October 25, 2023 

2023-24 Pac-12 preview

One more time for the Pac-12, with title contenders all over

One last time for west coast basketball, for the legacy of star players, innovative coaches and for posterity. The final season of the Pac-12 is bound to be a very competitive one from top to bottom, one that will be not only a swan song, but a form of atonement for the underwhelming finish of a season ago when seven teams got into the NCAA brackets and no one made it to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2015.

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While Utah and Colorado broke some new ground in advancing to the Sweet 16 along with UCLA, Stanford made an early exit on its home court, USC and Washington State lost in the first round, Oregon settled for the WNIT and Oregon State stayed home.

But six months and a whole lot of movement through the transfer portal later – the Pac-12 is reloading. Ten of the 15 players on the 2023 All-Conference team have returned, including the league’s Player of the Year in Utah’s Alissa Pili and Defensive Player of the Year in Stanford’s Cameron Brink. Eight of the league’s top 15 scorers are back, as are 12 of the top 15 rebounders.

Defending regular season champion Utah, picked to win the league in preseason polls, has all five starters back. Conference tournament champion Washington has four of five, as does Colorado, UCLA and Stanford. Oregon State and Washington look to be in a position to push the leaders as well.

“I just think people have gotten stronger,” said Washington State coach Kamie Ethridge. “All the way through the conference there is great depth. I think it’s going to be impossible for anybody to get through this unbeaten.”

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, for all of her program’s championships, would tell you it’s always like this. “The Pac-12 has, for as long as I can remember, always been extremely strong and deep, and this year is no different,” VanDerveer said. “You can’t look and think that you’re going to get a win against any team. You’re going to have to play the game, which is great. No one can take anyone for granted, and that’s a great situation to be in.”

Let’s go team by team in the Pac-12 one more time.

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Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | Stanford | UCLA | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State


2022–23 season: 22–10, 11–7, tied for 4th in Pac-12; NCAA Tournament

Arizona’s Esmery Martinez. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra/The Next)

New plotlines: The transfer portal was not particularly kind to the Wildcats last spring with five players leaving Tucson, including frontline talent such as Madison Conner, Paris Clark, Lauren Fields and Lauren Ware.

How their Pac-12 story will end: In the middle of the Pac. The Wildcats have five returning players and will be led by returning starters Esmery Martinez and Helena Pueyo, who both turned down overseas professional contracts to return for a final season. They look like a team that will be battling in the heart of this conference for postseason position. A season-ending injury to top recruit Montanya Dew makes Arizona even thinner in the post than they will already be. Right now, Adia Barnes’ team has just 10 healthy players. It’s step-up time for returning reserve Maya Nnaji, transfer Isis Beh and potential starting point guards Courtney Blakely and Jada WIlliams.

Parting thought: “I think our greatest challenge is going to be just our youth and just the experience. The fact of the matter is that we’re going to play a lot of young players. We have some really good super seniors, but mixing in so many new players and the core being young.” – Head coach Adia Barnes.

Arizona State

2022–23 season: 8-20, 1-17, 12th in Pac-12

New plotlines: The Sun Devils, in their second season under Natasha Adair and voted to finish last in the Pac-12, will be looking to improve on last season’s last place finish in the conference standings. Last season’s 6-1 start out the gate was marred by injuries and inexperience throughout the season. Adding former Cal product Jaylyn Brown, will bring experience on the perimeter, along with Maggie Besselink from Holy Cross, who missed last season with an injury, and and Kadidia Toure from James Madison will bulk out the roster.

How their Pac-12 story will end: Likely, with a long season. It will be a big uphill climb for the Sun Devils again this season with the news that senior Ty Skinner, the Pac-12’s second-leading scorer in 2022-23, will miss the season with a preseason ACL injury. She averaged 19.3 points a game for them last season. Interestingly, Adair said her team is as healthy as it’s been since she arrived in Tempe and she is looking forward to the up-tempo style she couldn’t implement last season with a short bench. Guards Trayanna Crisp, Treasure Hunt and veteran Jaddan Simmons, who ranked in the top 20 nationally in minutes played last season, will have to carry the load on both ends of the floor.

Parting thought: “We are going into the gym wanting to get better every day. We’re coming. That’s all I want to say. We’re coming.” – Trayanna Crisp


2022–23 season: 13-17, 4-14, tied for 7th in Pac-12

New plotlines: The team’s leading scorer over her first two seasons, Jayda Curry, was one of the biggest departures in the portal last spring when she went to Louisville. But Charmin Smith was able to bring in four transfers – all of whom have logged more than 1,000 minutes at their previous schools – including guard Martá Suarez from Tennessee, McKayla Williams from Gonzaga and guard Iona Krimili from San Francisco. With the addition of two freshmen, Smith has six new players to integrate to start the season in a program looking to turn the corner.

