Freshmen step up in opening weekend of Pac-12 play

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 29: Arizona Wildcats guard Helena Pueyo (13) shoots a three point shot during a college women's basketball game between UC Riverside Highlanders and Arizona Wildcats on November 29, 2019, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ.(Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 29: Arizona Wildcats guard Helena Pueyo (13) shoots a three point shot during a college women's basketball game between UC Riverside Highlanders and Arizona Wildcats on November 29, 2019, at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ.(Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Takeaways from week one? The kids are all right

The three highest-ranked Pac-12 teams have yet to open the conference season, but there was plenty of drama when eight of the league’s members took the court in their rivalry games on Sunday. Blow-outs, physical battles to the end and upsets. There was something for everyone. One unifying theme was the contributions made by freshmen in every game.

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While the returning stars deservedly get most of the press, the Pac-12 newcomers are having major impacts on their teams. On Sunday, there were significant contributions made by freshmen in every game. It bodes well for the future of the conference after the current crop of leaders graduate.

Colorado Buffaloes d. Utah Utes 80-70

Perhaps the biggest impact among the league’s freshmen is being made by Utah’s Lola Pendande. The Utes lost a lot of production to graduation and transfer in the off-season, but the 6-foot-4 forward from Spain has stepped in to fill the gaps. It’s getting her noticed around the world.

Pendande went for 20 in her team’s loss to the Colorado Buffaloes on Sunday. She went 9-for-11 from the floor. None of that was new, either. She has scored in double digits in nine of her team’s 12 games this season and is hitting 67.3 percent of her shots.

Across the court, the Buffs had their own freshman showing her stuff. Jaylyn Sherrod was just three rebounds short of the triple-double in her first Pac-12 game. Sherrod went off for 19 points and 10 assists, then added seven rebounds and two steals for good measure.

Colorado was picked last in the league by both the media and the coaches, but have run out to a 12-0 start, their first since the 2011-12 season. Sherrod has been a big part of that, averaging 10.1 points and 5.7 assists per game. This week, it was enough to garner the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award and give her team a strong start in conference play.

No. 18 Arizona Wildcats d. Arizona State Sun Devils 58-53

In what was a low-scoring, physical affair, Arizona State relied heavily on top freshman Eboni Walker in the match-up against Arizona. Walker led the Sun Devils in scoring with 12 points, hitting five of her six shots while throwing in eight rebounds and a steal. She was one of only two of ASU’s players to hit the double-digit scoring threshold.

“We had Eboni,” ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We had one little bright spot, but other than that, I mean across the board, nobody. Just couldn’t get anybody else going.”

As for their rival, the Wildcats leaned on Spanish guard Helena Pueyo for significant playing time due to foul trouble. Like Pendande, Pueyo is a star in Spain’s national program. Both have shown why since landing in the Pac-12.

Arizona’s all-everything guard Aari McDonald played only 29 minutes against ASU due to fouls, leaving the game for good with 1:25 left to go. Needing to fill the gap, Arizona coach Adia Barnes called on Pueyo to play 32 minutes in her first Pac-12 game.

Pueyo averages 45 percent from beyond the arc, but she didn’t have her usual shooting prowess going against the Sun Devils. She contributed just six points and hit only one of her five 3-point shots, but the rest of her game was crucial for Arizona. She led the team with five assists while adding five rebounds, a block and a steal.

Before the game, Pueyo said she expected Pac-12 play to be “very, very, very hard.” Her first taste definitely was, but it didn’t prove to be insurmountable for the 6-foot guard.

No. 10 UCLA Bruins d. USC Trojans 83-59

The Women of Troy suffered a great deal of turnover in the off-season. Transfers and graduation decimated the roster. As a result, freshmen have gotten their opportunities. Forward Alissa Pili has taken full advantage.

The native of Anchorage, Alaska has only scored in single digits four times this season. Against the Bruins, she went off for 28–her second time to break 20 points in the last four games. She leads USC in scoring with 12.4 ppg followed closely by fellow freshman Endyia Rogers at 10.9.

It wasn’t enough to overcome an experienced UCLA team with upperclassmen like Michaela Onyenwere and Japreece Dean or the Bruins’ own freshman, Charisma Osborne. The 5-foot-9 guard had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the home team in their victory over their cross-town rivals.

Washington Huskies d. Washington State Cougars 65-56

The Cougars played an insanely difficult non-conference schedule, but it didn’t prepare them for their rivalry game against the Huskies. In what could be considered a mild upset simply because it was played in Pullman, Washington got the head start on Pac-12 competition with the 1-0 start.

Freshman center Ali Bamberger stepped up in her first conference contest. Bamberger was able to get away from her defender on the inside and knock down open jump shots when the opportunity arose. She went 3-for-4 from the field including a 3-pointer that gave the Huskies a 12-point lead late in the third quarter.

While Amber Melgoza is the focal point of the Washington offense, knowing that they have Bamberger and sophomore Darcy Rees to give them an inside presence will help take some of the pressure off their senior guard. The Huskies will need that as the competition gets tougher.

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