Around the Pac-12: non-conference by the numbers

PALO ALTO, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne during the women's basketball game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on February 24, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PALO ALTO, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne during the women's basketball game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion on February 24, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Diving into the numbers nearing the quarter mark of the 2019-20 season

With all 12 Pac-12 women’s basketball programs idle early in the week, we’ll use this opportunity to dive into a key number or two for each team.

Arizona, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA are undefeated approaching the middle of December. Each team has played between seven and nine games to date.

Pac-12 league play begins at the end of the month. Plan ahead for some of next week’s key matchups, giving us one final chance to learn about where these teams are at as the calendar turns.

Some notable games: Stanford hosts Tennessee then plays at Texas in a five-day span, Arizona State hosts Creighton, Washington State travels to face projected 2020 first round pick Beatrice Mompremier and the Miami Hurricanes, Cal welcomes Kentucky and super sophomore Rhyne Howard to Haas Pavilion, and UCLA gets its best chance at bolstering a weak non-conference resume at Indiana.

These findings will likely fall into one of three buckets. Has something been noticeably different for a player or team in comparison to last season? Which performances have been the most impressive or surprising? What’s worth keeping tabs on to see if it continues, gets worse or improves in conference play?

All stats are current as of Dec. 9 and obtained via Her Hoop Stats unless otherwise noted.

Arizona (9-0)

The Wildcats currently boast a top-five defense, allowing just 62.7 points per 100 possessions. But the schedule has been quite light save for a blowout win in Austin over the then-ranked Longhorns.

Are they ready to hold down the best offenses? Oregon’s scoring output was already trending in the right direction (93, 83, 77) in their three meetings last season. Oregon State scored 86 in a blowout win in Corvallis then escaped with a 65-60 2OT win a month and a half later in Tucson.

The standings will become much more interesting if somebody manages to knock off one of the top three at least once. Arizona has a distinct advantage over the rest of the field. They know Aari McDonald can be the best player on the floor for 40 minutes against anybody.

The Wildcats are only guaranteed one crack at Stanford—the final weekend of the regular season. If the Cardinal continue to gel as many expect, that matchup will look much different than it might have in January. After the conference opener at ASU, Arizona gets a chance to immediately test that defense against UCLA, another top challenger outside the top three, before hosting the Oregon schools.

Colorado (8-0)

Mya Hollingshed establishing a level of consistency is the single-biggest variable that could push Colorado beyond a projected last-place finish. The junior forward, bothered by nagging knee pain last season, is in elite company with her steal and block rates at 3.7 and 5.3 percent, respectively, through six games.

Buffs’ opponents turned it over just 14.2 times per contest last season; they currently rank in the 85th percentile with opponents turning it over on 23.1 percent of their possessions.

Those two indicators holding serve can help keep them in more games. Sitting back in a more conservative defense without any defensive playmakers won’t give them much chance as they run into superior individual offensive talent.

Hollingshed’s length and activity in passing lanes and altering shots around the basket can continue driving most of that success. Sophomore wing Emma Clarke has also racked up multiple blocks in four of the team’s eight games.

Oregon State (8-0)

The Beavers have scored 0.932 points per possession in the halfcourt this season, ranking in the 98th percentile nationally and nearly mirroring last season’s 0.936 mark according to Synergy Sports.

Final Four aspirations shouldn’t overshadow their level of play from the opener.

Kat Tudor’s return has been gradual, far from a clean swap for the departed Katie McWilliams.

Taylor Jones is scoring. More importantly, the true freshman center came ready to jostle for positioning inside against bigger bodies.

Kennedy Brown is the option at power forward in the wake of the Taya Corosdale injury.

Mikayla Pivec, Destiny Slocum and Aleah Goodman are the headliners. They become even better next to those ‘next three’, each filling an important need while complementing and amplifying the strengths of the three-headed guard monster.

Stanford (8-0)

The Hull twins look more like well-rounded offensive threats in year two. Lexie is the team’s leading scorer, shooting one tick below 57 percent inside the arc (41.5 percent last season). Naturally, Lacie, averaging nearly 20 minutes per game, is shooting 57.1 percent on twos through eight games (up from 39.1).

Both players are also shooting twos more frequently. Nearly half of Lexie’s 2018-19 field goal attempts were 3-pointers (58.9 percent for Lacie).

