October 30, 2022
One thing every Pac-12 fan base should be excited about heading into the 2022-23 season
Even with some teams coming off down years, there is something for every fan base to cheer for
We are less than two weeks away from the opening of the 2022-23 college basketball season on Nov. 7. The Pac-12 is once again set to be one of the best conferences in the country, and even with some teams coming off down years, there is something for every fan base to cheer for. Let’s take a look at one thing every Pac-12 fan should be excited about for their respective team.
Arizona: Offense to go with defense
Since head coach Adia Barnes took over in Tucson, the Wildcats have been known for their defense. In their run to the NCAA championship game in 2021, Arizona held every opponent under 60 points. Last year was no different, as the Wildcats ranked second in the Pac-12 in scoring defense. However, the same couldn’t be said for their offense.
The Wildcats scored at least 70 points just five times in conference play last year. The struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket, especially once star forward Cate Reese went down with an injury. Coming into this year, the Wildcats were set to return just two of their top four scorers from a season ago. So Barnes reached into the transfer portal and signed three double-digit scorers from Power 5 conferences.
The transfers are Esmery Martinez from West Virginia, Lauren Fields from Oklahoma State and Jade Loville from rival Arizona State. The three of them combined to average 43.3 points per game last year. That’s 64% of what the Wildcats averaged in total last year. Add to that the No. 8 recruiting class in the country, and the Wildcats’ offense should match the stellar defense they are known for in Tucson.
“We’re going to have great defenders and great offensive players. I think when you’re becoming a championship team, you have one or the other. I think now we have a really solid defensive system. We have players that can play on both ends of the floor,” said Barnes. “I think the areas that we improved in this year [are] adding some players that can play our type of defense and they can score the ball really well. I think with those three transfers, it stretches the floor. It leaves [guard] Shaina [Pellington] a lot of lanes to create and [guard] Helena [Pueyo] a lot of lanes to create and you can’t help off … Hopefully, we’re able to maintain that same defense with improving offense.”
Arizona State: Natasha Adair
It’s hard to replace a legend. Charli Turner Thorne had 488 wins and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances during her 25-year tenure as head coach at Arizona State. Now, former Delaware head coach Natasha Adair will have to replace the legend, but she does have some experience in that regard.
When Adair started her head coaching career at College of Charleston, she was following the winningest coach in program history for the Cougars. Then, when Adair took over at Delaware, she again took over for the winningest coach in a program’s history. To say Adair is prepared to take over for legends is an understatement.
Adair has stated that she wants the Sun Devils to play fast. Under Turner Thorne, Arizona State was known as a defensive-oriented team that didn’t play at an up-tempo pace. Under Adair, the Sun Devils still plan to be a defensive-oriented team while also not taking the air out of the basketball. Fans should be excited for what Coach Adair brings to the table while trying to replace a legend.
“The expectations are always to win. I’m a competitor. When that ball gets tipped, we want to make sure we’re the most competitive team, prepared team, and we want to be in sync. But honestly, right now, it’s building that culture. It’s making sure that we have really good chemistry on the court, that they learn me as a coach and understand terminologies,” said Adair. “There’s no opportunity that’s too big. I wanted to be here at this moment with these young women to continue to grow and get us back to national prominence and stay there. Everything that’s in front of me to do so, we have every component, recipe ingredient and support to get it done.”
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Cal was one of the teams most impacted by COVID-19 stoppages and health issues last year. The Golden Bears had six conference games postponed or canceled last year due to COVID-19 issues. The Bears also didn’t have a single player who played in every game last year.
This lack of consistency cost the Bears on the court. Cal went 9-2 in the non-conference, but when it came to Pac-12 play, the Bears were 2-10, including three different losing streaks of at least three games. The lack of consistent play and practice showed itself mostly on the defensive end, where the Bears gave up 66 points per game, second-worst in the Pac-12.
Heading into this year, the Bears are fully healthy and have some optimism. Sophomore superstar Jayda Curry is back and ready to match her electric freshman year, when she led the Pac-12 in scoring. The Bears return 79% of their scoring from last year and add three transfers in Peanut Tuitele from Colorado, Kemery Martín from Utah and Claudia Langarita from USF. Having a lot of returning healthy bodies gives head coach Charmin Smith a lot to smile about.
