Around the Pac-12: 44 for Aari; Stanford, Utah tested in OT

PALO ALTO, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Arizona guard Aari McDonald (2) drives on Stanford forward Lacie Hull (24) during the women's basketball game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on February 22, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Arizona guard Aari McDonald (2) drives on Stanford forward Lacie Hull (24) during the women's basketball game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on February 22, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

McDonald earns player of the week nod; Oregon State takes WNIT crown

Aari McDonald leading Arizona to a road win over Texas headlined week two in the world of Pac-12 women’s basketball. Here’s your weekly team-by-team rundown, including Oregon State pulling away against Missouri State in the WNIT final and Gonzaga and South Dakota forcing overtime against Stanford and Utah.

Arizona (4-0)

Pac-12 player of the week Aari McDonald torched the Longhorns on their home floor to the tune of 44 points on 14-of-18 shooting. She was on fire from the opening tip, canning five pull-up two-pointers in the first quarter alone.

For reference: McDonald shot 38-of-91 (42 percent) from the midrange in 37 games last season according to Synergy Sports.

One glance at the stat sheet may lead you to wonder first if she’d make a leap as a 3-point shooter after shooting 28 percent on 6.2 treys per game last season.

The shots she hit against Texas might matter even more. Arizona simply might not need her to take as many 3-pointers this season. Cashing in more of those pull-ups inside the arc keeps her closer to the basket, where she can punish teams for ducking under screens hoping to cut her off before she uses her blinding quickness to get all the way to the rim.

Sam Thomas mucking things up for Texas was another key item of note. Watch as she sits right in the lap of Joyner Holmes and Charli Collier in these two examples from the first half.

That’s the easy part to notice. Finding some shooting to put around that interior duo will be a front of mind issue for the Longhorns all season. But Thomas didn’t just ignore somebody to clog up the paint. She sprinted back out to contest those shots, too.

Forget about who the opponent was in this game for a moment. Remember that game-planning doesn’t boil down to one-or-the-other decisions. Being able to rely on Thomas to do two things at once will open doors for Arizona’s defense.

Utah (1-3)

South Dakota’s overtime win in Utah will go down as one of the most exciting non-conference finishes this season. The Utes still managed to get enough stops late, giving themselves ample opportunity to secure a victory.

Utah got two great looks from deep that didn’t fall. Two more costly sequences that didn’t go their way: a turnover by Dru Gylten and a missed layup by Kiana Moore were both plays that’ll end as made layups an overwhelming majority of the time.

(Gylten also got whistled for two fouls in the paint that sent South Dakota to the free throw line. Utah would be right to look back on both with a dubious eye.)

Lola Pendande came through at the end of regulation as the Utes erased an eight-point deficit to take a two-point lead in the closing seconds. The freshman center scored five points during that 10-0 run and blocked a shot to ignite the break that led to the go-ahead triple by Ola Makurat.

This step-up Pendande screen for Gylten surrounded by three shooters is going to generate a ton of good looks for the Utes this season.

Stanford (4-0)

Lexie Hull made big plays in crunch time as the Cardinal escaped at home against Gonzaga. In the overtime period alone, the sophomore made both of her free throws, scored on a late-clock duck in, took a steal the other way for a layup and nailed a jumper to put the game on ice.

And as Stanford trailed by one approaching the 1:30 mark in regulation, Hull came off a pair of screens to drill a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Fran Belibi made another key play late in the fourth ensuring the Cardinal would get a chance to win it outright in overtime. She blew up Gonzaga’s sideline out of bounds set looking to throw it into the post with less than 10 seconds remaining, forcing a desperation heave from the corner.

The Cardinal shot just 17-of-29 from the line (compared to Gonzaga’s 23-of-29) and 5-of-22 from deep. Hull’s late triple carries a lot of weight. Stanford isn’t short on capable shooters. But who’s taking their threes on a night-to-night basis?

We know Kiana Williams is going to be on the floor in every big moment. Is it already time that Hull (41 minutes) is seen as the second player the Cardinal will be leaning on most against top-tier competition?

Oregon State (4-0)

The Beavers went small at several points of the WNIT final against Missouri State, including a stretch in the first quarter without turning to Kat Tudor for her first minutes of the game.

OSU turned to its four best guards late in the game, and Tudor’s ability to run off screens and really make teams pay for giving her even a sliver of daylight to catch and shoot.

This was a welcome sight in Corvallis—a dummy pick and roll flowing into a screen to free Kat Tudor for an open triple.

The WNIT final was Tudor’s second game of the season coming off last season’s ACL tear. (Unfortunately, as Tudor came through against a high-level opponent, Taya Corosdale went down appearing to aggravate the same hamstring that has limited her so far this season.)

Big picture, OSU needs Tudor on the floor for 20-plus minutes as a complementary scoring threat. They also needed her on Sunday to pull away from Missouri State in the second half.

We got a few brief looks at what can become a very potent small-ish lineup: Tudor, Destiny Slocum, Aleah Goodman, Mikayla Pivec and a big.

That group won’t have much trouble generating good looks. Finding the right mix defensively will be a bigger challenge. OSU is smaller in the backcourt this season with Slocum and Goodman as big-minute starters. They really struggled with Alexa Willard’s pull-up game. But Willard figures to be an extreme example the Beavers won’t be running into often.

Shooting forwards that can attack off the dribble are the bigger concern. Pacific’s Brooklyn McDavid lit them up. DePaul’s Chante Stonewall could have struck in similar fashion but was limited by foul trouble. Kennedy Brown and Taylor Jones don’t look ready to step up far enough to force those players to put it down and slide with them on the drive.

Those tests will only stiffen against the top of the Pac-12. Somebody will have to chase and contain Michaela Onyenwere, Erin Boley, Satou Sabally and Haley Jones.

