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What should Arizona women’s basketball expect in the Pac-12?

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Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

In a nutshell

After winding up the non-conference slate with a win against Northern Arizona, the Arizona Wildcats are staring down the next phase of their journey: Pac-12 play. It will be a huge step up in competition for a team that has played the No. 281 schedule in the country.

Arizona coach Adia Barnes isn’t worried about that, though. She has said several times that it was necessary for her young Wildcats to learn how to win in pre-conference precisely because they will be facing a difficult task once league play starts. Now, she thinks it’s time to rely on the defense and exceed expectations.

“It’s going to be really tough, but I think we can surprise some people,” Barnes said. “I think we can make some noise. We’re very capable. I think on any given night we can beat anybody. I really do, because I think our defense is one of the best in the Pac-12. Now, we have to consistently do that. We’re starting to create our identity, and now it’s doing that.

“But for me, the most important thing is that we don’t know how to win. So, learning how to win, getting that confidence was the most important thing for me in the non-conference. It wasn’t about who we played, playing ranked teams or not. It was about us getting better and finding our rhythm and learning and feeling good. And now we will take care of business, and I think we have a chance to surprise some people and do better than people anticipate.”

The Pac-12 currently has five ranked teams and another two receiving votes in the Associated Press poll. Two of those teams are ranked in the Top 10. National analysts have suggested that three teams have a legitimate shot at reaching the Final Four. The Pac-12 coaches are all ready for a fight.

“I definitely think we’re the best conference in the country, one through twelve, hands down” said Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne. “It’s going to be such a great, brutal Pac-12 season.”

Are the Wildcats prepared to face the top league in the country? How will things unfold for them?

Based strictly on “who’s better on paper” in each match-up, a reasonable expectation is that they will go 7-11 in conference. While that doesn’t sound encouraging, it’s a vast improvement from their 2-16 conference record last season and would put the Wildcats at 17-12 for the season. That would qualify them for the WNIT, giving them their first postseason appearance since Ify Ibekwe wore cardinal and navy in 2010-11.

“We have ways to go, we have to get better in the Pac-12,” Barnes said. “We’re going to learn real fast.”

Let’s get to know the teams they will be facing to find out why a 17-12 record is likely in Arizona’s future. The teams are listed in the order that Arizona will face them.

Breaking down the teams

Arizona State Sun Devils

What’s their record and who have they played?

The Sun Devils ended the non-conference slate at 9-2. Both losses were neutral-site games against teams ranked in the top five at the time. In the second game of the season, ASU lost to Baylor by six after leading in the first half. Later in November, they dropped a two-point game to Louisville at the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout in Las Vegas. They have played the No. 55 schedule in the country according to BennettRank.

Who are their top players?

All five Sun Devil starters are shooting better than 37% from the field, led by Charnea Johnson-Chapman at 54.5%. Johnson-Chapman also leads the team in rebounding with 6.9 per contest.

Their leading scorer, Kianna Ibis, puts up 12.2 points per game on 46% shooting.

Courtney Ekmark is their strongest outside shooter. She leads the team with 23 made threes on 37% shooting from beyond the arc.

What are their strengths?

The Sun Devils take very good care of the ball, ranking eighth in assist-to-turnover ration. They also rank in the top 20 in opponents’ points per game, defensive rebound rate, total rebound rate, and turnovers per game.

What are their rankings?

ASU is ranked No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the USA Today/WBCA poll. They are No. 24 in the RPI. The coaches predicted they would finish fifth in the Pac-12 preseason poll.

When do they play and how can you watch?

Arizona will kick off the Pac-12 season at home against ASU on Dec. 30 at 5 p.m. MST. The Wildcats will face the Sun Devils again on Feb. 1 at Wells Fargo Arena. That game will start at 6 p.m. Both games will be televised on Pac-12 Arizona. Fans can also follow along via Arizona Live Stats.

What are Arizona’s chances?

ASU has shown that they are competitive against the top echelon of women’s college basketball. It’s probably too early to expect the Wildcats to upset them. The Sun Devils won both games by 24+ points last season. While Arizona got better, ASU did, too. Competing well and closing the gap would be a positive going forward. Doing so in the first match-up is especially important, since this will be the first big test of the season for Arizona. Prediction: 0-2

Colorado Buffaloes

What’s their record and who have they played?

