November 27, 2020 

Uneven start for Pac-12 teams as the season gets underway

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Most of the teams that played won, but opening day had more than its share of challenges

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Colorado Buffaloes seniors Mya Hollingshed (21) and Annika Jank (25). Photo courtesy of University of Colorado Athletics

Pac-12 coaches are understandably proud of the ascendance of their conference over the past several years. After eight months of pandemic-induced turmoil, they were also anxious to get back on the court. That turmoil had residual effects on opening day, though.

Stanford showed why it’s the class of the conference by completely dominating Cal Poly 108-40 early in the day. There should be no question why they were picked to win the league this year.

Despite 2019-20 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Alissa Pili not playing, USC wasn’t far behind. The Women of Troy showed why they’re a promising young team headed up the standings in their 85-55 blowout of Loyola Marymount.

Colorado also did what they were supposed to do against Division II Western Colorado. The Buffaloes handled the Mountaineers 77-50.

The rest of the conference struggled with opponents and the fallout of the pandemic throughout the day.

The Cardinal’s depth is an embarrassment of riches. Lexie Hull led the team with 19 points and Haley Jones threw in a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but everyone got in on the act.

Head coach Tara VanDerveer was able to get all of her players into the game for at least six minutes apiece. Five of the 11 players scored in double figures and eight scored at least seven points.

There probably won’t be much competition for the Cardinal until conference play starts, but they gave no evidence for anyone who wants to argue with their No. 2 national ranking.

In their only game before non-conference play starts, the Women of Troy outscored LMU in every quarter and held the Lions to just nine points in the final period.

Coach Mark Trakh has had his hands full with the off-season challenges. His team just came back from a two-week quarantine, and he was missing his star player. Only eight of the 13 players on the roster saw the floor for USC, each playing at least 15 minutes.

Trakh’s team showed that they have another dangerous freshman this year in Amaya Oliver. The 6-foot-2 forward out of Stockton, Calif. had a dominant double-double with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

The youth of the team stands out. Junior Desiree Caldwell was the lone upperclassman who saw the floor for USC. The leading scorer was redshirt freshman Madison Campbell who racked up 19 points largely on the back of five 3-pointers.

Despite their youth, all but two players scored in double digits and three grabbed at least six rebounds. The Women of Troy are going to be very dangerous for a while, especially when they finally get Pili back.

Mya Hollingshed may feel like she has something to prove. The senior, who led Colorado in both scoring and rebounding last year, was left off the preseason All-Pac-12 team.

She opened the season with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead her team in both categories yet again. Her next chance to show those who didn’t vote for her that they were wrong is Saturday when the Buffs take on Air Force.

The day wasn’t all roses, though. Several teams struggled in their opening games. Arizona State, whose starting lineup was devastated by graduation, pulled away from Stephen F. Austin late in the game to take a 56-47 victory.

The loss of most of their offense from last season was evident through most of the contest as they worked to put distance between themselves and the Ladyjacks. Only Taya Hanson (14) and Eboni Walker (12) scored in double figures for the Sun Devils. Junior Jamie Loera, who missed most of last year with an injury, was the only other player who got close with eight points.

On the plus side, the toughness of Charli Turner Thorne’s teams can never be doubted, and they proved it yet again. Walker displayed why she’s such a threat on the inside by pulling down 12 rebounds for the double-double. Seven of those boards were on the offensive end of the court.

Washington had an even closer call against San Diego State. At the end of the opening quarter, the Huskies were down by four. They had the two-point lead at the end of three quarters, going on to eke out the 61-59 win on a bucket from Tameiya Sadler with a mere seven seconds on the clock.

The big setback came in Berkeley where California fell to San Jose State 56-48. After ending last year on a high note and bringing in a top-10 class, it wasn’t what the Golden Bears were looking for in their first outing.

On the plus side, the potential was evident in freshman forward Dalayah Daniels. ESPN’s No. 13 recruit in the class put together a double-double in her first game with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Bears missed Jazlen Green, who was a big part of that strong finish last season. The sophomore was the second-leading scorer for the team last year and led the squad with 48 3-pointers.

At least those teams saw the court, though. Others weren’t so lucky.

UCLA was set to play Cal State Fullerton early Wednesday afternoon. Nearly an hour after the tip was scheduled, there was still no game.

A problem getting the coronavirus tests for the Titans in a timely manner led to a cancelation. The two teams will try again on Friday, Nov. 27 at 7 p.m. EST.

The virus is bound to continue causing waves throughout the season. Some teams are either playing no non-conference games or have only one on their schedule. Arizona is one of the latter, and head coach Adia Barnes was afraid that the game might be canceled.

On Wednesday, she revealed that eight of her 15 players had been in quarantine for the last several days. One player had come back with an antigen test that seemed to point to an infection. Contact tracing meant that most of the Wildcats’ experienced players were also at risk, so they were shut down over the weekend.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, they were all able to return to the court by Wednesday when a follow-up with the more accurate PCR test came back negative.

It’s not the first time there have been issues with false positives at Arizona, which started a fairly robust testing program before the Pac-12 announced their partnership with Quidel at the beginning of September.

On the same day the Pac-12 announced that partnership, the entire Wildcat soccer team was shut down after multiple players were believed to be infected. It was later shown that the original results had been a mistake and the team was allowed to resume training.

Once upon a time, the concern was that there wouldn’t be adequate technologies available to test athletes. While that is still a problem for some schools and conferences, even access to technology isn’t always foolproof. Testing may be a stumbling block for teams throughout the season whether their players are infected or not.

“Welcome to COVID life,” Barnes said.

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