The Cardinal still need the Hulls to shoot it well from distance, but the extra points we’re seeing them now rack up on cuts, drives and pull-up jumpers enhance the team’s offense as a whole. Simply running them off the 3-point line may have sufficed last season. We may have already reached the point where opponents must scout them differently, which will only make it tougher to lock in on Stanford’s other key players.

Also: The Kiana Williams explosion is imminent. She won’t shoot 27 percent from deep for an entire season. (Blame the rims in Victoria?) Stanford already beat Mississippi State and Syracuse on a neutral floor and edged Gonzaga in overtime without a Williams 3-point barrage. This upcoming Ohio State-Tennessee-Texas three-game swing would be a good time for the junior guard to catch fire.

UCLA (8-0)

The Bruins reflect some of the positive traits you’d hope for with a more guard-heavy rotation than last season’s. They rank in the top 20 in both steals per game and take care of the rock. UCLA’s turnover rate (13.9) is the 10th best mark nationally. They’re also running more, finishing 23 percent of their possessions (compared to 18.7 last season) in transition according to Synergy Sports.

We’d be looking at an extraordinary combination of team strengths if they manage a third consecutive season rebounding more than 40 percent of their own misses. They’re currently at 39.6!

Price all those things in and this team’s destiny will still largely come down to how well they shoot it around Michaela Oyenwere. Like Kiana Williams, Japreece Dean is another high-profile Pac-12 guard unlikely to continue shooting below 30 percent from deep.

Natalie Chou is shooting 34.4 percent on four attempts per game to lead the wing trio also featuring Lindsey Corsaro and Chantel Horvat. Freshman Charisma Osborne is shooting 33 percent on a team-high 5.2 attempts per game.

Oregon (7-1)

Maybe the Ducks just went cold in the Louisville loss to remind us that they’re human, too. They’re shooting 35.2 percent from deep through eight games—a good number, not a great one.

Last season’s 3-point shooting was truly exceptional. Oregon shot 41.3 percent from distance, the highest mark in Division I, as a team on the 12th most attempts. Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally, Erin Boley and the departed Maite Cazorla each shot 40-plus percent. Ionescu, Sabally and Boley each did so on more than five attempts per game.

This season’s team will likely finish comfortably above the current mark. Look up the two biggest ‘culprits’ dragging it down. The percentages will perk up for both players.

Their ability to limit their turnovers last season was equally remarkable. Oregon was the No.1 team in turnovers per game (10.1), turnover rate (12.5) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.86). Surprise, surprise: The Ducks currently rank in the top five in all three categories.

Meanwhile, the Ducks boast the nation’s best 2-point shooting percentage (60.9) led by Ruthy Hebard’s 72.7 percent shooting on more than 12 shot attempts per game. Not bad.

Have they already tabbed the category they’re going to dominate next season? Free throw percentage? I’d settle for a record number of Saballys on the court sporting the green and gold.

Arizona State (7-2)

The Sun Devils have been dreadful in a halfcourt setting, ranking in the 11th percentile at just 0.648 points per possession according to Synergy Sports.

In theory, the formula to grind games to a halt and rely on their defense can still work. Are they going to have a leading scorer that can bail them out or a 3-point shooter that can come off screens to diversify the offense, though?

ASU is averaging nearly five more possessions per game. An apparent glaring need to squeeze out as many transition opportunities as possible can butt heads with the defense-first, grind-it-out style.

But boy, oh boy, are they taking advantage of chances to collect their own misses. They’re No. 1 in offensive rebound rate at 47.1 and second in offensive rebounds per game (19.2).

Let’s close with one more positive. It’s still early The first two in-conference opponents will be the two best teams they’ve faced all season in Arizona and UCLA.

ASU has done a full 180 in forcing turnovers. Their current top-10 steal rate (14.6) would be a noticeable step above their previous high from the 2015-16 season (11.7).

Cal (6-2)

I still haven’t taken much of a stance on Cal or any of the top players in their rotation, even as they play one of the league’s most interesting non-conference schedules.

Part of the struggle in processing what’s been happening with this season’s roster is the mix of freshmen and seniors stepping into bigger roles for the first time. Jaelyn Brown exploded for those 30 points in the win over Arkansas. CJ West now has to be viewed as a starting center, not just a capable backup.

Four freshmen are getting consistent run. Poring over the numbers without a more granular view of the flashes from Leilani McIntosh starting at the point or Evelien Lutje Schipholt would do more harm than good. Jazlen Green shot 7-of-12 from deep across her last two games.

