Pac-12 conference in search of great things in women’s basketball

Charli Turner Thorne is shocked.

“It’s really been so long,” asks the Arizona women’s basketball coach, sitting at the ASU media center hours before a game against Oregon last week.

Yes, they told him, the Pac-12 has not won a national championship since 1992.


But as surprising as the fact that the “Champions Conference” hasn’t picked up a trophy in almost 30 years is the group of stacked teams that will try to end the drought this season. With six teams in the top 25 of the Associated Press this week, including four in the top 10, the Pac-12 has many candidates for the championship.

Will it be Oregon, the Final Four team that returns with a star base? Or Stanford, led by coach Tara VanDerveer, the first coach to win 500 games in a league?

“But you can’t count the state of Oregon, UCLA, and you know it,” Turner Thorne said before stopping, “other teams in our conference.”

The most winning coach in the history of the state of Arizona shares a sly smile. In 36 hours, the Sun Devils would test how many teams in the conference can cause a stir when an unclassified Arizona State team surprised at that time: No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State with consecutive victories at Tempe to intimidate among the first 25 .

Arizona State made its season debut at No. 18 on Monday, while Oregon fell to No. 6 and Oregon State stumbled to No. 8. UCLA, the only unbeaten team left in the nation, rose to No. 7 Arizona remained at the top 25 in No. 21 despite a run of three consecutive losses, all losses reach the Pac-12 teams.

Colorado escort Emma Clarke (3) and UCLA escort Lindsey Corsaro (4) in the second half on Sunday in Boulder, Colorado. UCLA won 65-62.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Stanford came out of a chaotic weekend in which 11 classified teams lost as the best-ranked Pac-12 team in number 3. The Cardinal will play against the Ducks on Thursday night in Oregon.

Stanford has long been the champion of the Pac-12. The Cardinal, who has appeared in 32 consecutive NCAA tournaments, is the last team west of the Rockies to win the NCAA title.

Since then, Connecticut became a power, winning 11 national titles. Tennessee has won five times since 1992, Baylor three times and Notre Dame twice (along with five second places).

Now, through a deliberate process from Pac-12, the balance of power could be shifting westward.

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Kayla Overbeck was 18 years old and wanted to branch out. The 6-foot-1 forward was interested in Pac-12 schools as a player of the Year of Division 2A of the South Section of Newbury Park, but wanted to boost her comfort zone. Then he chose Vanderbilt in Nashville, 2,000 miles away.

Now, in its second season with USC, the senior transfer is seeing how sweet home can be.

“When they recruited me, it was all about the SEC being the best basketball and, honestly, I think my opinion is starting to change,” said Overbeck, a first-year honoree at the SEC in 2017 and captain of the USC this season. “Now the Pac-12 is becoming the place where players want to play, play against the best competition, play with the best players. It’s the best, honestly. “

With Overbeck as leader, the Trojans are one of the young teams that reap the recruitment rewards of the improvement conference. The USC’s first-year class was ranked fifth in the nation by ESPN, led by two state Catrade players of the year at Endiya Rogers (Texas) and Alissa Pili (Alaska) and McDonald’s All-American Angel Jackson. The first-year trio has obtained 52.6% of USC points this season.

Jackson, a 6-foot 5-inch center in Richmond, California, was a five-star recruit according to ESPN and had three Pac-12 teams (Arizona State, USC and California) in its last four schools, along with Florida. Of the nine five-star recruits with ESPN ratings from the western states, eight went to Pac-12 schools.

Haley Jones, a 6-foot-1 guard from Santa Cruz, led the group as the number 1 recruit in the nation. With offers from all the best schools, he chose Stanford and averaged 14.8 points during his first four Pac-12 games.

“Many of the elite players would head east and play in Tennessee or Rutgers or UConn,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves, whose program is enjoying the historic success behind another west coast star, Sabrina Ionescu of Walnut Creek , California. “Many of those really elite players will stay here to the west and now we can recruit nationally.”

