Around the Pac-12: UCLA upset, Oregon clinches share of title

LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 14: Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the Oregon Ducks moves the ball up the court in the fourth quarter against Long Beach State at Walter Pyramid on December 14, 2019 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 14: Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the Oregon Ducks moves the ball up the court in the fourth quarter against Long Beach State at Walter Pyramid on December 14, 2019 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images) /

One week to Vegas

We’ve reached the final weekend of the Pac-12 women’s basketball regular season schedule. The top four seeds for the conference tournament (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona) are set. Here’s your weekly look back at what’s been happening on the floor, this time locking in on two big games at Maples and an upset in Seattle.

Oregon 74, Stanford 66

Let’s start with Oregon’s defense. They’ve allowed 83.6 points per 100 possessions to date per Her Hoops Stats, good for first in the Pac-12 and 44th nationally. Their national rank in previous seasons: 191st, 136th and 235th.

Oregon’s collective length in their zone defense has probably been a little underrated throughout, so long as they’re active, talking and taking care of business on the glass. While matched up early on Monday, they did some switching, which Stanford wasn’t ready to attack.

Things got dicey for Stanford offensively. I’ve mentioned concerns earlier about what their zone offense would look like against the best teams that defend that way (with Oregon very much in mind). Haley Jones and DiJonai Carrington were dearly missed either way. But it’s hard to imagine a comeback for either at this point in the season.

Kiana Williams will be carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders. She’s their only guard quick and skilled enough to really burn bigs off the bounce to score and send a defense into scramble mode. Without consistent probing from Williams, force-feeding the post—while not having a dominant low-block scorer—and tough twos off the bounce are all that’s left.

Williams did manage to attack and loft in a lefty floater after Ruthy Hebard switched onto her. Moments later, Williams pulled a triple over Erin Boley. Those are extremely tough shots to live on, but Williams is capable, and Stanford won’t muster enough offense without asking her to let it rip.

Oregon only managed eight offensive rebounds in this game but Satou Sabally and Sabrina Ionescu combined for three putbacks. That duo also scored once apiece via wide open point-blank layups on baseline out of bounds sets.

The Ducks have become so tough to challenge because you aren’t just battling the high-powered offense. They attack you in so many different areas—defending at a higher level, selective pressure to force some turnovers, mixing man and zone and constantly attacking the offensive glass. This possession coming out of the first media timeout illustrates that uphill climb any opponent is facing.

Stanford switches a Ionescu-Erin Boley pick and pop. No creases, no immediate shot surrendered.

Maya Dodson has initially grappled enough with Hebard to discourage an entry on the left side and has Nadia Fingall laying off Minyon Moore, ready to pounce as the help if Hebard makes a move to score.

Ionescu gets the ball back with seven on the shot clock. She has picked up her dribble. Fingall is in the middle of the lane to meet Hebard on the roll. Stanford has funneled the ball to Moore, the one player they’ve been conceding open look to, for a jumper. Moore misses. Lexie Hull boxes Sabally out.

A win for the defense!

But because Hebard beat Dodson, who was immediately yanked, for that rebound, all that good work was undone.

Funny enough, Hebard had a very quiet day by her standards, finishing with four points, two shot attempts and that lone offensive rebound in 30 minutes. Oregon had a fun stretch with the Sabally-at-center lineups we’ve seen at different points this season. And this is where she can really get mean. She went right through Lexie Hull on a drive and beat Lacie Hull backdoor less than a minute later.

Look at Oregon’s spacing on both trips. Four 3-point shooters are stationed around the arc both times. You have to pick your poison at that point because Sabally is quick enough to burn bigs and attacking with enough force to score over smalls.

Fingall started the game on Moore, similar to Louisville’s approach in their win over the Ducks back in November. Oregon’s response: here’s Taylor Chavez and Jaz Shelley.

Now who can you leave open? Any extra attention shifted toward the Ionescu-Hebard pick and roll leaves one of Sabally (33.9 percent), Boley (43.2 percent) Chavez (43.2 percent) or Shelley (43.4 percent) open for a triple.

Lexie Hull drilled three 3-pointers in the fourth, and the Cardinal got within nine two different times near the 3:00 mark. Sabally had taken a seat a few minutes earlier after picking up a fourth foul but pushed the lead back to 11 with a putback layup.

Ionescu finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, tallying her 26th triple-double hours after speaking at Kobe Bryant’s memorial service, all while battling the flu. The Ducks improved to 15-1 in conference play and 26-2 overall. They’ll clinch the regular season crown outright with one win this weekend as they host the Washington schools.

