December 23, 2023
Nonconference grades for every Pac-12 team
Only one team gets an A
The Pac-12 nonconference schedule — a collective statement about the league’s strength heading into its final season — is nearly complete. What a statement it’s made.
Through Thursday’s games heading into the holiday break, the conference is a combined 118-22, for a winning percentage of nearly 85%.
Six teams are currently ranked in the AP Top 25 with No. 2 UCLA, No. 6 USC, No. 8 Colorado, No. 9 Stanford, No. 11 Utah and No. 23 Washington, while Washington State and Oregon State are receiving votes. And four teams in the top 10 leads all conferences.
“I’m pretty proud of what we’ve earned in this nonconference season,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said after her team’s win over Hawaii on Thursday. “But I’m even more excited about what [this] team is willing to earn moving forward.”
With final exams in the books and Pac-12 play approaching, let’s hand out nonconference grades for each Pac-12 team. Read them all or skip to your favorite team:
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NCAA NET ranking: 39
RealTimeRPI strength of schedule (SOS): 76
The Wildcats are shorthanded with 10 active players on the roster, and they lost sophomore standout Maya Nnaji, who decided to pursue her medical degree full time. Arizona opened the schedule with five wins, but with only two Power Five opponents on the schedule — losses to Mississippi and Texas — plus a 19-point defeat to UNLV and the nonconference-closing loss to Gonzaga on Wednesday, the Wildcats need more of the momentum they got from a win over Arizona State on Dec. 17.
Arizona State (8-4)
NCAA NET ranking: 177
RealTimeRPI SOS: 168
The Sun Devils have already matched their win total from last season. But winning record aside, they are looking like a team that may again struggle once the Pac-12 schedule begins in earnest. They had nonconference losses to Grand Canyon, Grambling State and Texas before a decisive Pac-12 opening defeat to Arizona. Following up the Arizona loss with a win over Fresno State Wednesday was a nice rebound, but what lies ahead is going to be supremely challenging for ASU.
NCAA NET ranking: 49
RealTimeRPI SOS: 71
It’s been a good start for the Bears, who have their best nonconference record since starting 8-0 in 2018-19. They split against Power Five opponents with a win at Auburn and a loss to Texas A&M. Cal is doing a good job on the glass, with three players averaging at least seven rebounds per game, and senior Leilani McIntosh is the only player in the nation to average at least 12.0 points, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game on 40.0% 3-point shooting. But the true test of progress for Charmin Smith’s team is whether it can pull off some more wins in the conference. Opening at home against Stanford, the 100th meeting between the two programs, is a tough way to start.
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NCAA NET ranking: 21
RealTimeRPI SOS: 52
The Buffaloes’ win over defending champion LSU to start the season vaulted them into the Top 5 for the first time since 1995. Colorado has now had double-digit wins in nonconference play for five consecutive non-COVID seasons (it went 2-1 in 2020-21). Its only loss so far was to North Carolina State on Nov. 25. The Buffs are leaning into their veteran leadership of graduate students Jaylyn Sherrod and Quay Miller and the emerging excellence of junior center Aaronette Vonleh, who is shooting 65.1% from the floor. Opening the Pac-12 schedule against Utah at home will be a barometer of Colorado’s ability to contend for the conference title.
NCAA NET ranking: 98
RealTimeRPI SOS: 45
Don’t let the record fool you: This has been a disappointing nonconference for the Ducks. A 39-point loss to Santa Clara on Nov. 18 was fairly shocking, followed by a 31-point loss to Portland on Nov. 30 and then a loss to Baylor in a game that wasn’t nearly as high-profile as it would have been a couple years ago. Then on Tuesday, Oregon fell to Utah Tech, a game that head coach Kelly Graves called “a low point,” before bouncing back for its best win of the season over Oklahoma State on Thursday. Forward Grace VanSlooten and guard Chance Gray are providing their share of scoring, but the Ducks are averaging just 67.4 points per game. That’s going to be a tough go in the Pac-12 schedule.
