March 4, 2022
At the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, Charli Turner Thorne is Topic A
A phenomenal game, a red-hot start and a legend retiring highlighted the second day of play in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS – Quarterfinal Thursday for the Pac-12 Tournament has come and gone. Before we jump into the recap of the day, we had some big news break during our first game. Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne is retiring after 25 years as the Sun Devils head coach.
She leaves the program as the winningest coach in school history. She took Arizona State to 14 NCAA tournament appearances, including four Sweet Sixteen berths and two trips to the Elite Eight. Arizona State had qualified for a postseason tournament in all but one season since 2001 under Turner Thorne. She led them to two Pac-10/12 regular season titles and also won the inaugural Pac-10 tournament in 2002. She is No. 2 all time in career wins by a Pac-12 coach behind only Tara VanDerveer. Her counterparts around the Pac-12 had plenty to say about her retirement.
“First of all, I coach Charli for three years and there’s not any player that I’ve ever coached that is more competitive than Charli,” Stanford legendary head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She’s been a competitor, friend, someone that I really admire how hard she works and the teams she put on the floor.”
Cori Close, who was coached by Turner Thorne at a Tara VanDerveer camp, said “Her teams were always so tough, so competitive, so physical and I think that is such an incredible legacy to leave, not only for the women that have played for her but for young girls that got to watch.”
She is a legend and will be missed on the sidelines.
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Back to the action at Michelob Ultra Arena, we are down to four teams remaining in the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament. Here is a rundown of how all four games transpired and some thoughts on how all eight teams played today:
Game 1: No. 4 Arizona vs No. 5 Colorado
Colorado defeats Arizona, 45-43
Game Summary: Using a stout defensive performance and a few late baskets, No. 5 Colorado was able to upset No. 4 Arizona and advance to the semifinals. The game started slowly as neither team was able to gain much traction as Arizona took a slight edge 10-9 at the end of one. The Wildcats started the second quarter strong, using a 9-0 run to take their largest lead of the game, 19-11 and forced a Colorado timeout. The Buffaloes came out of that timeout and completely reversed the momentum, using a 13-3 run of their own to take a 24-22 lead into the half. Colorado’s great defense continued into the third as they were able to extend their lead to seven, 33-26, going into the final quarter. However, Arizona turned on the pressure to start the fourth quarter. Arizona forced 4 turnovers in 5 possessions and used a 10-0 run to retake the lead with 6 minutes remaining. The teams traded baskets down the stretch but a big three by Frida Formann with 2 min remaining gave the Buffaloes a four point lead. A Shaina Pellington three was off the mark as the game clock hit zero and Colorado was able to hold on for a 45-43 upset win.
My thoughts on Arizona’s performance: Arizona played offensively like the Wildcats have played since Cate Reese’s injury a few weeks ago. The Wildcats have stretches of greatness on offense and stretches of offensive lulls. The press that Arizona put on in the fourth quarter was great and very different than the press we saw in the first half. It was more aggressive and it caused a multitude of Colorado turnovers that gave Arizona the opportunity to get back in the game. Shaina Pellington didn’t have a big game but is so hard to stop in the open court, if you let her get downhill, she will score. Lauren Ware continued to impress in the absence of Cate Reese with 15 points and 8 rebounds for the Wildcats. Coach Barnes said Reese will be back for the NCAA tournament and that Arizona deserves to host the first two rounds.
“We’re a good team, we’ve had some bad loses lately but we’ve beat some really good teams throughout the year,” said Wildcat Head Coach Adia Barnes. “Honestly the NCAA tournament is more important than the Pac-12 tournament…the NCAA’s is what we need to be successful.”
My thoughts on Colorado’s performance: The Buffaloes continued to play stout defense like they have played all season long. They played a really aggressive 2-3 zone and Arizona wasn’t able to make three’s to get Colorado out of it. JR Payne has her team bought in on the defensive end. Freshman Kendyll Wetta continued to impress me and like I said yesterday, she is going to be a great player in the Pac-12 for the next 3 years. Mya Hollingshed did what she has done the whole season and made big baskets when Colorado needed them. The Buffaloes did turn the ball over a lot to start the fourth quarter, but their experience allowed them to whether the storm. Sophomore guard Frida Formann hit a big three to seal the victory for Colorado and JR Payne said that is what she expects out of the sophomore guard.
