Around the Pac-12: Opening weekend observations

SEATTLE, WA - FEBRUARY 07: Arizona Wildcats head coach Adia Barnes communicates with Arizona Wildcats guard Aarion McDonald (2) during a college basketball game between the Arizona Wildcats against the Washington Huskies on February 07, 2019, at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - FEBRUARY 07: Arizona Wildcats head coach Adia Barnes communicates with Arizona Wildcats guard Aarion McDonald (2) during a college basketball game between the Arizona Wildcats against the Washington Huskies on February 07, 2019, at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Colorado improves to 12-0; Arizona holds on late in Tempe

Before the calendar turns, some thoughts on the four Pac-12 women’s basketball league openers from over the weekend:

Colorado 80, Utah 70

I’ll be busy eating my words on New Year’s Eve. The Buffs are 12-0. Seeing what they’re getting from some of their youngsters, this team looks much more like a legitimate mid-tier team rather than a last-place finisher.

Utah got crushed in transition—after makes, after misses, with drives right down the gut and open 3-pointers. Jaylyn Sherrod drove most of that success for the Buffs. Sherrod and the starting frontcourt of Charlotte Whittaker and Mya Hollingshed each contributed a made triple in the opening minutes as Colorado jumped out to a 12-point lead.

Sherrod, named Pac-12 freshman of the week, finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists. Her afternoon also included some impressive work on closeouts, coming out of nowhere to chase down loose balls and two key pull-up jumpers in the fourth quarter when the Buffs actually had to, um, work for a bucket with less than 20 on the shot clock.

One of Utah’s freshmen was equally impressive on Sunday. The Buffs were toast anytime Lola Pendande got a touch inside. Her seven stocks in 30 minutes carry even more weight in hindsight; this Utah defense really needs an anchor that will make opposing ball-handlers think twice.

Dru Gylten handled Colorado’s various pick and roll coverages with ease. The non-Gylten minutes were telling; 27 wasn’t enough on this day. Without a significant development from one of their young guards, the Utes will need to squeeze everything they can out of their starting point guard.

JR Payne played five bigs on Sunday, but Hollingshed was the constant they need her to be: 17 points, 9 rebounds and 3 stocks in 37 minutes.

Colorado’s defense flashed its length and connectivity against an offense that can really spread things out. Peanut Tuitele closed the game at the 5 and came up with one of the few stops of Pendande in the post.

Related: Emma Clarke is becoming a really dangerous player on both ends. Watch Clarke start the possession on Gylten then rotate down in time to get her body in front of Pendande.

Clarke forces a miss with her length and positioning. Having a player that long and active is a luxury. Pendande is shrugging off most perimeter players she meets in those situations.

Kiana Moore, a very good straight-line driver, ran into the Clarke-Hollingshed thicket of arms.

‘Is Colorado for real?’ is a hot question in Pac-12 land.

Before we answer it definitively, I’ll propose one resolution. Don’t fall for the trap to dismiss the Buffs if they get roughed up next weekend in Oregon. As Stanford would tell you, that can happen to anyone.

Washington 65, Washington State 56

Juco transfer Rita Pleskevich had her biggest game as a Husky to date. She scored seven of her 12 points in the opening minutes and played a season-high 31 minutes.

Sprinkling in this kind of performance from Pleskevich could get UW to an interesting point offensively. Two of Pleskevich, Missy Peterson and Haley Van Dyke (another wing trending in the right direction in year two) could provide the requisite amount of 3-point shooting to help Amber Melgoza spend more time getting all the way to the basket.

Melgoza doing just that tilted the second half in UW’s favor. She got going downhill to go right at WSU big Jovana Subasic three different times for a layup and two trips to the foul line.

Borislava Hristova had a chance to get her team within four approaching the 2:00 mark with a good look from deep. Melgoza answered with one of her drives on Subasic.

Darcy Rees collected three timely offensive rebounds in the second half. With UW leading by six coming out of a timeout with 1:07 to play and two on the shot clock, Rees collected her own miss. Melgoza answered with another strong drive.

WSU won’t win many games with six turnovers by Chanelle Molina and a 5-of-15 shooting day for Hristova. The good news: Subasic is really helping their offense as a stretch big, flashing some pick and pop chemistry with both stars.

But Hristova’s performance in a winnable game was particularly dissatisfying. She spent too much time standing around as WSU attempted to make one last push. Is it too much to ask to hope Bobi Buckets has a stretch this season where she expects to get 30 shots up? What’s the worst that could happen?

Arizona 58, Arizona State 53

The Sun Devils were done in by 30 percent shooting (2-of-18 from distance) as they got as much help as one could possibly hope for against Arizona. The Wildcats were down two starters, and foul trouble in both halves limited Aari McDonald to just 28 minutes.

Arizona was plus-two in the non-McDonald first-half minutes. Freshman Helena Pueyo kept them afloat with a layup and dime to Cate Reese rolling to the rim.

ASU capitalized in the fourth, going on an immediate 6-0 spurt as McDonald sat with four fouls. The star guard fouled out less than a minute later.

The Wildcats needed to hold onto a three-point lead with 1:25 to play. An ASU steal and score cut the lead down to one.

Sam Thomas took over from there. She got to the line and made both free throws on the ensuing possession. ASU looked to tie the game with an ‘Elevator’ action to set Taya Hanson up for a 3-pointer.

Thomas reacted in time to switch onto Hanson, force a tougher attempt and block the shot!

ASU was forced to play the foul game from there. Thomas’ 2-of-4 shooting at the line from that point was enough to carry Arizona home.

I’ll be stunned if ASU doesn’t make a lineup change in the near future. They have too many redundancies in the current group, and three of their four most dangerous offensive threats (Iris Mbulito, Taya Hanson, Jamie Ruden) came off the bench.

Sunday was an awesome display of toughness from Cate Reese. She’s rail-thin. Post-ups will probably always be an uphill climb. Opponents play physical hoping to wear her down. Her willingness to do the dirty work hasn’t waned, and the sophomore trusted her skill level to respond with key baskets in each half.

Arizona is the better team. The result shouldn’t be surprising in a vacuum. But considering how it unfolded, ASU dropped the ball given a chance to secure a signature win.

USC 59, UCLA 83

The Battle for L.A. went more according to plan. Michaela Onyenwere was tied with the Women of Troy at one point in the first half.

The floodgates opened in the second as the Bruins strung a few stops together and made their open 3-pointers.

The first half gave us a glimpse at the devastating Japreece Dean-Onyenwere pick and roll combination surrounded by three capable shooters.

In the latest edition of ‘UCLA Offensive Rebounding Watch’, the Bruins are collecting 38.7 percent of their own misses per Her Hoop Stats, ranking in the 90th percentile nationally. Freshman guard Charisma Osborne collected six of ‘em on Sunday.

Freshman forward Alissa Pili was a huge bright spot for USC, finishing with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists. Pili is already doing a lot of the things you’d hope for from a shooting 4. She’s taking the open triples, attacking off the bounce, making high-low reads and seeking out opportunities to drag her matchup down into the post.

Next week’s appointment viewing

Arizona at UCLA (Jan. 5, 3 PM ET, Pac-12 Network)

  • In case you missed it, here’s the previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12’ on Stanford’s loss in Austin and UCLA’s win at Indiana:

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