Around the Pac-12: UCLA sweeps, Colorado hangs tough in Corvallis

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: UCLA Bruins Chantel Horvat (0) takes a shot during the game against the USC Trojans on December 30, 2018, at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: UCLA Bruins Chantel Horvat (0) takes a shot during the game against the USC Trojans on December 30, 2018, at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Bruins win battle of unbeatens; top four teams hold homecourt

Sunday’s clash between Arizona and UCLA headlined last weekend’s Pac-12 women’s basketball slate. The Bruins first had to hold on for a 68-66 win on Friday over Arizona State. Stanford and the Oregon schools took care of business at home, though Colorado did hang tough with the Beavers in Corvallis into the fourth quarter.

More on the first full weekend of league play going team-by-team, starting with the 14-0 Bruins:

UCLA (14-0, 3-0)

Michaela Onyenwere did herself a favor on Sunday after spending most of Friday’s second quarter on the bench with two fouls. The star junior had a high bar to meet against the Wildcats: Don’t run anyone over. Doing so on the opening tip against the Sun Devils has to rank as the worst possible outcome for the opening two seconds of any UCLA game. (ASU certainly won’t complain if their opponent foul trouble luck continues.)

Japreece Dean poured in 23 points on Friday capped by the go-ahead triple and final made field goal of the game over Kiara Russell with 2:00 to play. Onyenwere picked up the slack on Sunday with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting. But Dean continues to earn her rep as one of the league’s scariest shot-makers with a pull-up 3-pointer over Helena Pueyo as part of a 10-0 UCLA run.

Chantel Horvat was a big winner coming out of Sunday’s game with a double-double off the bench as Lauryn Miller was limited by some foul trouble in each half. Horvat drilled one pick and pop 3-pointer in each half while guarded by one of Arizona’s 5s.

Arizona’s bigs were more inclined to camp out in the lane. Forcing Horvat to prove it with those looks is a reasonable approach.

Those shots can really help UCLA twist the knife with their Onyenwere-at-5 lineups. Opposing 5s won’t be very good matchups for Onyenwere. Those bigs will end up on Miller or a wing when the Bruins downsize. UCLA can poke at that approach with Dean looking to attack switches or set up that pick and pop jumper.

Charisma Osborne was rock solid in both games for the Bruins. She drove in for a floater as part of the 10-0 run and drilled two 3-pointers in transition against Arizona. Osborne’s defense in both games—working hard to front Ja’Tavia Tapley in the post on a switch, alertly chasing Robbi Ryan over screens two different times in crunch time and forcing contested pull-up twos instead, blowing up a dribble handoff to force a turnover, blocking an Aari McDonald stepback 3-pointer—was even more impressive.

Osborne drew the primary matchup with McDonald. Arizona’s star guard shot 3-of-5 at the rim in transition in the first half. McDonald shot 2-of-9 in the halfcourt, all jumpers. A few more makes may have forced UCLA to adjust, but the Bruins can come away happy with their execution against one of the nation’s most explosive guards.

Oregon State (14-0, 2-0)

Taylor Jones set a tone for OSU’s weekend with one key defensive play in each first quarter. First, fellow freshman Lola Pendande was not going to find the same level of success establishing deep position and getting a shoulder into opposing 5s to drive them back.

Emma Clarke coming off a screen to score against a much smaller Aleah Goodman, who exited Friday’s game after tweaking an ankle, looked like a matchup Colorado could attack. Jones wasn’t having it.

Jones tallied six blocks against the Buffs, including two about a minute earlier on a similar attack by Clarke. And while the freshman center won’t be setting any records with her end-to-end speed, her commitment to running the floor hard has been incredibly impressive.

Madison Washington had a big weekend off the bench starting with a personal 6-0 run late in the first half against Utah. The senior forward led a similar spurt Sunday with a jumper and offensive rebound setting up a Goodman 3-pointer as OSU separated for the first time after falling behind by six in the first.

Destiny Slocum punished the Buffs for ducking under screens with three pull-up 3-pointers, and a building block moment for Kennedy Brown pushed OSU’s lead back to double-digits in the fourth.

