January 29, 2024 

Parity hits the top Pac-12 teams hard

Through the first four weekends, the drama has been palpable and the upsets plentiful

By the end of next weekend, the first half of the last-ever Pac-12 season will be in the books.

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Pause for feelings.

But through the first four weekends, the drama has been palpable and the upsets plentiful — with a combined 14 losses by the teams who came into the weekend ranked in the AP Top 25.

Just this past weekend UCLA, USC, Utah and Colorado were upset victims. Oregon State finished with a sweep of the mountain schools to continue its upswing and Washington State and Washington both had reason to be excited about their second-half prospects.

Meanwhile, Stanford has quietly assumed the top spot in the conference heading into what’s going to be a huge weekend against UCLA and USC at Maples Pavilion.


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Sitting pretty

Stanford. No question that USC and UCLA will come to the Cardinal’s home floor supremely motivated to score an upset that will help their position in the standings and strengthen their NCAA NET rankings, but they will meet a Stanford team playing in a very nice groove at the moment, with the lethal combination of Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen. In two wins against the Arizona schools, Brink and Iriafen combined for 93 points and 58 rebounds.

The key for success for Tara VanDerveer’s team is offense. They have won 60 straight games when scoring at least 80 points, including 13 games this season.

Stanford has the most favorable schedule remaining of the league’s top teams. Following next weekend against the L.A. schools, the Cardinal will not have to face either them or the mountain schools again.

Surging

Oregon State is the scary team we suspected they might be. The Beavers finished the weekend with a pair of upset wins over Colorado and Utah, the program’s first back-to-back wins over ranked opponents since 2021.

“This team competed like crazy this weekend for 80 minutes against two excellent teams,” said head coach Scott Rueck, after the game. “This team just wants to be great.”


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After scoring a season-low six points on Friday against Colorado, sophomore forward Raegan Beers put up 20 points on an 8-for-8 effort from the floor against Utah, while the Beavers held one of the top offensive teams in the conference to 66 points.

But the road ahead will be difficult — literally. OSU, unbeaten in Corvallis this season with an 14-0 mark, will play five of their next seven games on the road and have rematches with the L.A., Mountain and Bay Area schools before the end of the regular season.

Searching

USC. The Trojans started the conference schedule with a 3-1 record and a win over UCLA on January 14, but have since lost three of four games, including Sunday’s three point home loss against Washington, USC’s first home loss of the season. Offensively, the Trojans are struggling for anyone not named JuJu Watkins. USC hasn’t scored more than 70 points since that win over UCLA and scored just 23 points in the first half against the Huskies.

“The mentality about how you handle it is incredibly important,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said after the game. “Everyone gets exposed in this conference. We are not even halfway through the conference. What is under your control is how you decide to respond.”

In suspense

Washington State. The Cougars can celebrate their win over UCLA, but will wait to hear word on the apparent knee injury that had senior guard Charlisse Leger-Walker sitting on a training table with a towel over her head after her non-contact injury in the second half. A serious injury to Leger-Walker, a three-time All-Pac-12 performer, would be a major blow to WSU.

“I don’t think it looks good,” said Cougars coach Kamie Ethridge. Leger-Walker had 17 points at the time of her injury with 7:30 to go in the third quarter.


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Shorthanded

Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said after her team’s loss to Stanford on Sunday that she will play with seven players for the foreseeable future, possibly the rest of the season. The Wildcats played with seven this weekend against Cal and Stanford, a split in which they rallied to beat the Bears before falling decisively to Stanford.

Injuries and absences have hit Arizona hard. Freshman Montaya Dew had ACL surgery before the season, and sophomore Erin Tack also had her ACL repaired. Redshirt senior Sali Kourouma is out for the season after surgery on her shoulder and leading scorer Maya Nnaji left the team to pursue medical school.

The biggest question mark surrounds the absence of sophomore guard Kailyn Gilbert, who has sat out the last two games. Barnes would only say that Gilbert, who is averaging a team-leading 16.7 points a game, is “not available right now.”

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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