Around the Pac-12: Making sense of the middle

TEMPE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 31: Alissa Pili #35 of the USC Trojans passes against Taya Hanson #0 and Ja'Tavia Tapley #33 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during their game at Desert Financial Arena on January 31, 2020 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Trojans 76-75 in 3OT. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
TEMPE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 31: Alissa Pili #35 of the USC Trojans passes against Taya Hanson #0 and Ja'Tavia Tapley #33 of the Arizona State Sun Devils during their game at Desert Financial Arena on January 31, 2020 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Trojans 76-75 in 3OT. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /

More OT for USC and UW; big weekend ahead for the top six

Somehow, we’re already just one month away from the start of the postseason. Let’s step back and examine where teams three through six stand in jostling for those first-round byes at the Pac-12 women’s basketball conference tournament in Las Vegas.

Breaks of the schedule

Even after Friday’s loss at Arizona, UCLA is two games up on Oregon State in the loss column. These next two weekends will likely set their conference and NCAA Tournament ceilings in terms of seeding as they travel to Stanford and host the Oregons. I could still be talked into any finish one through six for the Bruins. Beating Cal and winning one against the league’s ‘big three’ should be a target. Anything more is icing on the cake.

Friday’s outcome emboldened me with my preseason take that Arizona would be the fourth-best team to come out of the Pac-12. They still have the best player; that won’t be changing. My fear with UCLA is that they’re an awesome small-ball roster on paper that won’t make enough shots.

And let’s get real with ASU. They’re ‘in the conversation’. But that Oregon weekend can’t do all the heavy lifting. At the risk of underestimating Reili Richardson and Robbi Ryan in big games yet again, Oregon’s fourth-quarter offensive failures and OSU’s miserable shooting were two huge outliers.

How’s this for drama: the Arizonas will be taking on the Oregons as UCLA looks for that big win at Stanford. The home favorites could take care of business (as OSU inches closer to the inside track for that No. 3 spot). One of those three teams may emerge with a massive win for their resume. They could all secure upset victories on the road and the regular-season crown could truly be up for grabs for three or more teams.

If you have the means, now’s a good time to pay up to stream these games.

Cal’s first win

This Washington group has just about seen it all, ranging from double-digit leads disappearing in the second half to a finish like Sunday’s.

But first, congrats to Cal for gutting out their first Pac-12 win of the season in this fashion. As fun as it can be to argue over the quality of different conferences from top to bottom, nobody wants to see a team go winless. Cal did beat Arkansas at home, where they also took Kentucky down to the wire. (Those SEC clubs are superior teams, but that should still tell us something!)

UW was playing catch up this time, trailing by 16 points with 5:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. Amber Melgoza (35 points on 14-of-24 shooting) powered a 19-3 run to tie the game near the 1:00 mark. Melgoza scored 14 points in the fourth as Cal nearly self-destructed. They turned it over five times in six possessions at one point during UW’s run.

It wasn’t all bad news for the Golden Bears. By my count, their post seals generated at least seven easy buckets in this game. They ran a popular clear-out set for CJ West to start OT with a score:

Note that screen Alaysia Styles set for Leilani McIntosh near the foul line. Those two defenders are the only potential sources of help for Darcy Rees. They switched that action seamlessly, but because their heads were turned, Jaelyn Brown just had to be sure that she got the lob over Rees. West had plenty of room to catch and finish on the other side of the rim.

ASU survives 3OTs with USC

I won’t spend time dressing this one up too much. It was a rock fight. The two teams combined for 47 turnovers and shot 26 percent from distance. Holding true to form, ASU rebounded 40-some percent of their own misses. The Sun Devils still got the win; they get to turn the page. USC did what they’d hope for by this point in the season, playing in a close game with a good team in the fourth quarter.

Richardson continued to add to her awesome reel of crunch-time scoring with 19 of her team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtimes.

Endyia Rogers dropped 30 in 49 minutes. Alissa Pili chipped in 18 points and seven rebounds and managed to play the rest of the game after picking up her fourth foul early in the first overtime.

Not to ignore the winner, I thought there were two obvious plays from that third overtime worth highlighting. Both involved Rogers’ passing. Both gave USC a temporary lead.

That one’s extra fun. Pili’s absolute dime to Kayla Overbeck is the big highlight set up by a simple, unselfish pocket pass by Rogers to set up the two on one.

Be sure to pause it as Pili releases the ball. Kiara Russell is in a position to break that up or even steal the pass. Pili had to lead Overbeck and put it on a rope. The margin for error here is zero. A majority of players hit the baseline camera, throw it right to Russell or don’t see that pass at all.

ASU is obviously hoping to key in on Rogers by this point and deny any return pass. How about this pass in that moment from fellow freshman Kyra White (who played all of six minutes in this game!) to unlock another two one one.

UCLA secures an Arizona split

I’d guess Taylor Jones is the leader in the clubhouse for most for conference Freshman of the Year honors at this point, but Charisma Osborne has to be right on her heels. The Bruins doubled up the Sun Devils in the third quarter after trailing by two at the break. Osborne scored 10 of her 15 points in the period.

One fun moment from those 10 minutes: Japreece Dean set Osborne up for a 3-pointer with a vicious hesitation.

Osborne dusted Jayde Van Hyfte with a mirror image of the same move to push UCLA’s lead to 13 in the fourth.

OSU throttles Utah in the third

There’s no question that Colorado and Utah should be viewed more as .500 Pac-12 teams this season despite the current 3-7 records. The Utes hung tough for about 25 minutes with OSU at home. The Beavers ultimately pulled away outscoring Utah by 19 in the period.

Utah just doesn’t appear to have the juice to consistently generate open looks when the chips are down. Lola Pendande knocked down a few jumpers and managed to throw a few haymakers at Taylor Jones in a battle of two really talented freshmen 5s. Kiana Moore hit some tough shots off the bench. Other than that, there wasn’t much to love.

OSU bogged a few possessions denying the next pass; the Utes weren’t able to attack that aggression with backdoor cuts. The Beavers got three straight stops and proceeded to score eight points on the ensuing three possessions to push their lead to 12. The final possession of the quarter really blew it open.

An oldie and a goodie. The pick and roll is a scoring action on this trip that happens to flow into another. There’s no easy choice for Daneesha Provo here. Trail Kat Tudor around that screen and you’re giving her a runway into the lane in a two-on-one situation with Kennedy Brown.

Shoot the gap, as she did above, and you risk getting nailed by that screen as one of the best shooters in the country steps into a practice shot. (Okay, maybe there is an easy choice—that outcome can’t happen.)

Pendande, Brown’s defender, is positioned in the lane to wall off dribble penetration. That’s all moot if the player in Provo’s position gets hung up on the screen at all. Pendande is too far away to make a difference.

  • Kim Doss has you covered with thoughts on Arizona’s wins over UCLA and USC:
  • In case you missed it, here’s the previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12′ on Oregon’s civil war weekend sweep of Oregon State:

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