How their Pac-12 story will end: With some improvement. With just 10 conference wins over the past four seasons, the Bears have to hope that a few teams who have also seen their top players transfer out, come back to the pack. Leilani McIntosh was only one of only two players in the Pac-12 to average at least 47% from the field, 39% from deep and finish in the top 10 in assists (3.7 APG). Smith said this team has the best chemistry of any team since she arrived at Cal and she is looking at a versatile team with multiple ball-handlers and a plethora of shooters.

Parting thought: “We can really just do it all right now, and I’m excited about the pieces that we’ve added and I’m excited about the way the returners have continued to develop and grow. Now it’s our job to figure out how it all fits together.” – Head coach Charmin Smith

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2022–23 season: 25-9, 13-5, 3rd in Pac-12; NCAA Tournament

Jaylyn Sherrod. (Photo credit: Colorado Women’s Basketball/Twitter)

New plotlines: The Buffaloes are in a different position than they have ever been in during J.R. Payne’s tenure, coming off a 25-win season and the expectations have never been higher. Shelomi Sanders, the daughter of football coach Deion Sanders will be a compelling addition to a team that is returning with the mainstays of its lineup intact, with four of five starters back.

How their Pac-12 story will end: With momentum. The schedule will start with a bang with a matchup against defending champion LSU in Las Vegas on November 6. The Buffaloes were the last team standing in the Pac-12 last spring and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in more than two decades. And now Colorado wants more – including a shot at the last Pac-12 title – with the core of its roster back. Fifth-year senior Jaylyn Sherrod’s return means that the Buffs have one of the most experienced floor leaders and distributors in the country, not to mention one of its best perimeter defenders. Fellow fifth-year forward Quay Miller, the team’s leading scorer last season, will be flanked by Aaronette Vonleah, who shot 58.5 percent from the field last season, inside. Kindyl Wetta and Frida Formann, who was the Buffs’ most consistent scorer in the NCAA Tournament, are the perimeter threats. Colorado will be in the title mix all season.

Parting thought: “We like to use the phrase the standard is the standard, and the standard for us is striving to be excellent every day…Our goal is just to be great. So a lot of people will ask me, how far do you want to go this year? What are your team goals? Our goal is to be great today and then tomorrow we have the same goal.” – Head coach JR Payne

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2022–23 season: 20-15, 7-11, tied for 6th in Pac-12; NIT

New plotlines: The Ducks’ roster — at least at the start of the season — will be noteworthy for who is not there. Gone (thanks to the transfer portal) are the starting backcourt tandem of Te-Hina Paopao and Endyia Rogers. Oregon is integrating nine new players between transfers and incoming freshmen, and that will mean a lot of teaching in the early part of the season.

How their Pac-12 story will end: Closer to the middle than Kelly Graves, who is starting his 10th season in Eugene, would like to be. Leaning heavily on a pair of talented sophomores in Grace Vanslooten, whom Graves compares to Larry Bird, and Chance Gray, Oregon will be working hard to stay in the upper half of the conference race, considering the ascent of teams like Washington State, Colorado and USC. Phillipina Kyei, who was 15th in the NCAA in rebounding while playing just 20 minutes a game, has the chance to become one of the top post players in the Pac-12 and five transfers will need to integrate into the lineup. Graves said that this team will be relying more on defense than in previous seasons, acknowledging that the Ducks will have to find a way to win games by scoring in the 60s or 70s. This is a team that had a chance to build early chemistry with an overseas trip in the summer.

Parting thought: “I’m an offensive coach. Always have been. Spending more time on the defensive end this year than ever. I think part of that is we may not be quite as talented offensively as we have been in the past.” – Head coach Kelly Graves

Oregon State

2022–23 season: 13-18, 4-14, tied for 7th in the Pac-12;

New plotlines: Scott Rueck, in his 14th year in Corvallis, considers this season a reset on the culture and success that the program has experienced for most of the last decade. With seven returners and six newcomers, the big offseason moves included importing a post game with a pair of intraconference transfers – 6’7 Sela Heide from Cal and 6’5 Kelsey Rees from Utah.

How their Pac-12 story will end: With a surprise. Oregon State, like Washington State, doesn’t know where it will be a year from now. But the Beavers are anxious to prove that they belong firmly in the top half of the conference after last year’s lackluster season. With Raegan Beers back for a sophomore season that should build on her stellar freshman campaign, Timea Gardner’s full time return to the floor after last season’s scary episode with a blood clot — she remains the program’s highest-rated recruit ever — and the steady floor leadership of Talia von Oelhoffen, the Beavers are in a position to be a dark horse contender this season.