Oregon State (10-0)
NCAA NET ranking: 25
RealTimeRPI SOS: 147
The Beavers have done no wrong so far and are receiving votes in the latest AP poll. But they also have yet to be truly tested, having played eight straight home games and having the third-worst strength of schedule in the league. OSU, with 10 players averaging at least 12 minutes per game, beat Texas Tech on Thursday for its only win against a Power Five opponent. Sophomore forward Raegan Beers had a double-double, which was the 22nd of her young career.
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NCAA NET ranking: 2
RealTimeRPI SOS: 12
It’s been a strong start for the Cardinal with ranked wins over Indiana, Duke and Florida State. An upset loss at Gonzaga on Dec. 3 while senior forward Cameron Brink sat much of the game with an illness is the only blemish. Brink’s impact on Stanford’s success is huge and will likely stay that way in the Pac-12 season. She and post mate Kiki Iriafen are combining to average 36.2 points and 20.9 rebounds per game. But Stanford’s rotation is deep, too: 10 players average at least 10 minutes per game.
NCAA NET ranking: 6
RealTimeRPI SOS: 15
With Monday’s win over No. 12 Ohio State, No. 2 UCLA is off to its best start since 2019-20 and is 3-0 against ranked teams to start a season for the first time in at least 25 years. The Bruins are the most offensively balanced team in the conference, with five players — Lauren Betts, Gabriela Jaquez, Charisma Osborne, Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones — averaging double figures in scoring. Betts has been the go-to presence inside that UCLA has missed in the past few years, averaging 16.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. The Bruins have positioned themselves as the favorite to win the Pac-12 title, which would be their first since 1988-89.
NCAA NET ranking: 8
RealTimeRPI SOS: 33
Opening the season with a nationally televised win over Ohio State not only introduced freshman star JuJu Watkins to the nation, but also established the Trojans as a team to watch. USC has played seven home games thus far and has had two matchups against Power Five opponents — the Buckeyes and Penn State. It took until Thursday’s game at Long Beach State to get its first true road game of the season. Both Watkins and forward Rayah Marshall sat out that game, but the Trojans won behind a career-high 36 points from Harvard graduate transfer guard McKenzie Forbes. Things are going to get considerably more interesting for USC on Dec. 30 against UCLA, when both Watkins and Marshall are expected to be back for a matchup of unbeaten teams.
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NCAA NET ranking: 4
RealTimeRPI SOS: 59
The Utes’ only two losses are to Baylor and South Carolina, which also happen to be two of the Utes’ three Power Five opponents this season. As it was last year, Utah is the top scoring team in the conference, and it’s also the third-highest scoring team in the country. Fifth-year forward Alissa Pili has been spectacular so far (23.8 points per game), but with sharpshooter Gianna Kneepkens out for the season, the biggest tests are absolutely to come for the defending regular-season champions, starting on Dec. 30 at Colorado.
NCAA NET ranking: 28
RealTimeRPI SOS: 291
An eight-point loss to Louisville capped the nonconference schedule for the Huskies, who moved into the national rankings this week for the first time since Kelsey Plum was playing, in March 2017. Outside of the Pac-12 opener against Washington State, Tina Langley’s team had not faced any Power Five opponents before Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals, giving UW the worst strength of schedule in the conference. Forward Dalayah Daniels (12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) is one of three double-figure scorers for the Huskies, and they are allowing only 46.8 points per game, the fewest in the country.
Washington State (11-3)
NCAA NET ranking: 23
RealTimeRPI SOS: 43
The Cougars have some highlights, including an overtime win over Gonzaga on Nov. 9 and a Thanksgiving weekend win over Maryland. They also have a few bumps, with losses to Green Bay, Washington and Auburn. The mixed bag demonstrates a lack of consistency, according to head coach Kamie Ethridge, who is hoping a long holiday break will bring her team back ready to compete with the top teams in the conference. Fifth-year senior center Bella Murekatete leads the Cougars with 13.9 points per game, but star guard Charlisse Leger-Walker is averaging a career-low 12.9. Leger-Walker’s scoring will be key to the Cougars’ success in league play.
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.