Pac-12 Tournament Notebook: Day 1

TEMPE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 31: Reili Richardson #1 of the Arizona State Sun Devils drives against the USC Trojans 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: Reili Richardson #1 of the Arizona State Sun Devils drives against the USC Trojans 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) /

Cal pulls off another upset, stuns ASU

LAS VEGAS—Running through observations, notes and quotes from day one of the Pac-12 women’s basketball conference tournament, starting with Cal’s upset victory over Arizona State in the 5/12 matchup:

No. 5 Arizona State 67, No. 12 Cal 71

Senior guard Kiara Russell (knee) was sporting a brace and did not dress. Sophomore Taya Hanson started in her place for the Sun Devils.

“The thing that comes to mind is the last time we lost the first game of the Pac-12 tournament, we lost our starting point guard the last game of the regular season as well,” Charli Turner Thorne said postgame. “It’s just a tough turnaround to figure things out and have people step up and take new roles. The great news now this year is we’ll get Kiki back for NCAAs.”

ASU extended its lead in the second quarter as Cal only managed to score on one of its first 11 possessions and turned it over six times.

Cailyn Crocker was aggressive coming out of the break and earned three trips to the line. Cal dialed up some full-court pressure that really bothered ASU. The Sun Devils turned it over seven times in the third, including a 10-second violation. A steal by Jaelyn Brown set up a 3-pointer for Crocker to give Cal its first lead since the opening minute of the game.

ASU continued to struggle with the extended pressure in the fourth. This game could serve as a real launching pad for freshmen guards Crocker and Jazlen Green. Brown pushed Cal’s lead to seven on a putback after a steal by Green; Green lofted in a runner moments later to put her team up by nine.

“It’s really special to have freshmen that you can call upon and say, ‘Hey, go make a play,'” Charmin Smith said of Green and Crocker. “Those 2 have been doing it all season long… [Crocker] just has so much confidence as does [Green].”

Green (14 points in 21 minutes) fouled out with 1:45 remaining. CJ West returned to close the game after exiting late in the third with an apparent lower leg injury. Reili Richardson got two chances from the left wing at a go-ahead 3-pointer for the Sun Devils but did not convert. West corralled the second miss and sunk a pair of free throws to make it a two possession game.

“She didn’t want Jaelyn to have to get another offensive rebound,” Smith quipped, referring to Brown’s go-ahead putback in the closing seconds on Sunday at Arizona after West missed both free throws in a similar situation.

“I went to dive for the ball and then turn and pivot at the same time, so my body went one way and my knee went the other way,” West said of the injury scare. “I think it was more just fear because I’ve never had any kind of knee problems.”

Robbi Ryan missed a 3-pointer on ASU’s next possession. Crocker (20 points, 9-10 FT) iced the game with two more free throws.

Jaelyn Brown scored a game-high 22 points. The senior forward was a tough matchup for ASU—too big for the guards, too quick for their bigs.

Eboni Walker (nine rebounds in 24 minutes) was a game-high plus-12 off the bench for ASU.

“If I had to look for somebody that played at least close to their aptitude, it’d probably be Eboni,” Turner Thorne said. “She’s been playing her best basketball down the stretch for us.”

Turner Thorne took every opportunity to point to Russell’s absence and how banged up her team is at this juncture. Cal has strung together two quality wins late in the season, but ASU let one slip away against a three-win Pac-12 club and cost themselves another shot at a high-profile win in Friday’s quarterfinals against Arizona.

ASU’s chances of hosting were already all but gone. With or without Russell, it’s tough to see them stringing two NCAA Tournament wins together. Anything more is highly unlikely.

Cal will face No. 4 Arizona in the quarterfinals on Friday (2:30 PM ET, Pac-12 Network).

No. 8 Utah 72, No. 9 Washington 63

No upsets for the Huskies this time around. UW did get a 30-point performance from Amber Melgoza and a 19-9 scoring edge in the second quarter. But it wasn’t enough on Thursday as the Utes shot 48 percent from the field paced by their two freshmen, Brynna Maxwell and Lola Pendande, who scored 17 apiece.

Maxwell drilled all five of her 3-point attempts while UW shot 6-for-21 as a unit. Pendande was still a force inside even though she was limited by foul trouble to 25 minutes. She also unlocked some of their inside-out game, leading directly to open treys or drive-and-kick chances for somebody else to make a play in an advantage situation.

The Utes led by five nearing the 5:00 mark in the fourth as Pendande checked back in with four fouls. She scored on Utah’s next two possessions. Both teams went scoreless for nearly three minutes down the stretch. UW got some good looks from deep that didn’t connect.

UW sophomore T.T. Watkins crashed hard to the floor contesting a shot around the basket in the final minute. She was helped off the floor by the team training staff and did not return.

Utah will face No. 1 Oregon in the quarterfinals on Friday (5 PM ET, Pac-12 Network). The final margins in the two meetings between the teams earlier this season were 37 and 27. Roberts believes an intimidation factor, which she hopes her team has gotten over by now, dragged them down in those meetings.

“I don’t anticipate the intimidation factor. I think that’s a big thing,” Roberts said. “There’s not a lot of holes in their game, not a lot of weaknesses. I think defensively they’re long and big. … If we rebound defensively like we did in the first half against UW, then we’ll get blitzed. We have to box out and give them one opportunity and just not shoot ourselves in the foot that way.”

No. 7 USC 69, No. 10 Colorado 54

A 3-for-17 shooting night for the Buffs was made worse by back-to-back turnovers at two different points in the fourth quarter. Alissa Pili was left open and connected on two jumpers to capitalize on the first pair. USC led by 12 moments later after a 7-0 run.

Pili scored a game-high 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting. The freshman forward continued scoring in ways almost unique to her at the position—squeezing through tight windows for two slick finishes atop the challenges that come with guarding her in the post and limiting her catch-and-shoot looks.

Alyson Miura chipped in three key 3-pointers, and Aliyah Jeune returned to action after missing several games down the stretch.

“For the most part, in the last two months, we’ve played five freshman, a sophomore, and a senior,” Mark Trakh said postgame. “I’m just proud of the way they finished the season when they could have really just said, ‘Hey, you know, we have too many injuries, we don’t have enough people.'”

USC will face No. 2 UCLA in the quarterfinals on on Friday (8 PM ET, Pac-12 Network).

No. 6 Oregon State, No. 11 Washington State, 11:30 PM ET

This Oregon State opener sure looked different. A poor shooting night really hurt them in that loss to Washington. Kat Tudor, who uncharacteristically shot 32 percent from deep this season, paced her team with six 3-pointers. Mikayla Pivec added an end-of-quarter heave for good measure.

This outcome was never in doubt. OSU built up a double-digit lead late in the first and extended it to 25 at the half.

“We have had some great stretches,” Scott Rueck said postgame. “It was just good basketball. It is this team competing. And, honestly, having fun. That’s one of the things I loved about tonight. It was all in, and they just had a blast. They executed so well and played so hard. We have been building towards this. That’s what it takes to win this time of the year.”

Washington State was overmatched trying to score against OSU’s zone. Chanelle Molina returned to the starting lineup and logged 35 minutes after missing Sunday’s game with a minor injury.

Oregon State will face No. 3 Stanford in the quarterfinals on Friday (11:30 PM ET, Pac-12 Network).

  • In case you missed it, here’s the previous edition of ‘Around the Pac-12′ on UCLA’s loss to UW and Oregon clinching a share of the title with a second win over Stanford:

Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.