Pac-12 12 Things: Sweet 16, Elite Eight Preview

COLLEGE PARK, MD - MARCH 25: Michaela Onyenwere #21 of the UCLA Bruins celebrates a win after a NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - Second Round game against the Maryland Terrapins at the Xfinity Center Center on March 25, 2019 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
COLLEGE PARK, MD - MARCH 25: Michaela Onyenwere #21 of the UCLA Bruins celebrates a win after a NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - Second Round game against the Maryland Terrapins at the Xfinity Center Center on March 25, 2019 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Five Pac-12 women’s basketball teams remain in the NCAA Tournament with the first round of Sweet 16 games set to tip on Friday. Here’s a quick look back at the best of rounds one and two for each remaining Pac-12 program and a look ahead to potential Elite Eight matchups.

No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 2 UConn, Albany Region

  • Best of opening weekend

Michaela Onyenwere, especially in round two against Maryland, continued to pop off the screen in how she’s able to elevate and shoot right over people. She gets off the floor so quickly and can out-jump so many players that you almost have to play her for the turnaround jump shot, which would only allow her to blow by and get all the way to the rim.

  • Sweet 16 thing to watch for

Can UConn’s Megan Walker and Christyn Williams match the physicality and aggression of Onyenwere and Kennedy Burke? That duo at the 3/4 spots has become UCLA’s biggest calling card. Regardless of what UConn does defensively, they need to stay on high alert to keep Burke out of the lane and push Onyenwere out as far as possible on her post catches to make her turnaround jumpers as difficult as possible.

Offensive rebounding could swing the game even if UConn does a relatively sound job in defending those two players. They gave up 25 offensive boards to an undersized Buffalo team in round two. UConn spending time in a 2-3 zone makes it much tougher for all five players to go find a body to box out when a shot goes up. The Bruins, meanwhile, will need to stop the ball coming back the other way when UConn gets a chance to push after a defensive rebound.

  • Potential Elite Eight keys to victory

Louisville brings the size and sheer physicality up front to match the Bruins strength for strength on the glass. If UCLA can stick to Asia Durr in transition and force her to do all of her work off the bounce, I’d favor their second and tertiary scoring options in crunch time.

The state of Burke as a jump shooter is a big concern for her WNBA prospects, but she has delivered of late when her team needed it most. Cori Close actually called her number on a play usually run for Japreece Dean late against Maryland—she curled to the elbow to receive a handoff and drilled a jumper to put them up three with 1:02 to play.

UCLA was swept in the regular season by Oregon State by final scoring margins of 10 and three. The Bruins’ level of play has continued to crescendo into the tournament. The Beavers put more pressure on you to defend the 3-point line, but they struggled in rounds one and two to collapse the defense and open up those kick out passes.

No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 1 Mississippi State, Portland Region

  • Best of opening weekend

Arizona State doesn’t need reasons for hope against good teams. If they hang around long enough even when the opposition builds a lead, they know that their defense will give them a chance to get back into the game. Miami threw away their second of two chances at a go-ahead score in the final minute inbounding the ball out of a timeout, then sent Robbi Ryan to the foul line to break the tie.

I’ve railed on ASU’s extreme reliance on full line changes throughout the season, but Charli Turner Thorne never wavered from it. Reserves Sophia Elenga, Jamie Ruden and Iris Mbulito were three of their most important players against the Hurricanes and were ready for that kind of moment because of the opportunities they’ve gotten all season.

  • Sweet 16 thing to watch for

I do think Charnea Johnson-Chapman and Elenga can compete with Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan on the glass enough to make a difference. But how well will everybody else contain dribble penetration? McCowan really hammers you on the offensive glass when her defender is forced to commit as a help defender.

This is a good matchup for ASU leading scorer Kianna Ibis at this stage of the tournament. She’s bigger and stronger than likely matchup Anriel Howard, not to say that Ibis will throw her around inside. But Ibis shouldn’t have too much trouble surveying the floor over Howard and Mississippi State’s backcourt.

  • Potential Elite Eight keys to victory

Don’t sleep on ASU’s confidence in how well they defended Oregon in both of their regular season matchups, should they advance to the next round. A late blocking foul was reversed after a review when they met in the final weekend of the regular season in favor of the Ducks. Without that call, the Sun Devils may have held on to pull off that upset (and likely receive consideration as a No. 4 seed). South Dakota State could give ASU trouble with their three players that can make plays off the bounce.

You can define success for college basketball seasons in a lot of ways. ASU’s season has been just that. They’ve officially reached the point of the tournament where it gets extremely difficult to force great offensive teams to play in the 50s and 60s. But I’ve doubted them enough in this season alone to cross them off or belittle their legitimate chances of victory.