“Frida is someone that we all trust to take a big shot and knock it down. She comes from a family of basketball players, her entire family played, she grew up with a ball in her hand,” said Head Coach JR Payne. “She’s comfortable and confident with the game on the line and all of us expected that shot to go in as soon as it left her hand.”
Game 2: No. 1 Stanford vs No. 8 Oregon State
Stanford defeats Oregon State, 57-44
Game Summary: An overall dominant performance by the Cardinal led them to their sixth straight Pac-12 tournament semifinals appearance with an 57-44 win over Oregon State. Stanford blitzed the Beavers right out of the gate taking a 16-2 lead at the end of the first. Pac-12 POY Haley Jones was responsible for the first four Cardinal baskets. Oregon State was able to find their footing in the second quarter, using a 14-5 run to cut the 18-point deficit to just nine going into the half. Stanford fended off every Oregon State rally in the third and headed into the fourth with a 47-31 lead. The Beavers made a late push but it wasn’t enough, as the Cardinal walked away with the 13-point victory.
My thoughts on Stanford’s performance: The Cardinal were as advertised today. They jumped out to the big lead thanks to stellar defense and a strong offensive start by Anna Wilson. Haley Jones is the most versatile player in college basketball. She can score in a variety of ways; she can defend 1 thru 5 and she sees open teammates really well. Jones had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists in today’s victory. Stanford also didn’t turn the ball over until the 6:07 mark in the fourth quarter. This allowed them to not have the most stellar shooting night from the field and still win by 13. Stanford was playing with a heavy heart today after the tragic death of Cardinal soccer player Katie Meyer. The players all wore Stanford soccer warm-up shirts and Anna Wilson said it was the least the players could for their fellow Cardinal.
“I really think that this is a really small way of sharing support,” Wilson said. “I think it’s something that we know her spirit is here when were playing and her energy is here. If anyone here got to see her play ever, she’s definitely the most energetic goalie slash player slash teammate I’ve ever seen.”
Oregon State: The Beavers have been inconsistent this season but have really grown as the season has progressed. They didn’t start the game well at all offensively, but they didn’t just give up. They gave an impressive fight in the second quarter and cut a 17-point deficit to nine at halftime. Throughout the game, every time Stanford looked like they were going to pull away, the Beavers kept clawing and scrapping back. Both Ellie Mack and Emily Codding showed they belonged on a Power 5 team. Both started their careers at mid-major programs and by the end of the season played a huge role for Oregon State. They both want a chance to keep playing in either the NCAA or WNIT tournament.
“I’m really thankful that Scott gave me this opportunity and I just love playing with this team, this group of girls, so I’m just really thankful for that,” Ellie Mack said. Emily Codding added “There were a lot of schools that weren’t really willing to take a risk on a kid coming of an ACL injury and from the first moment I talked to Scott he was instilling confidence in me. I can’t thank him enough for giving me that opportunity to play at this highest level.”
Game 3: No. 2 Oregon vs No. 7 UCLA
Oregon defeats UCLA, 63-60
Game Summary: Some late defensive greatness and clutch baskets allowed Oregon to hold off UCLA in an thrilling game of basketball. Our third game of the day go off to a hot start. Both teams came out of the lockers room with offense in mind and at the end of one, UCLA led 17-16. The second quarter went back and forth, and UCLA used an Ilmar’I Thomas layup with 3 seconds left in the second quarter to take a 32-31 lead into the half. Neither team had a lead bigger than four points in the first half. The teams traded baskets in the third and heading into the fourth UCLA led 53-50. In the fourth, both teams hit big shots and it was a one possession game as we reached the final minute. With 23 seconds remaining UCLA had the ball trailing by 1 point. Oregon was able to force a turnover on the possession and Nyara Sabally followed with two clutch free throws to give the Ducks a three point lead. Jaeylyn Penn’s game tying three was too strong as the game clock expired and Oregon advanced to the semifinals.
Oregon: This felt like an NCAA tournament game, both teams hit big shots, made clutch plays down the stretch and this game was played between two teams with incredibly high basketball IQs. For Oregon, their stars shined incredibly bright today. Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince dominated, each having a double-double and both had career highs in rebounds. Speaking of rebounding, the Ducks struggled to secure rebounds in the first half. However, they dominated the glass in the second half winning the battle of the boards 20-12. Lastly, Endyia Rogers didn’t have a great shooting night but made big plays when the Ducks needed it, including sinking two free throws to take the lead with 90 seconds remaining in the game. Coach Graves said his stars shined in a big way tonight and boy was he right.
