Pac-12 pride brimmed at Washington practice last week. While the Huskies enjoyed a Thanksgiving holiday without basketball due to a scheduling conflict, the conference was busy knocking down teams ranked in the AP top 25.
“They’re genuinely excited,” said Washington coach Mike Neighbors of his team’s reaction to the conference going 4-2 against ranked teams the past week after an 0-7 start. “They see that you have to make the most of your opportunities when you play a ranked team.”
UW’s first chance is Saturday when it plays at No. 23 Texas A&M (4-2). Washington plays at Houston (3-4) on Wednesday. Naturally, the Huskies (1-2) would like to sweep to flex its Pac-12 muscle like its rivals.
Washington State (4-4) made 12 three-pointers to defeat then-No. 10 Nebraska 76-72 on Saturday. Playing before 5,933 fans, it was the Cornhuskers’ first loss in its sparkling new Pinnacle Bank Arena. It was the Cougs’ first win over a Top 10 team in program history.
“A lot of our girls had never played in an arena this loud, so for us to keep our composure and poise when they came back on us showed that we can hang with some of the top teams,” WSU junior G Tia Presley told reporters in Lincoln, Neb. She scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half, none from three-point range.
In Mexico, senior G Adrianne Thomas forced overtime on a buzzer-beating layup and ASU outscored then-No. 11 North Carolina 17-4 in extra play for an eventual 94-81 win on Friday. The Sun Devils (6-1) went on to defeat Arkansas State 69-66 to win the Cancun Challenge.
Add No. 6 Stanford (7-1) defeating then-No. 16 Purdue en route to collecting the Hardwood Tournament of Hope title and coach Tara VanDerveer’s career-900th victory and the Pac-12 is 4-9 overall against the nation’s ranked teams. A better outlook for NCAA tournament hopes.
“It seems there are more upsets than ever before,” said Neighbors, a known stat guru. His theory is the NCAA enforcing defensive rules caused normally physical teams to back-off or get pushed back due to foul trouble.
“Now shooters can make shots,” he said.
It bodes well for UW’s style. The Huskies led the Pac-12 last season in making 7.9 three-pointers a game. The outside shot could be needed against the Aggies’ big frontcourt, led by 6-foot-5 senior C Karla Gilbert, who averages 10.5 points and 8.5 rebounds. Houston has a similar lineup to Washington.
Neighbors held closed-door scrimmages and utilized his male practice squad to emulate the Texan teams. He’ll have freshman post Chantel Osahor (shoulder) in the lineup for the first time this season to add depth and size.
A&M lost its past two games to Syracuse and Texas before defeating San Diego State, 72-35, on Tuesday. Syracuse (8-0) vaulted into the AP poll at No. 22 after the A&M win. Houston has won three of its past four games.
“We’ll have to get some kids to play bigger than they are,” Neighbors said of his rotations where forwards Aminah Williams (6-foot) and Talia Walton (6-2) start inside. Williams ranked fourth in the conference in rebounding last season (10.8).
A banner honoring A&M coach Gary Blair’s induction to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame will be raised when the Aggies host the Huskies. Neighbor’s began his college career as Blair’s director of operations. The coaches remain in close contact now, Blair often calling during late-night trips because of the time difference.
Neighbors is also close to Houston coach Todd Buchanan. As high school coaches, the pair were roommates while working former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson’s basketball camps back in the day.
“I’m everybody’s West Coast guy when they’re driving late,” Neighbors said. “But I’m talking to him (Blair) weekly and even correspond with him by email, which I can’t believe he knows how to use it…We’ll see lots of familiar faces and it is different when you play somebody you know or somebody you’ve worked for, you want to get in their head a little bit because you know them. But the kids don’t know that and it’s on me to make sure I don’t let it become a distraction.”
TRACK MEET: Speaking of increased scoring, “Paul Ball” is alive and well in Oregon. Ducks coach Paul Westhead has the team averaging a NCAA-best 98.3 points. Oregon has reached triple digits three times already this season, setting a Pac-12 record with 131 points in its season-opening win over CSU Bakersfield. UO defeated Princeton, 110-90 on Sunday.
