Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament, you saw the Ducks leave Kiara Jefferson wide open on back-to-back possessions. Future NCAA Tournament opponents may give some of UCLA’s weaker perimeter threats the same treatment. How they respond will be key.

Biggest obstacle: (2) UConn

Most likely outcome: Sweet 16 loss to (2) UConn

Oregon State — No. 4 seed, Albany

Can anybody confidently declare that they have a firm grip on this Oregon State team and their ceiling in the NCAA Tournament?

It’s tough to look past their loss to No. 11 seed Washington in the Pac-12 tournament. More than anything else, I want to see this team go out—whenever that may be—with Destiny Slocum playing 35-plus minutes taking full control of the offense. She’s the kind of dynamic lead guard Scott Rueck has never had before. Now is the time to cut her loose.

A big day for Slocum is the only way I see them getting past Louisville. They won’t be as overwhelmed athletically inside as they were last season by Myisha Hines-Allen, but what OSU gets from its centers on a night-to-night basis is still a mystery, and the Cardinals are a bad matchup for Joanna Grymek.

That big day for Slocum, by the way, isn’t just defined by her number of shot attempts. But when she is firing on all cylinders in the paint and beyond the arc, she consistently draws two and three defenders. That then makes her life easier as she looks to set up Aleah Goodman, Katie McWilliams, Mikayla Pivec, and Taya Corosdale up for open 3-pointers.

Biggest obstacle: the two-game (1) Louisville-(2) UConn gauntlet to get out of Albany

Most likely outcome: Sweet 16 loss to (1) Louisville

Previous editions of the column: Week 18 | 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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