UCLA 68, Washington 74

The Bruins could easily say they should be two wins away from wrapping the regular season with just two losses. General sloppiness and some poor shooting performances from their big names were too much to overcome twice against the Washington schools.

Natalie Chou’s absence didn’t help matters. This was the first string of back-to-back stinkers from Michaela Onyenwere all season: 1-for-11 at WSU and 3-for-13 at UW. Japreece Dean didn’t fare much better than her co-star (3-for-12, 4-for-16). Charisma Osborne really carried them all weekend with 32 points and 11 rebounds on Friday and another double-double (23 and 10) on Sunday.

But let’s take the time to give Amber Melgoza (22 points, 8-17 FG, five assists) some shine. Her fingerprints were all over this game. We know about the scoring prowess. She also made plays as a passer to set her teammates up for open looks. UCLA’s guards are too small to handle Melgoza one-on-one inside.

Dean, the smallest of that group, admittedly doesn’t make for the best example. Fast-forward to the second half then, where Melgoza set up three UW 3-pointers out of the post.

Melgoza also got the job done as a pick and roll creator. Her strength paved the way for two impressive finishes over Onyenwere and Lauryn Miller.

Again, Melgoza capitalized on the attention she draws by setting up her teammates. She dropped in a lob to Quay Miller, who had wisely pinned her defender when the Bruins switched.

And when UCLA put two on the ball in the second half hoping to get the ball out of her hands and force a tough, long pass, Melgoza delivered two strikes.

With the outcome and opponent in mind, this ranks right up there as one of the best individual performances we’ve seen in Pac-12 play this season.

Oregon State 60, Stanford 63

Stanford handed Oregon State an eighth Pac-12 loss despite a big push in the fourth quarter. Maya Dodson drew her first start of the season. The Cardinal went to her on the game’s opening possessions and she converted twice over Taylor Jones.

Oregon State’s freshman center dropped in a smooth lefty hook right over Dodson on OSU’s first possession.

How’s this for a battle inside? Both players have an enormous impact contesting and deterring shots around the basket with their length while flashing the touch to score over each other with their off-hand!

Jones sat on that sweeping lefty drive and blocked Dodson’s shot later in the half.

Overall, Dodson shot 3-for-6 in the post against Jones; Jones scored in that lone one-on-one post sequence against Dodson. Though Dodson didn’t convert all of them, she showed us a few more moves she can get to working from that right block—a right shoulder turnaround jumper and a righty hook—to complement that lefty face-up drive.

Jones added a second big stop of Dodson late in the fourth, ultimately setting up a Kat Tudor triple that got the Beavers within three:

OSU was really working this pick and roll on the right side of the floor. With Stanford pushing them toward the sideline, Destiny Slocum was able to ‘snake’ back toward the middle and tap into her abilities as a huge pull-up threat.

Hitting that shot really commands the attention of that Stanford big. The defender in that spot is usually content to allow that shot while focusing more on protecting the paint and covering up the screener rolling to the rim. Later in the game, we saw how both Slocum and Mikayla Pivec were able to command said attention, essentially forcing a switch, setting Jones up to feast as she presents a big target and looks to finish over a much smaller player.

Slocum was able to further poke at Stanford’s approach. Giving the ball up and bolting behind the arc can set up relocation 3-pointers.

Opposing bigs are more prone to small lapses. They don’t get the same reps chasing, monitoring, closing out to guards on the perimeter. Slocum popping back out with a little more zeal can set up the drive-and-kick sequences her team has dearly missed at times to set up its more dependent 3-point threats.

To that point, Tudor went 1-for-4 in this game with that lone make in the closing seconds. Aleah Goodman didn’t get up a single shot attempt in 17 minutes (and had just two in 32 minutes against UCLA). Slocum, Jones and Pivec (3-for-13 against Stanford) can’t afford to have a poor shooting night when opponents lock in on their spot-up threats.

Kiana Williams (24 points, 9-19 FG, zero turnovers in 40 minutes) answered the call with two key jumpers late in the fourth. She was the only Cardinal in double figures. Anna Wilson and Alyssa Jerome chipped in with two 3-pointers apiece (the only non-Williams triples of the evening).

Games to watch

Friday, February 28: Stanford at Arizona, 8 PM ET, Pac-12 Network

Sunday, March 1: Stanford at Arizona State, 2 PM ET, Pac-12 Network

  • In case you missed it, here’s the previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12′ on Stanford’s win at the buzzer over Colorado and UCLA’s OT win over Oregon State:

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