The growing presence of Pac-12 recruiting is one reason why the Oregon sixth-year coach is confident that the Ducks will not diminish after seniors Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard graduate. The incoming Oregon recruiting class, which ranks number 1 in the nation, includes five signatories from five states: Indiana, New Jersey, Kentucky, Illinois and California. All are five star prospects.

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For potential recruits, coaches in Pac-12 promote the academic position and attractive locations of their school. Those things have always been true about the conference, but now they look even more attractive to recruits, since the package includes improved facilities and national television broadcasts.

Schools are investing in women’s basketball, said Mary Murphy, an analyst at Pac-12 Networks, pointing to the Arizona state basketball facility, which includes dedicated gyms for men and women, which opened in 2009. Oregon State and UCLA They added similar facilities in 2013 and 2017, respectively. .

“As administrations have seen how much value, even equity, women’s basketball can bring to their program, there has been more investment,” said Turner Thorne. “And you can’t win without it.”

Although the television strategy of the conference has been mercilessly criticized from the standpoint of football because the audience lags behind the other important conferences and revenues have declined, women’s basketball accredits the same network for its increase.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, right, calls guard Hannah Jump (33) to the game during the first half against Tennessee on December 18, 2019 at Stanford.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, right, calls guard Hannah Jump (33) to the game during the first half against Tennessee on December 18, 2019 at Stanford.

(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

The five conference coaches interviewed for this story agreed that Pac-12 Networks is a powerful recruiting tool, especially on the national stage. This season, the 108 conference games will be televised for the first time.

“Honestly, there is a high correlation between Pac-12 Networks, the television station and the respect that the conference has been receiving,” VanDerveer said. “The conference has always had great players and excellent coaches, excellent universities, but I don’t know if we’ve always received the respect we deserve and I think a lot of that is because people are sleeping when we’re playing.” “

The Pac-12 has the attention of the nation now.

Last week, the Pac-12 had three teams in the top five of AP, and four in the top 10 before the state of Arizona collapsed the party. This week, the Pac-12 has seven teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI. While the upheavals of the state of Arizona left Oregon and the state of Oregon out of the top five places of the AP and potentially damaged Pac-12’s commitment to the top ranking in the NCAA tournament, Murphy sees it as something Positive for the conference.

“It’s a great thing,” said the former Wisconsin coach, “because you don’t win a national championship and don’t make your way into the NCAA tournament if you’re not prepared.”

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For a conference that claims to be the best in the nation, all roads lead to the NCAA tournament, where it seems to be an open championship race this year.

Four teams have taken first place in the AP survey this season, including number 1 this week, South Carolina. It is only the third time since the AP top 25 became a survey of writers in the 1994-95 season that there have been four No. 1 teams in the same year.

Without a dominant team leading the charge, VanDerveer believes it could be a good time for the Pac-12 to eliminate the final obstacle and end the drought in the championship. The conference has been knocking on the door for years.

Since 2013, Pac-12 has had five or more NCAA tournament teams every year. Last year, five of the six teams went to Sweet 16, and Oregon was the fifth different Pac-12 team to reach the Final Four since 2013. No other conference has had so many different national semifinalists during that period.

The results of the NCAA tournament reflect the camaraderie among coaches who joined to lift Pac-12 from the stalemate of the Power Five, said UCLA coach Cori Close.

The group agreed “Back the Pac” at every opportunity, either through public comments to reporters or social networks. The coaches promised never to recruit negatively against each other. They strategically planned their games without a conference to maximize the potential of RPI knowing that each Power Five victory without a conference was just another feather in the collective hat of the Pac-12.

“People put aside their egos, put aside their programs and say that rising tides will lift all ships,” said Close, “and that is exactly what happened.”

This year, conference coaches expect to see multiple No. 1 seeds of Pac-12. They want multiple Final Four teams. But for the “Conference of Champions,” this kind of regular historical season needs a historic ending.

“This is a really special moment,” said VanDerveer. “We just have to support him by going to the Final Four and winning the national championship.”

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