The Beavers could just play more zone as they did in that second half against Missouri State. Getting Corosdale back can really shore up the forward rotation. Brown and Jones aren’t being written off after their first couple of games. They may look much better against those matchups in as little as a month from now.

If all else fails, Scott Rueck still has that smaller group to lean on, where the offense can crank it up a few notches while OSU leans even more on Pivec’s strength and rebounding to fill in the gaps.

USC (3-1)

USC had just eight healthy players suited up for their loss to UCSB—six true freshmen, a sophomore and a grad transfer. That grad transfer, Aliyah Jeune, went for 27 points off the bench against UC Riverside earlier in the week.

Jeune started her career at Rutgers and played one season at Morehead State. She got going against UCR on explosive straight-line drives and drilled a mean pull-back 2-pointer.

USC still has a few days before they host Texas A&M. Stephanie Watts and Kayla Overbeck missed the UCSB game but are expected back for that big showdown with the Aggies. Shalexxus Aaron and freshman Madison Campbell, yet to play this season, have also been sidelined by injuries.

Cal (1-2)

The Golden Bears notched their first win of the season against UC Riverside, pulling away in the second half with an 11-1 run to start the third quarter. CJ West started the third for Chen Yue—a change Cal should probably want to stick with on a permanent basis—and scored immediately out of the same action that netted a similar result to end the first.

This team is looking to hang its hat on defense in year one under Charmin Smith. They’ll be tested on Sunday against Arkansas. The Razorbacks have one of the best scorers in the country in Chelsea Dungee and are always looking to strike early in the shot clock.

Washington (2-1)

Darcy Rees is one of the league’s sophomores to keep an eye on this season. She has some serious potential as a stretch big that can also score from the low block.

Remember when Rees shot 4-of-13 from deep in UW’s upset win over Oregon State in Las Vegas? She passed that first big test by continuing to fire away and cash in enough of those looks as a team dared her to do so.

Fast-forward to UW’s latest game against Weber State. Rees wasn’t shy in taking the open triple 12 seconds into the game. UW’s ability to plant their center along the arc opens up easier chances for guards ducking into the post. Rees drilled a 3-pointer on a kick-out from Mai-Loni Henson later in the game.

Henson missed this shot in the second quarter, but Rees getting back to wall off the rim a few times in transition per game is a positive byproduct of her spotting up. Continuing to make those 3-pointers while the guards ducking in manage to score efficiently, of course, will be critical moving forward.

Colorado (3-0)

The Buffs look good!

Quinessa Caylao-Do and freshman Jaylyn Sherrod are pushing the ball hard up the floor at every opportunity. Emma Clarke can be a big contributor on the wing and take a big step forward in year two if she knocks down shots. At 6’1”, Clarke can be a pest as an on-ball defender and make plays with her length in pursuit of opposing ball handlers.

This team will get really interesting if Mya Hollingshed and Annika Jank emerge as consistent jump shooters. One thing they’ve done in the paint to really help their teammates out: Timely duck-ins as somebody starts a drive, functionally screening two defenders off while clearing a path to the rim.

Arizona State (2-1)

Start here looking back on ASU’s loss to Minnesota: Missing Jamie Ruden really hurts their offense.

The Sun Devils lost so much on both ends in their three key frontcourt departures. A team already starved for shooting needs a big season from Ruden knocking down shots from one of those frontcourt spots.

Without that element, playing four guards to at least get faster will begin looking like their only path toward a top 5-ish finish in league play. Taya Hanson getting up 11 3-pointers in 29 minutes off the bench qualifies as a blanket small win.

The Sun Devils shot just 16-of-47 on two-pointers as they failed to capitalize on a plus-13 margin on the offensive glass. Minnesota’s 24 to 16 edge in transition felt much bigger.

ASU can’t rely on the same formula without Kianna Ibis to carry them home late in games. The amount of trust they place in their younger players in these seven remaining non-conference games will be telling with that Dec. 29 Pac-12 opener with Arizona on the horizon.

UCLA (3-0)

Japreece Dean is back in action after having to sit out the first two games dating back to the two she played in 2016-17 at Texas Tech. That Dean-Michaela Oyenwere connection will be the team’s primary source of offense once again. Not four minutes into this game, though, Cori Close made a line change with the three surrounding players.

Lindsey Corsaro, Natalie Chou and Lauryn Miller started the game, giving UCLA a shot-blocking presence and two bigger bodies on the wing that can knock down open shots. The second look was more of a speed lineup with Onyenwere at the 5. Charisma Osborne and Kiara Jefferson can lead the break and set Dean up in the halfcourt; Chantel Horvat fills a role similar to Chou and Corsaro.

Freshman guard Jaden Owens and 6’1” forward Kayla Owens round out a 10-player rotation at this very early stage. But Close has time to tinker and see different combinations. Perhaps their biggest non-conference test—a trip to Bloomington to face Indiana—is still more than a month away.

Oregon (3-0)

Sophomore Taylor Chavez made the most of Satou Sabally’s three-game absence competing with her national team. The sophomore guard erupted for 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting in 25 minutes against Utah State.

After missing everything on her first 3-point attempt of the game, Chavez made six of her next seven 3-point attempts. Three days later against Texas Southern: 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting.

The Ducks will be just fine turning to Sabally and Minyon Moore for the playmaking they lost with the graduation of Maite Cazorla. Chavez, or somebody else in the guard rotation, will get every chance to shine this season by defending and making open shots—something the 5’10” guard already did quite well last season before being sidelined by a foot injury for the entire postseason.

Washington State (idle; 2-0)

  • In case you missed it, here’s last week’s ‘Around the Pac-12’ on Minyon Moore’s debut in Eugene, UW’s collapse against Tulane and more:

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