Parting thought: “Everything has been built off relationships, and to have all of that stripped away during the pandemic — we lost a couple staff members during it. We had so much transition. We had transfers really for the first time, in number anyway, and that hurt us. It did set us back. Now it’s just okay, rebuild. So I felt like that was like an injury. I felt like we had an injury and we’re rehabbing, and we’re going through these trials and tribulations again to find our way and to remember who we are as a program.” – Head coach Scott Rueck

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2022–23 season: 29-6, 15-3, 2nd in the Pac-12; NCAA Tournament, fell to Mississippi in the second round

Hannah Jump. (Photo credit: Stanford women’s basketball/Twitter)

New plotlines: The news that three players were transferring out of Tara VanDerveer’s program – including 2022 No. 1 recruit in Lauren Betts (UCLA) – sent shockwaves across the sport. And VanDerveer decided to stand pat on her roster, not adding any transfers and hoping that a tighter rotation will allow players to flourish and minimize the unhappiness that resulted last season.

How their Pac-12 story will end: With another title run. UCLA and Utah may be the big names of the moment in the conference, but in the final Pac-12 season, it’s hard not to envision the Cardinal competing for a final title. Stanford returns four of five starters, minus All-American Haley Jones, and has experience with fifth-year senior Hannah Jump and All-American Cameron Brink, who got great 3 on 3 experience this summer with USA Basketball, along with returning starting point guard Talana Lepolo and junior Kiki Iriafen. Wing Courtney Ogden, the No. 10 recruit in the country, will likely play a big role quickly.

Parting thought: “As a coach, if there are kudos when we do well, then if we don’t do as well as we should, then I have to take responsibility for that. And when I look at (last season) with hindsight, there were probably a lot of things I needed to do differently. I think when you do have 15 players, maybe it’s really defining roles better, understanding leadership better, teaching things, really communicating better with the team. Chiney Ogwumike‘s dad told me this, every disappointment is a blessing. Last year was a disappointment. Our team has really moved on in a big way from that. And our culture and the strength of our program, the sisterhood is really shining, and we want that to shine.” – Head coach Tara VanDerveer


2022–23 season: 27-10, 11-7, tied for 4th in Pac-12; NCAA Tournament

UCLA freshman <a rel=
UCLA freshman Kiki Rice attempts a 3-pointer in a Pac-12 Tournament game against Stanford at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 3, 2023. (Photo credit: Powers Imagery)

New plotlines: The Bruins pulled off one of the biggest moves in the transfer portal when they got 6’7 Lauren Betts, the 2022 No. 1 recruit in the country, after Betts decided to leave Stanford. Betts, a sophomore, immediately makes UCLA a more formidable team inside, adding size and depth to Cori Close’s post rotation.

How their Pac-12 story will end: Along with Utah, UCLA is considered a league championship favorite with talent, depth and size. The return of fifth-year senior guard Charisma Osborne, sophomores Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones and the addition of Betts is raising expectations as high as they have been in years.. With eight players returning from last season — including experienced players like Emily Bessoir, Gabriela Jaquez and Camryn Brown — Close can hit the ground running. Getting Angela Dugalic back from last season’s knee injury also adds to a full cupboard. UCLA will need to up the scoring to truly contend through a tough Pac-12 schedule, but will be one of the league’s most feared defensive matchups with Osborne and Rice along with Betts altering shots inside.

Parting thought: “Maybe for the first time in my time at UCLA, we have such a great mix of not only talent sets and versatility but also age and experience, and so I think we have a really good mix of youth and enthusiasm that are really continuing to grow but also some experience and versatility on that front.” – Head coach Cori Close.

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2022–23 season: 21-10, 11-7, tied for 4th in Pac-12; NCAA Tournament

New plotlines: There is a lot new about the Trojans this year, including five transfers, the No. 1 recruit in the country in Juju Watkins and the potential debut of Aaliyah Gayles, who missed her freshman season after suffering multiple gunshot wounds in her hometown of Las Vegas in 2021. USC also added Ivy League grad transfers McKenzie Forbes (Harvard), Kaitlyn Davis (Columbia) and Kayla Padilla (Penn).

How their Pac-12 story will end: Still hard to tell considering how many new players will be on the floor, but the potential for big things is there. Watkins may be one of the best players in the conference when she steps on the floor, already a national freshman of year candidate and Rayah Marshall, the team’s third-leading scorer, who averaged 12.7 points, a conference-leading 11.5 rebounds and set the program record for blocks last season, is back for more. USC was one of the toughest defensive matchups in the country last season, hoping for more offense this season. The Trojans landed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 last spring and will open the season with a huge challenge against Ohio State in Las Vegas on November 6.