“It’s been tough. We fought through it and we stuck together. Jayda missed eight conference games last year. We didn’t get to play, and it’s challenging to get into a groove and get to a rhythm,” Head coach Charmin Smith said. “It’s been a struggle ever since, so yes, I want COVID to be behind us. I want a healthy squad. And I think that’s where we are. I feel really good about the physical health of our players about our mental state and where we are, and the fact that we can get through the season and play every game on our schedule.”
Colorado: Not satisfied
The Buffaloes are coming one of the best seasons in program history, having their first 20-win season and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years. However, the Buffaloes lost their first-round game to Creighton. Making the NCAA Tournament was the goal last year, but now the Buffaloes aren’t satisfied with just making it.
“Reaching the tournament set the foundation, but it made all of us hungry to get back there and not just to get back there, but actually advance deeper. I think coming from last season, I feel like it was just a foundation; it was just a start of where we think we can go. So this is something that we plan to continue throughout this season,” senior point guard Jaylyn Sherrod said. “I’ve always been a player with an underdog mentality. I’m five seven, but I feel like a walk around like I’m six three, that’s just always been my mentality. I feel that just bringing that to the program and having other people around me with that same mentality.”
Now, heading into this year, the Buffaloes are looking to replicate their success from last year and advance in the NCAA Tournament. Colorado has a lot of returning veterans to help make that happen. It’ll start with 2022 Sixth Player of the Year Quay Miller. Miller will probably be asked to take on a bigger role with the departures of Mya Hollingshed and Tuitele in the frontcourt. The backcourt will be led by Sherrod, who plays with a lot of intensity, especially on the defensive end.
The Buffaloes were one of the best defensive teams last year, holding opponents to under 58 points per game. The defense should continue, but Colorado will need players such as Kindyll Wetta and Frida Formann to step up if they want to repeat the success they had last year.
Oregon: Guard play
Coming off another excellent season, the Ducks are once again contenders in the Pac-12. However, Oregon lost a lot of talent to both graduation and the transfer portal. Where Oregon lost the most is in the frontcourt with star forward Nyara Sabally going to the WNBA. Coming back for the Ducks are 2022-23 Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference team players Endiya Rogers and Te-Hina Paopao.
Paopao and Rogers are one of the best backcourts in the entire country. Paopao averaged 13.6 points last year for the Ducks as one of the quickest guards in the conference. She also does a phenomenal job of finding her teammates. Rogers averaged 14.3 points as a three-level scorer who does a great job of getting to the free throw line. Rogers and Paopao will be even more important after it was announced that Sedona Prince would miss the entire season due to an elbow injury.
Having these two scoring guards back should give the Ducks a lot to be excited about. Both Rogers and Paopao missed nine games last year so having them back healthy is something Kelly Graves will smile about. Graves will need the two of them to play well and stay healthy if the Ducks want to make another deep run this year.
“The good news is we have good players behind them or coming in and so we’re excited about you know, the group we have. I think right now, I’m more excited about this team than I have been in a couple of years. You know, obviously, it’s headline by these two (Rogers and Paopao). These two are the ones that have to stir the drink for us,” Graves said. “We do have a multiple number of playmakers which makes a difference. We don’t have to create shots necessarily from an offense. We actually have some players that I think can really create on their own. Not only plays for themselves, but plays for others.”
Oregon State: Youth
The Beavers are coming off a down year by Oregon State standards, finishing 17-14 and losing in the quarterfinals of the WNIT. Heading into this year, head coach Scott Rueck will have a difficult task on his hands, returning only 30% of his minutes played from a season ago and adding five freshmen to his roster. But boy are those freshmen talented.
The five freshmen the Beavers brought in make up the number three recruiting class in the country according to espnW, including the number six prospect Timea Gardiner and the number 10 prospect Raegan Beers. The five freshmen will have to play a lot of minutes for Oregon State with all they lost.
The Beavers have to replace four players who averaged between seven and 12 points per game. Rueck has had a lot of challenging coaching years during his career, but this may be one of the toughest. However, the freshman will get an opportunity to show their talent and if there is one thing coach Rueck loves, it’s teaching.
“My coaching role is I’m a teacher, it’s to put the student in a position to be successful, and so too much too soon doesn’t help. It clouds the mind and so simplify as often as possible. You know, the biggest challenge I think, for a young team is just believing that they can and so putting them in position to be successful. Practice winning, practice success all the time,” Rueck said. “This group has problem solved well, they feel very comfortable in the gym, they communicate well, and it’s everybody talking and so I feel like we’re going to really grow quickly.”