No. 4 Oregon State vs. No. 1 Louisville, Albany Region

  • Best of opening weekend

There are two sides to the coin looking back on OSU’s opening weekend. Both have some merit. The Beavers played two tight games and probably would not have advanced without a few calls going their way. But Boise State and Gonzaga are not cupcake opponents.

Aleah Goodman hit some key shots after an 0-for-10 shooting performance in the Pac-12 tournament and Taya Corosdale was able to stay on the floor for all 85 minutes.

Seeing OSU in one-possession games in the final five minutes isn’t a surprise. They’re confident in their ability to execute their sets and defend without fouling. Getting to this point of the tournament was all that mattered. Now they get their chance to avenge last season’s tournament loss to Louisville.

  • Sweet 16 thing to watch for

Fortunately for the Beavers, Myisha Hines-Allen is gone. They had no answer for her combination of strength, size, athleticism, and ball handling out of the frontcourt.

I think this game swings on Joanna Grymek. Can the Beavers set her up enough inside to give Louisville fits? At 6-foot-8, opponents can’t do much to get in the way when OSU players feed her inside with a high entry pass.

But Grymek needs to get all the way under the basket first so that she can just catch and finish.

OSU’s opponents were able to create open 3-pointers using her matchup to screen for a shooter. Louisville can look to pick at that with Asia Durr away from the ball or as a pick and roll ball handler.

  • Potential Elite Eight keys to victory

A Pac-12 rematch in Albany wouldn’t disappoint, but I’d be fascinated to see how Oregon State would go about defending UConn’s Napheesa Collier. Will they leave certain people open to force her to give it up? How much time would they spend in a zone?

OSU needs Goodman shooting the ball with confidence. She has the quickest release on the team. I can’t shake the feeling that a monstrous scoring performance from Slocum is brewing. And Mikayla Pivec, much like UCLA’s forward tandem, will surprise these teams if they fail to get physical with her when shots go up.

No. 6 South Dakota State vs. No. 2 Oregon, Portland Region

  • Best of opening weekend

I haven’t seen any indication either in Las Vegas at the Pac-12 tournament or in the opening weekend of this tournament to think Ruthy Hebard’s late-season knee injury will hurt the Ducks’ chances. They should still be seen as the favorites to win it all.

It was important for Satou Sabally to fill it up over the weekend. Oregon does need her to continue to assert herself well beyond taking spot 3-pointers. The teams remaining in Portland cannot throw a matchup at her that can stay in front of her when she makes a quick decision to attack.

  • Sweet 16 thing to watch for

South Dakota State led by five at the half when these teams met back in December. Madison Guebert (6-of-9 from deep in that game) is one of the most dangerous high volume 3-point shooters remaining in this field. The Ducks need to stay locked on her location. Look for Guebert to counter by getting into the paint to make plays for others.

  • Potential Elite Eight keys to victory

If chalk wins out, we’ll see the Ducks in another regular season rematch. Mississippi State could not get the ball to Teaira McCowan in that first matchup. The Ducks came prepared to shade a second body her way with the various zone defenses they threw at the Bulldogs.

If Mississippi State holds to their hedging pick and roll defense, Hebard won’t get any chances to post up guards on switches. That scheme doesn’t allow McCowan to spend much time stationed under the rim, but it does eliminate that one scab Oregon has been able to pick at against so many opponents.

No. 11 Missouri State vs. No. 2 Stanford, Chicago Region

  • Best of opening weekend

The question all season long for Stanford has been what they’re going to do against a zone that takes away so many of the driving and cutting opportunities that their Princeton offense generate against a man-to-man defense.

Alanna Smith missed her open looks from the outside in the first half against BYU (as did some of her teammates). Kiana Williams showed her resolve in that game to continue to attack with the confidence of a player that is a consistent scoring threat. Some of Stanford’s other guards/wings are still shakier outside threats, but Williams alone can help them weather a storm.

  • Sweet 16 thing to watch for

Smith and Maya Dodson are too big and too strong for Missouri State inside. The Lady Bears continued to shoot the ball against No. 3 seed Iowa State like the team that had nothing to lose (or simply had more confidence that enough of them would go in). Those shots won’t come nearly as easily against Stanford’s stout man-to-man defense.

Smith getting into foul trouble has long been a thorn in the Cardinal’s side. She needs to stay on the floor as much as possible on Saturday to give them the best chance of building a lead and squashing Missouri State’s hopes of another upset.

  • Potential Elite Eight keys to victory

Stanford’s zone offense will face the ultimate test in this region against No. 1 seed Notre Dame, should they advance past Texas A&M. The Fighting Irish have not inspired tremendous confidence in their defense, but they have the firepower—even against a top-tier defense—and can take away a lot of Stanford’s bread and butter simply by standing in a zone to put the onus on the Cardinal to keep up with them.

Previous editions of the column: Week 19 | 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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