Brown is now shooting 12-of-44 from deep this season. Her open 3-pointers appear to be falling in the ‘We have to give up something’ bucket for OSU’s opponents. An advantage hadn’t really been created this time. Brown blending physicality and touch to strike from inside the arc gives OSU’s late-clock offense an important boost.

Stanford (13-1, 2-0)

Some dummy suggested a few weeks ago that Fran Belibi and Nadia Fingall might overlap too much offensively in tandem. Both have given the Cardinal good reason to want to post them up, after all.

Fingall & Fran have been the starters up front in each of the three games since the Texas loss. One outcome I clearly overlooked: Fingall becoming the best shooter in the conference.

Pardon the exaggeration, but the way Fingall has been letting it rip lately could truly change the way Pac-12 opponents are able to offer help in the lane. The senior forward shot 3-of-7 from deep against WSU and drilled a pull-up two-pointer early in the Washington game as Darcy Rees ran her off the line!

Lacie Hull, middle reliever, only played six minutes all weekend (ankle). The sophomore stepped in cold and made all three of her shots as Stanford pulled away.

The Cardinal faithful finally got the Kiana Williams takeover they may have expected at several points in non-conference. The run got started with an open triple out of a corner split in the third, then Williams added a runner and nifty Euro finish as UW switched to a zone. A stepback two-pointer and steal-score pushed Stanford’s lead all the way up to 14 early in the fourth.

Stanford’s help and activity was another key separator. Haley Jones and Lexie Hull fueled two runouts helping out in the post as UW looked to build on a one-point lead heading to halftime. Williams digging down and Hull jumping a passing lane led to five more points on runouts in the third.

Oregon (12-1, 2-0)

Business as usual. The Ducks cruised to two wins over the mountain schools.

They showed some 1-2-2 fullcourt pressure that successfully sped both teams up and forced a few turnovers. One could come away from their opening Pac-12 weekend inferring that the Ducks aren’t going to let anyone start to believe that this historical collection of offensive talent would slip up by becoming too squishy of a defense.

The Ducks took the Sabrina Ionescu-Satou Sabally pick and roll out for a drive around the block. Being more choosy with this action will help Sabally find more favorable matchups to attack one-on-one.

Arizona (13-1, 2-1)

Adia Barnes was quick to temper expectations for Sunday’s big matchup after Friday’s win at USC. Arizona already secured a weekend split. They won the week prior on the road at ASU. UCLA was playing at home.

Not coming away with a signature win you can take to the bank is disappointing. But that train of thought is the right place to start this time. UCLA is also the healthier team right now. News broke earlier in the week that starting wing Tee Tee Starks would miss the entire season, and starting 4 Dominique McBryde was still in a walking boot.

UCLA’s guard depth was on display Sunday while Barnes was down to two choices: Go small with Sam Thomas at the 4 or really big with Semaj Smith next to Cate Reese. The latter won’t cut it as their main look against the best teams. McBryde fills important gaps for their offense and is the natural matchup for Onyenwere.

Related: Helena Pueyo missed her three shot attempts and turned it over twice in 11 minutes on Sunday. Arizona got a big day from its freshman wing at USC with three 3-pointers and two steals. Pueyo and Thomas are probably their most reliable spot-up shooters to put around McDonald.

Arizona didn’t get the same number of devastating McDonald drives to the cup, either. USC was hopeless anytime McDonald got a catch on the move. I promise that these are four different plays:

Barnes noted postgame on Sunday that she hopes to get McBryde back this weekend as Arizona returns home to host the Oregon schools.

Washington (10-4, 2-1)

UW’s frontcourt gets dangerous with the inside-out contributions of both Darcy Rees and freshman Quay Miller. Rees made Fran Belibi look like a paperweight with a lefty post finish and shot 5-of-9 from deep in the Bay Area.

Miller stopped the bleeding early at Stanford after UW fell in a 9-0 hole with a spot-up 3-pointer then cruised in for a smooth off-hand finish moments later.

That tandem playing together gets interesting. One can expect a pretty big size and strength advantage inside against most lineups. Rees has probably already reached a point where opponents don’t want to lay back and watch her hoist open 3-pointers, making her an excellent candidate to enter the ball to Miller.

UW was one run and a few plays away from a chance at an upset against this banged-up version of the Cardinal. They didn’t do themselves any favors on Hannah Jump, who got up eight 3-pointers in 26 minutes.