Stanford: Playing big
The Cardinal are the cream of the crop in the Pac-12. Stanford won the NCAA tournament in 2021 and followed that up with a perfect record in Pac-12 play in 2021-22. However, heading into this year, Stanford lost all three of their backcourt starters to graduation. The Cardinal will have to get creative to bring the ball up the floor and that may involve playing some big lineups.
We saw star senior Haley Jones start to handle the ball more for Stanford towards the end of last year and that seems to be the case heading into this year. Jones said she spent the offseason working on her ball handling and perimeter shooting as she expects to handle the ball a lot more this year. Star forward Cameron Brink also said she worked on her perimeter game as she expects to spend some time playing the three this year. The Cardinal could very well lean fully into playing big.
Stanford strength this year will be in their frontcourt players and Tara VanDerveer may work to put as many of her best players on the floor together. There may be a time where all five Stanford players on the court are at least 6’, with lineups possibly comprising of Jones, Hannah Jump, Brink, Fran Belibi and Ashten Prechtel. All in all, it will be interesting to see just how big VanDerveer decides to go.
“We’re playing Cam on the perimeter, at the three in practice a little bit. Experimented with that. Haley obviously playing point guard for us. If nothing else, we’re gonna be big this year,” VanDerveer said. “I think Cam’s versatility, Haley’s versatility. They’re practicing with a sense of urgency. I think the freshmen on our team have improved tremendously. Kiki Iriafen, Brooke Demetre, those two have really impressed me with their improvement. It’s very competitive everyday in practice, and it’s gonna be really exciting to have some of those young players out there.”
UCLA: Gina Conti
The Bruins are coming off a down year by UCLA standards. They went 18-13 and finished their season losing in the semifinal of the WNIT. A lot of the reason for the down year was due to a rash of injuries. Oregon transfer, Angela Dugalic suffered an injury in the preseason and couldn’t play until February. Emily Bessoir missed the whole season with an ACL tear and Camryn Brown didn’t play until the end of January after coming off her own ACL tear.
Another one of those players who was injured was Wake Forest transfer point guard Gina Conti. Conti suffered a foot injury in the preseason last year and it cost her the whole year. Having her back on the floor will be a huge lift for the Bruins who lost 57% of their scoring from a season ago. In her final year in Winston-Salem, Conti averaged 14 points and 4.6 assists per game.
One of the biggest things head coach Cori Close likes about Conti is that she helped Wake Forest turn things around during her time in the black and gold. Conti’s freshman year, the Demon Deacons finished 10 games below .500. Her sophomore year, they were a .500 team, and her junior year, they made the NCAA Tournament. Her experience playing for a team during the highs and lows should help her bring great leadership to this young UCLA team.
“I think Gina is a really a consummate leader. She brings great energy. She has a confidence about her, the way that she carries herself. She totally defines herself by how she makes everybody else better. I think really more so than anything that’s ever going to show up on a stat sheet, Gina provides great leadership and confidence that I think will be infused to the people around her,” said Close.
USC: New faces
The Trojans head into 2022-23 with a very interesting roster. Lindsay Gottlieb lost eight players to either graduation or the transfer portal and only has 34% of her minutes from a year ago returning. However, to make up for this Gottlieb added eight players to the team, seven of whom came from the transfer portal.
With so many new players, the Trojans will have to try to build chemistry quickly. However, the players USC added are very talented. Kadi Sissoko transferred in from the Big Ten program and was a double-digit scorer. Destiny Littleton played on South Carolina’s national championship team a year ago and Kayla Williams comes in after being named an All-Big West First Team performer last year at UC Irvine.
The Trojans have a lot of talented players on their roster, but it will take some time for all these new players to gel together. Then you have to add in the fact that Gottlieb hasn’t been at practice during the month of October as she just brought her second child in the world on October 15. It will take time but the new faces are something Trojan fans should be excited about.
“We are an interesting group like no other than I’ve ever had and been associated with and I’ve been doing this for a minute. It’s exciting as can be. We have nine new faces from I believe six different countries. We’re older, we have an old roster, we only have one true freshman on the roster. But we don’t have obviously any kind of experience together,” said associate head coach Beth Burns. “Our challenge is to put it together. I couldn’t be more pleased with and appreciative to our players for their efforts. Our effort has been sky high since day one. We have had no effort issues; our activity level is really high. Our productivity is where we’re a work in progress right now. But we have, starting with these two young ladies to my left [Rayah Marshall and Sissoko], a really, really talented frontline.”