The press-and-run style travels to KeyArena on Wednesday when Seattle U (3-4) hosts Oregon (4-2). It’s the Redhawks’ third matchup against a Pac-12 opponent this season, losing to the Huskies (82-60) and Cougs (81-72) in November. But the Ducks could be the toughest competition because of its quickness, rebounding and ability to shoot with accuracy.
Oregon averages 54 boards this season compared to the Redhawks’40.9. SU had 33 turnovers in its last outing, a win against Cornell. UO forces 17.3 miscues powered by freshman G Chrishae Rowe, who averages 22.7 points and 7.7 rebounds. Sophomore F Jillian Alleyne averages 19.8 points and 12.5 rebounds.
The Ducks have already matched its win total from an injury-plagued 2012-13 season when it finished at 4-27.
Oregon and Seattle U have met six times, the Ducks owning a perfect 6-0 record in the series. The teams have not met since 1981, however, when the Ducks won, 100-57, in Eugene.
CLASS ACT: SU senior F Kacie Sowell was nominated for the second-annual WBCA Good Works award. The award recognizes a select group of college basketball student-athletes who have made significant contributions to the greater good of their communities through volunteerism and civic service.
Sowell is a four-year member of the Seattle U Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), serving as the SAAC Holiday Food Drive Chair in the fall of 2013. She volunteered with the Northwest Harvest Food Service food drive in 2011. In 2012, she served as a volunteer in chore/companion services, serving a senior citizen sponsored by Catholic Community Services.
The past four seasons, Sowell served as the committee chair for the SAAC Holiday Toy Drive and volunteered at the Rotary Boys & Girls Club, helping with all-girls gym events and tutoring kids. During SU’s trip to Costa Rica last summer, Sowell and teammates taught basketball skills to young schoolchildren at La Puebla de Heredia.
RANK ‘EM: Seattle Pacific (4-0) continues to climb the Division II poll, landing at No. 6 this week. No. 24 Gonzaga (4-1) didn’t move in the AP D-I poll, but plenty of other teams did. ASU even garnered some votes after it upset now-No. 18 UNC.
POW: Here’s a list of conference Player of the Weeks based on ties from programs in Washington (UW, WSU, Gonzaga, Seattle U and Eastern Washington).
Pac-12: Stanford senior F Chiney Ogwumike.
WCC: Saint Mary’s senior F Danielle Mauldin.
WAC: CSU Bakersfield junior G Tyonna Outfield.
Big Sky: Northern Arizona junior F Erikka Banks.
GOLDEN APPLE: OK, normally players say they’re better than ever when they return from injury, WSU G Tia Presley backs her word up every game. Robbed of the past two seasons due to a foot and knee injury, Presley is averaging a team-high 20.5 points. WSU lost an entertaining game at BYU but bounced back to pull an upset against then-No. 10 Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday. Presley had a game-high 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a career-high five steals, hitting 5-of-7 free throws — all in the second half.
WNBA LOTTERY: The WNBA Draft Lottery will be featured in primetime, again. It’ll air during the 1:30pm PT “SportsCenter” on ESPN. Yeah, that’s not “primetime” for us, but…Connecticut, which finished at 10-24 last summer, has the best opportunity (44.2 percent) to win the top pick in the 2014 draft. New York and Tulsa both finished the year at 11-23 and will have the second most chances to land the top pick (22.7 percent each). San Antonio, which ended the season at 12-22, rounds out the lottery-eligible teams. The Silver Stars has a 10.4 percent chance to win the first overall selection.
Seattle finished the season at 17-17 and will select seventh. It’s not a glittery draft like last season’s Big Three. Guards continue to be a glaring gap on the Storm’s roster, especially with G Tanisha Wright intimating she won’t play more than 10 years and All-Star PG Sue Bird entering her twilight.