“It’s nice to be able to rely on these two (Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince) and then our two guard Endyia and Te-Hina who played great second half’s tonight,” Kelly Graves said. “In games like this, in big settings and in close games, you’ve got to be able to rely on your stars and our stars came through when they needed to.”
UCLA: For how injury-riddled UCLA has been all year, they impressed me with how hard they fought in this game. This is a team that I think deserves to be in the NCAA tournament. They are finally healthy and playing some of their best basketball. They never let Oregon pull away and it took stellar nights from Oregon’s stars to beat them. Jaelyn Penn had a season high 18 points and was hitting big shots throughout the game but unfortunately missed the game tying three at the end of the game. Ilmar’I Thomas had another nice game and UCLA’s bigs had some great interior passing in the third quarter. Despite a rough shooting night, Charisma Osborne continued to be the engine that drives this Bruin team. She finished with 5 Points, 7 Rebounds and 8 Assists. Coach Close said no matter the outcome, UCLA will play in a postseason tournament. However, UCLA’s grad transfer have already made a lasting mark on the program and enjoyed their journey in Los Angeles.
“I’m super proud of the team, we’ve been through a lot of adversity and we’re playing our best basketball right now through it all,” said Indiana transfer Jaelynn Penn.
Cincinnati transfer Ilmar’I Thomas added, “I’m just grateful to put these four letters on, it’s such a big deal. Play here has been a privilege and I’m going to keep that with me forever.”
Game 4: No. 3 Washington State vs No. 6 Utah
Utah defeats Washington State, 70-59
Game Summary: The #1 offense in the Pac-12 played like it. Utah upset Washington State and advanced to their first-ever Pac-12 semifinal. Utah came out of the gates red-hot. The Utes set a Pac-12 tournament record with 29 first-quarter points and led 29-13 at the end of one.
Utah continued to dominate in the second. They hit eight threes in the half and held a 20 point lead at the break, 45-25. Washington State came out in the third with energy and cut the Utah lead to 12 but the Utes used good free throw shooting to take an 18 point lead into the fourth. A late push by Washington State wasn’t enough as Utah got the 11-point win.
Washington State: Washington State is tough team to read. They have moments of greatness and moments of struggle. Tonight, they made some early mistakes and it allowed Utah to build a huge lead. I was impressed with their fight in the second half and the fact that they never gave up. They cut into the deficit twice in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the 20-point hole they found themselves in. The Leger-Walker sisters really struggled, scoring only 10 points for the game. However, they are great players who will be able to bounce back. Freshman forward Tara Wallack had the best game of her career with 16 points and six rebounds. Coach Camie Ethridge said the Cougars need someone like that to step up so they can be a more balanced team.
“I thought she had a great game…she’s just got a huge ceiling and I’m happy that it’s happening now, that you’re seeing just how good she is,” Head Coach Camie Ethridge said of her freshman from Canada. “We obviously need her to step up and be a great scoring threat for us because that’s one area that we’ve just got to shore up and have three, four, and five people in double figures.”
Utah: The Utes showed us tonight just how deadly their offense can be. The #1 offense in the Pac-12 put on a clinic in the first half. They hit eight 3’s and shot 57% from the field. Jenna Johnson continues her hot streak with another 19 points on 7-11 shooting from the field. Over her last three games, she is averaging 21.3 points. Utah had three players in double figures, but it could have been more as three more players had either 8 or 9 points. The depth of this Utah team is scary. Also, the defense on the Leger-Walker sisters was impressive and the Utes seemed to be locked on those two from the jump. Utah also responded to every run Washington State threw at them in the second half. Utah was incredibly impressive and is heading to their first every Pac-12 semifinal appearance. Coach Roberts and Brynna Maxwell are excited about doing things that have never been done before at Utah.
“It’s nice to get places you’ve never been, that’s always our goal every year. Let’s do something we’ve never done in the past and this year we’re going to check of some huge ones,” said Coach Lynne Roberts.
Junior Brynna Maxwell added, “Everyone’s goal is the same, just do things that haven’t been done before. It’s something new, I’ve never experience that at Utah and this team is special.”
Written by Matthew Walter
Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.