The Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball season appears to be headed for a photo finish and the winner of the horse race will be in a good position land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Stanford and Cal women’s basketball teams have been running neck-and-neck throughout the Pac-12’s regular season, splitting their head-to-head series and posting perfect records against the rest of the league. While the conference is deep this year, every indication suggests that the No. 4 Cardinal and the No. 5 Bears are on a collision course to meet one more time in the championship game of the Pac-12 women’s tournament in Seattle, which kicks off today.
“Of course I’m going to leave it to the powers that be, but I think if Stanford or Cal wins this Pac-12 tournament and has to go through the other one to do it, yeah, [the team would deserve a No. 1 seed],” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
The Bears (27-2, 17-1) are putting together a monumental season, capturing a share of their first-ever Pac-12 title, setting a school record by winning their 15th straight game against Washington on Saturday and if they’re victorious in their opening-round Pac-12 tournament game on Friday, they’ll set a new mark with 28 wins.
“They’ve played their way through the Pac-12,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “They know what it takes.”
But Cal’s biggest achievement might have been snapping Stanford’s 81-game Pac-12 winning streak with a 67-55 win at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 13.
“Any time you beat a team of that caliber, it’s a confidence booster,” Gottlieb said. “There’s a difference between hoping and knowing.”
Cal leads the Pac-12 in scoring offense (71.8 points per game) and rebounding (44.3 per game), thanks in part to a deep frontcourt led by All-Pac-12 selection Gennifer Brandon (12.4 points, 11.0 rebounds), Talia Caldwell and Reshanda Gray.
But Gottlieb’s guard play is equally impressive with Naismith Award candidate Layshia Clarendon (15.9 points), All-Pac-12 selection Brittany Boyd and All-Pac-12 defensive team selection Eliza Pierre.
But for the Bears to win their first Pac-12 tournament title, they will need to find a way to contain Chiney Ogwumike, who is a viable national Player of the Year candidate. Ogwumike ranks among the top five among Division I players in points per game (22.9), rebounds per game (12.7), field-goal percentage (59.1) and double-doubles (23).
Ogwumike will need help though if Stanford is going to capture its eighth straight Pac-12 tourney title. The Cardinal aren’t as deep as past seasons and will miss guard Toni Kokenis, who is out with an undisclosed illness. But All-Pac-12 selections Amber Orrange and Joslyn Tinkle are capable of adding second and third dimensions to Stanford’s offense.
But the Bay Area schools can’t look past the rest of the conference this season. No. 14 UCLA (23-6) and No. 18 Colorado (24-5) could both pull off upsets if they catch fire in the tournament.
“It’s really compressed,” VanDerveer said. “There are a lot of good teams in there that are capable.”