Rees made some heady plays forcing turnovers by running Jump and Lexie Hull off the line. Haley Van Dyke watched two triples fall after violating the ‘When the Chips Are Down, Go Hug Hannah Jump at the Arc’ accord of 2020.

Sunday was more of a perimeter-oriented game for Amber Melgoza. She’s somewhat limited to straight-line drives without the back-to-basket scoring chances. When healthy, the Cardinal can trust Lexie Hull, Lacie Hull, DiJonai Carrington and the capable help behind them to force Melgoza into some tough twos.

Note: Read more on UW’s Friday win in the Cal section below.

Colorado (12-2, 1-2)

I braced myself for at least one blowout and hoped the reaction to it wouldn’t dismiss Colorado’s 12-0 start. Some of this can be chalked up to Friday being the first really big moment for this group against elite competition.

A 3-for-19 shooting line doesn’t reflect what Emma Clarke has shown to date. Clarke missed her first three 3-pointers and Mya Hollingshed started 0-for-3 from the field in Eugene. (Ruthy Hebard took Hollingshed to school on the block. Some hand-fighting ensued later between the two and both were benched after picking up offsetting technical fouls.)

Failing to simply take care of the ball against Oregon’s pressure and get more shots on goal was the most disappointing part of the weekend for both mountain schools.

Jaylyn Sherrod spearheaded Sunday’s bounce-back effort. The freshman point guard forced one of several early OSU turnovers and made three pull-up jumpers thanks to a few friendly bounces. Peanut Tuitele chipped in two spot-up triples to keep the offense afloat.

Starting 5 Charlotte Whittaker left the game in the opening minutes with a lower-body injury and did not return. Sunday would have been an exciting initial test to see if Whittaker could bang inside with Jones while pulling her out of the paint with her outside shooting.

Arizona State (11-4, 1-2)

Vegas needs to start setting over-unders on the number of full line changes we’ll see from Charli Turner Thorne each game. ASU made three in the first quarter on Friday!

Robbi Ryan also tweaked an ankle this weekend but returned to the UCLA game and was in the starting lineup at USC. Her 1-for-10 shooting against Arizona was a tough break for the Sun Devils. We can expect some serious clunkers from their offense, but Ryan will be more of a constant for them this season. The senior delivered against the Bruins with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Sara Bejedi appears to have a very green light and shot 3-of-11 from deep over the weekend after playing a combined 16 minutes against Creighton and Arizona. Taya Hanson hit some big shots at Pauley Pavillion—a stepback two-pointer over Natalie Chou and the kind of on-the-move 3-pointer that can really elevate ASU’s offense in a higher dosage.

ASU secured a road split but has to feel some disappointment for a second week in a row. They were underdogs playing a relatively healthy UCLA bunch. But as mentioned, Dean’s 3-pointer was the final made field goal of the game. The Sun Devils shot 0-for-7 from the field and 1-for-2 at the foul line in those closing moments. They’ll likely look back on these first two losses as the ones that got away.

Washington State (8-7, 1-2)

This weekend should have swayed any holdovers still worrying that sending extra bodies to Chanelle Molina and Borislava Hristova would make it too easy for ‘everyone else’ to hurt them. That ‘everybody’ shot 3-for-20 against Stanford.

WSU will hope they can bottle some of Sunday’s magic that they found in Berkeley. The score looked like a typo—31-6 after one and 40-8 early in the second quarter.

Chanelle Molina had a fantastic weekend, shooting 23-of-32 from the field and 7-of-12 from distance. She has turned herself into a very dangerous pull-up shooter. Most teams have probably reached a point where they’re happy to trap if it means Molina will have to give it up.

Stanford had enough of a lead that they didn’t need to take more aggressive measures; Cal was buried by an avalanche and never recovered. Borislava Hristova also had an efficient weekend, pouring in 47 points on 18-of-32 shooting.

Bobi Buckets was particularly decisive at Stanford, constantly looking to rip and go on the catch. Even her approach to attack a switch was quick, allowing her to get downhill before the defense loads up.

California (8-5, 0-2)

Amber Melgoza led the Huskies to a 67-64 road win with 31 points on 13-of-25 shooting. A through-line in Cal’s two losses: Not making life tough enough for the star players.

