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March 9, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Celebrating the Pac-10: Picking top players in past 25 years

Wiggins.jpgWednesday afternoon’s tip-off of the Pac-10 tournament signifies the true end of the conference as women’s basketball has known it the past 25 years. The NorPac Conference — consisting of California, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State — combined with the Western Collegiate Athletic Association (Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and USC) in 1986 to establish the current league. That will end when Colorado and Utah join next season.
But before we say goodbye, we should at least acknowledge the players who made it so fun and infuriating over the years. You may have noticed The Seattle Times did a men’s list in the newspaper. You’re right, the women should be in the paper, too. Only that doesn’t mean when can’t dedicate space to the concept here.
The panel of consultants for this list was smaller. I reached out to a few coaches, players, and reporters, taking names off the top of their heads. I covered Arizona at what I think was the conference’s zenith, regularly getting four teams in the NCAA tournament in the 1990s, so I figured 10 names wouldn’t be hard to highlight.
Understand, however, that Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper do not count. We’re strictly talking about the Pac-10’s past 25 seasons. Miller would be the No. 1 player on my list, but she starred for USC from 1982-86. Coop, who had her jersey retired on Sunday, would be named, too, if she hadn’t played alongside Miller, helping the Trojans win back-to-back NCAA titles in 1983 and 1984.
So, here’s the list based on achievements during their Pac-10 college career. Disagree? Let me know:
10. Adia Barnes, F, Arizona: The 1998 Pac-10 Player of the Year led Arizona to NCAA Sweet 16, ranks fifth all-time in total career points (2,237) and 14th in rebounding (921).
9. Cherie Nelson, F, USC: Holds conference record for most points in a game at 50 in a 115-106 loss to Cal in 1989, owns Pac-10’s all-time leading career scoring average (23.2).
8. Nicole Powell, F, Stanford: Ranks among conference’s all-time top-15 in career rebounds (fourth), assists (10th), and scoring (12th). Led Stanford to the Elite Eight in 2004.
7. Tonja Kostic, G/F, Oregon State: Beavers haven’t advanced to NCAA tourney since Kostic last played in 1996. Pac-10’s third all-time in career scoring average (21.2), ranked 11th in rebounding (9.0).
6. Natalie Williams, F, UCLA: Two-sport star ranked fifth all-time in career scoring average (20.4) and first in rebounding (12.8) as she led the Bruins to one NCAA berth.
5. Tina Thompson, F, USC: Boosted the Trojans to NCAA Elite Eight and 1994 conference title. Ranks among top five all-time in career total points (2,248) and rebounds (1,168).
4. Kate Starbird, G, Stanford: The 1997 Naismith Player of the Year led the Cardinal to three NCAA Final Fours, ranks sixth on all-time career scoring list (2,215).
3. Jennifer Azzi, PG, Stanford: Named Naismith Player of the year after leading the Cardinal to their first NCAA title in 1990. Ranks second all-time in career assists (751).
2. Lisa Leslie, C, USC: Led Trojans to NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight appearances. Second all-time career scorer (2,414), blocker (321), and rebounder (1,214).
1. Candice Wiggins, SG, Stanford: Four-time All-American and Wade Trophy winner led Cardinal to 2008 NCAA title game. The conference’s all-time leading scorer (2,229) also won a NCAA volleyball title.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Candice Wiggins before she surpassed childhood idol Lisa Leslie as conference’s scoring leader by the Associated Press.



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