The Utes are coming off one of the best seasons in program history. They returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010-11 season and appeared in their first ever Pac-12 championship game. The Utes also won their first-round matchup against Arkansas. After falling to host Texas in the second-round, head coach Lynne Roberts thought she would see happiness in her teams face for how much they had accomplished last year. She was wrong.
She walked into a locker room full of angry and hungry players. They were not at all content with just making the NCAA tournament and winning a game, they wanted more. Heading into this year, the Utes have reasons to believe they can do more. They return the third highest percentage of minutes played from a year ago of any team in the Pac-12.
For Utah, it starts with star sophomores Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson. The two of them averaged 24.0 points and 8.5 rebounds a game last year. The Utes also return three more players who averaged between seven and 10 points per game. There is a lot to be optimistic about in Salt Lake City and the players in the program are hungry to prove that last year was more than just a flash in the pan.
“I think after like she shared that we weren’t just satisfied to just make it to the tournament and then none of us wanted to lose. We thought we were going to win. We went in thinking we’re going to win. So just keeping that little bit of hunger in us and wanting more,” said sophomore guard Kennady McQueen. “I think that’s what’s driven us all offseason and the start of this preseason, and just knowing that we’re not done, we’re not satisfied where we ended and we have bigger goals and bigger plans and we work every day to help us achieve those in the end.”
Washington: Emma Grothaus
Last year was a tough one in head coach Tina Langley’s first year in Seattle. The Huskies went 7-16, including 2-12 in conference play. However, one of the bright spots for Washington was the play of center Nancy Mulkey. Mulkey came with Langley from Rice and averaged 11 points and six rebounds last year. However, her graduation left a big hole in the middle for the Huskies. So Langley went into the transfer portal and found a replacement.
Enter Emma Grothaus. Grothaus is a 6’4 transfer from Lehigh. As a mountain hawk, Grothaus averaged 13 points and nine rebounds in her senior campaign. She scored a career high 31 last year and had eight double-doubles including one with 20 rebounds. She was the leading scorer for a Lehigh team that won 20 games.
Heading into this season, Grothaus was named to the preseason Lisa Leslie award watch list for the best center in the country. If she can produce at a similar level as she did at Lehigh, Grothaus should be able to help Washington improve on the offensive end. The Huskies were the worst offense in the Pac-12 averaging only 56 points per game. Grothaus’ ability to score should only help the Huskies this year.
“First of all, Emma is a tremendous young woman. What a great example for our team of selflessness and just dedication to her teammates and to our program. So we’re so grateful to have her as a person. And then talent-wise, she’s an incredible talent that can play multiple positions, stretches the floor, handles the ball, plays inside, [and] can just do so many things for us,” said Langley.
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Washington State: Bella Murekatete
Washington State is coming off the best year in program history since the Cougars joined the then-Pac-10 in 1986. It set a record for most wins as a program since joining the Pac-12 and made back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. There is a lot of excitement in Pullman and for good reason.
Washington State is going to go as far as Charlisse Leger-Walker takes them. Leger-Walker averaged 16 points, five rebounds and three assists last year. She was a Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference team selection this year. Everyone knows who she is, and for the Cougars to be successful, they will need others to contribute. This is where Bella Murekatete comes in. Murakatete is a 6’3 senior center who is coming off the best season of her career, setting career highs in scoring and rebounding last year.
Head coach Camie Ethridge talked about how much Murekatete worked hard in the offseason and how her presence inside will help take the load off Leger-Walker. Ethridge said Murakete spent a lot of time in the weight room and expanding her game. If the Cougars can get more from her this season, they could continue the trend of breaking program records.
“Over the summer, I worked on being in shape. I worked on being physical, I worked on on my shot and worked on and just be more explosive. Not just being a typical post but also worked on my handles and everything, you guys are gonna see a different Bella. Explosive, can shoot and just can run more than three four minutes,” said Murekatete.
“She changed and she got serious about the weight room. Just got committed there and it transferred over to the court. When we sent them home with workouts that she was able to do on her own. The conditioning she committed to to do on her own. She came back early so that she could get workouts. I mean light bulbs have always gone on at different points in her her career but they really came on and it was her directed like she was motivated to do them and did them without someone watching over her and I think that’s when real transformation can happen,” added Ethridge.
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.