Seven of Melgoza’s buckets were quick attacks given the chance to play one-on-one—shooting over the top after getting an easy back-to-basket catch or attacks that weren’t met with help around the rim.

Melgoza tied it up with a spot-up 3-pointer with one minute remaining. UW attacked with a nice design to force Cal into a tough decision.

It’s tough to see the other team’s No. 1 option step into a clean look so late in a game. One could argue for switching in that scenario, which would have given Mai-Loni Henson a chance to drag Sara Anastasieska into the post. Cal may have helped then, too, leaving them just as susceptible to a kick out 3-pointer.

UW took the lead for good on the next trip down by getting Melgoza on the move.

Cal’s two biggest help defenders were already behind the play. CJ West pressed up on Darcy Rees, and while Evelien Lutje Schipholt is a good match for Melgoza’s strength, the freshman forward isn’t all that experienced in chasing scorers in dribble handoff-type actions. Ducking under is probably the right call there, but it’s tough to see coming with how the action unfolded.

The matchups got funky for Cal at times with their 4, Lutje Schipholt, spending some time on Melgoza. Henson had a big and-one drive earlier in the game attacking a big from the perimeter.

Jazlen Green had some nice moments in her first stint knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers and recovering to block Van Dyke at the rim. Leilani McIntosh had a key response earning a trip to the line in the fourth. Cal could have lost control after a McIntosh turnover. Jaelyn Brown missed around the basket and got T’d up on the ensuing possession.

McIntosh followed that up with a daring lob into CJ West that set up a go-ahead triple from Green:

Green got two solid looks in the closing seconds to take the lead or send the game to overtime.

To address the elephant in the room, the WSU score doesn’t reflect some massive gap between those two teams. West and Sara Anastasieska missed some shots early on, WSU got going in transition and their two stars made plays.

Cal probably did squander some chances to let Brown pick at a pretty substantial mismatch out of the gate, and there is certainly value in being ready to meet Molina and Hristova with some help. The game snowballed out of control. No need to think we’ll be dwelling on this result in March.

USC (8-6, 0-3)

A solid first-half scoring surge from Endyia Rogers and another in the second by Aliyah Jeune were erased by a nightmarish string of turnovers Friday against Arizona. Approaching the 3:00 mark in the third, USC was plus-eight in turnover margin. They turned it over 12 times in the final 13 minutes. McDonald swiped a live dribble three different times in the fourth quarter alone.

USC skipped straight ahead to that stage against ASU, turning it over nine times in the first. The Sun Devils rode an 18-0 run into the second quarter and never looked back.

Alissa Pili had another big scoring performance: 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go with 10 free throw attempts, all in the second half.

An update from Mark Trakh after Friday’s game on UNC transfer Stephanie Watts, who hasn’t played since Nov. 29: “It’s probably not going to be in the near future.”

Utah (7-7, 0-3)

Utah nearly avoided disaster in Corvallis in the second quarter. Their response after cutting the lead to nine was not ideal: missed layup, travel, travel, charge. OSU took a 13-point lead into the break and poured it on with an 11-0 run to start the third.

The Utes borrowed Louisville’s defensive strategy against the Ducks slotting a forward (Andrea Torres) onto Minyon Moore. One thing Oregon did to attack it: Using Moore as a screener for Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu pulled up for two jumpers over Torres in the first:

A big part of Louisville’s success also came down to that forward’s effectiveness helping and clogging up the lane. Torres didn’t shift out of that mode quickly enough after a late switch onto Ionescu in the third.

Ionescu connected with Moore moments later rolling to the rim for a floater before Torres could slide back in front to contest the shot.

One question worth asking about that strategy: Should Louisville have sat on it for a potential NCAA Tournament matchup? Somebody on Oregon’s staff probably expected to see that look at some point. Having a capable defense (read: not Utah at this point in time) throw it at you is a different story.

Next week’s appointment viewing

Oregon State at Arizona (Jan. 10, 10 PM ET, Pac-12 Network)

Oregon at Arizona (Jan. 12, 2 PM ET, Pac-12 Network)

  • In case you missed it, here’s the previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12’ on the four regional Pac-12 openers (Arizona and Arizona State, UCLA and USC, UW and WSU, Utah and Colorado):

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