Parting thought: On Watkins, “I want her to be able to be a typical freshman and have all those experiences and struggle with things and learn from things, but at the same time with the recognition I have she’s anything but typical. Going into it with that duality of awareness I think will give us a chance to allow her to shine but really I need to get out of the way and allow her to be her because she’s so special.” – Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb.


2022–23 season: 27-5, 15-3, Pac-12 Regular-season champions; NCAA Tournament

Utah’s big five returnees. (Photo credit: Utah Women’s Basketball/Twitter)

New plotlines: Coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, four role players transferred out of Salt Lake City, and the Utes gained a trio of young talent, including Maty Wilke, a 5-foot-10 combo guard from Wisconsin.

How their Pac-12 story will end: With another title run. All five starters, including reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili (the Pac-12’s leading scorer) are back to cement the Utes’ place among the elite teams in the country. Utah, which was one of the most potent offensive teams in the country last year (averaging 82.8 points a game) with a lineup that also includes Gianna Kneepkens, Kennedy McQueen, Jenna Johnson and Isabel Palmer will have an early-season challenge in the Preseason NIT against Baylor.

Parting thought: “Obviously last year we had a great season, and I think we in a way proved ourselves, but I think just that competitor mindset is just to — we’re not satisfied, and we’re just hungry to win… That’s always going to be in the back of our mind, I think, and it’s a good mentality to have because you’re never satisfied, you’re always getting better.” – Forward Alissa Pili


2022–23 season: 19-15, 7-11, tied for 7th in Pac-12; NIT

New plotlines: The Huskies, who increased their win total by 12 victories a season ago, are largely holding pat in the third season under Tina Langley. After a season in which they made a run to the WNIT semifinals, the program’s first postseason appearance since 2017, and finished with their best record since 2016-17 when Kelsey Plum was around.

How their Pac-12 story will end: With a top-half finish. The Huskies return four of their top five scorers and have something to build on with their best conference finish since that same 2016-17 season. Washington did it with defense a season ago, holding teams to less than 60 points a game. Junior Dalayah Daniels is the leading returning scorer and rebounder at 11.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Parting thought: “We just want to play a little bit faster. We didn’t shoot the ball incredibly well from the three last year, and I think that that caused us to need to slow the game down at times and play a more efficient style. There’s a style I think that really fits who we’re becoming. We’re becoming more positionless. We’re becoming more skilled and a little bit more consistent from the three. We want to get up and down the floor and play a dynamic style. It should be fun.” – Head coach Tina Langley

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Washington State

2022–23 season: 23-11, 9-9, 5th in Pac-12, Pac-12 Tournament Champions; NCAA Tournament

Charlisse Leger-Walker surveys the floor in the Pac-12 championship game against UCLA. Photo Credit: Power Imagery

New plotlines: Well, the conference imploded and the Cougars don’t know where they will be playing next season yet, so that’s new. Also, the band is back together in Pullman after their historic Pac-12 tournament title run.

How their Pac-12 story will end: To be determined. The Cougars won a program-record 23 games last season and captured the program’s first-ever Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Championship. Ethridge guided WSU from the No. 7 seed in the tournament to claim the school’s first Pac-12 title in a women’s team sport by winning four games in five days in Sin City. The Cougs knocked off three straight ranked teams in Las Vegas en route to the 2023 Pac-12 Championship, beating No. 3/4 Utah in the Pac-12 quarterfinals (66-58), No. 20/21 Colorado in the semifinals (61-49), and No. 19/16 UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game (65-61). It marked the first time in program history that Washington State had won consecutive games against ranked teams, while the win against No. 3/4 Utah was the highest-ranked team that Washington State has ever defeated in program history. Back is go-to scorer Charisse Leger-Walker, who averaged 17.7 points a game last season and fifth-year senior Bella Murekatete inside.

Parting thought: “Every year I’ve come up here and we’ve talked about, we’re still young, we’re still young. We won last year and we’re young. We have everybody back, but we’re old now. So I just think seasoned, and I don’t think anything should really surprise us. I think we have got that experience in our senior class, and then I think we have some really, really impressive freshmen behind them. I think more than anything, this team needs to be different in the sense that we need to have five and six people in double-digit scoring. We cannot rely on and just depend on Charlisse carrying us completely or Bella, those two in particular. The best teams across the country really get four, five, six people in double figures, and I think we have the players and the talent in the gym to be able to do that this year.” – Head coach Kamie Ethridge

Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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