Cal’s first three Pac-12 weekends will be fascinating, opening with what should be two winnable games hosting the Washington schools before two games in three games against Stanford followed by a trip to Oregon. The trip to Corvallis is worth circling for Brown, who makes for a tough matchup for OSU’s bigs, and the Golden Bears can throw plenty of length at Taylor Jones.

Washington (6-2)

Early returns point to another season of forcing plenty of turnovers, getting up plenty of 3-pointers—while hopefully getting out of the low 30s this time around—and keeping opponents off the foul line.

Amber Melgoza’s usage rate approached 36 and 37 each of the past two seasons, a truly monstrous number. It’s down to 30.4 for now. Perhaps those offloaded possessions will yield positive results elsewhere.

Getting a few players to really take off as 3-point shooters is the ‘quick fix’ for the Huskies that would make it much easier to stay in games and make Melgoza’s life easier.

It’s tough to know how much to read into their two losses to date. The fourth quarter against Tulane should induce some nightmares, but you can write one poor finish off if the team proves they’ve learned from it. Hawaii was competitive for the lion’s share of its games against NC State and Texas, the former being far more impressive based on what the Longhorns have shown so far.

UW only has to play the Oregon schools once at the very end of the regular season. They should enter league play looking at all the non-Stanford games as winnable ones. Their style of play should help them match up with UCLA, and we’re due for at least one mega Melgoza-Aari McDonald showdown with two great scorers trading haymakers for 40 minutes.

Utah (5-3)

Concerns over the departures of Megan Huff and Dre Edwards were greatly exaggerated in this space at the start of the season.

This team is really good! And deep!

Utah has another excellent mix that will make them really hard to guard. They’re getting up 3-pointers with even more frequency and still shooting at a 37-plus percent clip.

Their newcomers feel a bit more knowable than some Pac-12 counterparts at this stage. Dru Gylten at the controls with this system and spacing has a lot to do with that.

Lola Pendande is a load around the basket, and defenses will have to cover a lot of ground to crowd the paint as the Utes play four around one.

As good as Utah was from beyond the arc last season, they didn’t have a versatile long-range gunner like Brynna Maxwell, who’s shooting 43.1 percent on 7.2 attempts per game.

Ola Makurat, shooting 11-of-19 from deep through eight games, rounds out a dangerous trio of forwards that can stretch the floor with Andrea Torres and Niyah Becker.

Maxwell and Kiana Moore have held the fort on the wing. Big in-state recruit Kemery Martin will add some serious depth if the ball starts going in the basket, and Daneesha Provo’s return could be right around the corner.

USC (4-3)

The Women of Troy just need to catch a break.

Aliyah Jeune, Stephanie Watts and Shalexxus Aaron figure to give this team most of its perimeter punch from the wing but each has missed time.

Aaron and freshman Madison Campbell have yet to log a minute. Jeune missed the opener; Watts has been in and out. The freshman frontcourt duo of Angel Jackson and Alissa Pili is a work in progress.

Freshman guard Endyia Rogers has stepped forward admirably soaking up a bunch of those possessions, highlighted by a 20-point outing against Texas A&M on 8-of-16 shooting. Jeune went for a cool 27 on 10-of-15 shooting against UC Riverside.

Watts’ arrival as a grad transfer from UNC was a big get. A limited version of this USC bunch hung tough with A&M in their toughest non-conference matchup. At best, they’ll approach full strength as they head across town to play UCLA in their Pac-12 opener.

Washington State (5-4)

There’s zero shame in any of WSU’s four losses to date. The most lopsided game at the Paradise Jam, a 34-point loss to Indiana, was their third game in three days.

Take another moment to think about that three-game, three-day gauntlet: Baylor, South Carolina and Indiana. That could end up being the path the eventual national champion has to slog through in the Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship game!

For WSU’s program, this season is all about proving they can make the most of Chanelle Molina and Borislava Hristova’s final season, rewarding the two standouts by finding a way to be more competitive in Pac-12 play. The search for shot-makers or another trusty playmaker around them hasn’t been promising.

Jovana Subasic, shooting 10-of-21 from deep through nine games, has been a bit of a bright spot. The junior forward has scored in double figures four times including a 17-point performance in the win at Boise State.

  • In case you missed it, here’s the previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12’ on some of the best Thanksgiving weekend matchups:

Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.