The Buffaloes went 10-1 in the lead-up to Pac-12 play. Their lone loss came in Coral Gables, Fl against the Miami Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were ranked No. 20 and 21 in the polls at the time. Colorado’s schedule is ranked No. 212 according to BennetRank.

Who are their top players?

Kennedy Leonard is leading the Buffaloes in both scoring (13.9 points per game) and assists (7.3 per game). The senior guard is second all-time for Colorado in assists, and is shooting over 35% from three. She ranks seventh in the country in assists per game this season and 26th in steals (3.2 per game).

Mya Hollingshed is pacing the Buffaloes in rebounding with 7.3 per game, and comes just behind Leonard in scoring at 12 points per game on 50% shooting. She is also accounting for 0.6 blocks per contest.

What are their strengths?

Colorado has excelled on the defensive end of the court. They rank in the top 50 in opponent field goal percentage, steal rate, and opponents assist-to-turnover ratio. They are also effective on the boards, pulling down 15.9 rebounds per game (28th in the country) and 44.3 total rebounds per game (23rd in the country).

What are their rankings?

The Buffaloes are No. 44 in RPI. They were picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll, one spot above Arizona.

When do they play and how can you watch?

The Wildcats will travel to Boulder on Jan. 4. The game gets started at 7 p.m. MST and can be viewed on Colorado Live Stream. The return game will be played at McKale Center on Feb. 17 at noon. It will be aired on the Pac-12 Networks. As with all Arizona games, fans can follow along on Arizona Live Stats.

What are Arizona’s chances?

The teams split their games last season, each winning at home. Arizona is a much better team than the one that lost in Boulder by 19. They also have more quality depth, although they only have a roster of 10 now. The Wildcats have nine players who can play meaningful minutes if they are called on. They should take at least one, and have a decent shot at sweeping the Buffs this season. The biggest thing in Colorado’s favor might be the altitude rather than the team. Prediction: 2-0

Utah Utes

What’s their record and who have they played?

The Utes are a perfect 11-0 going into conference play, but that record comes against the No. 276 strength of schedule. Only Arizona had a lower strength of schedule in the conference. The Utes’ best wins were against Alabama (8-5) and BYU (8-3).

Who are their top players?

Utah has a strong class of freshmen. They’ve won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week four times this season, with three of those going to forward Dre’Una Edwards. Edwards is ninth in the conference in rebounding, securing 8.4 per game. She also averages 12.4 points per game on 51.8% shooting.

But the team relies on senior Megan Huff, who is playing in her second season since transferring from Hawai’i. Huff is fifth in the conference with nine rebounds per game. She backs that up with 20.4 points per game, good for fourth in the Pac-12. She was an All Pac-12 performer last season.

What are their strengths?

The Utes are strong shooters. They rank in the top 20 in field goal percentage (47.9%), free throw percentage (79.7%), 2-point percentage (54.1%), effective field goal percentage (54.4%), points per scoring attempt (1.15), and points per play (0.96). They are also in the top 40 in 3-point percentage (36.6%).

What are their rankings?

Utah is No. 85 in RPI. They were selected No. 8 in the preseason conference poll.

When do they play and how can you watch?

The Wildcats visit the Utes on Jan. 6 at noon MST. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks. The return visit will take place in McKale Center on Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. MST. It can be viewed on Arizona Live Stream.

What are Arizona’s chances?

Arizona lost big in both games last season. With a much-improved roster this year, they stand a solid chance of at least splitting. Like Arizona, Utah is untested, so it isn’t easy to determine how good either team really is. Prediction: 1-1

California Golden Bears

What’s their record and who have they played?

The Golden Bears are 9-1 with their only loss coming against the nation’s No. 1 team, Connecticut. Their schedule ranks No. 26 in the land. They still have one more non-conference game to play, with a contest against Harvard scheduled for Dec. 30.

Who are their top players?

When talking about Cal, the focus will always be on Kristine Anigwe. The senior leads the league with 13.7 rebounds per game. She also accounts for 1.7 blocks per game. Her 17 blocks are good for second in the Pac-12. She’s tops on the team with 10 steals this season, good for 1.0 per game. In scoring, she trails only Arizona’s Aari McDonald with 22.2 points per game. She is efficient, as well, shooting 61.8% from the field.

Anigwe is followed closely by Asha Thomas. Thomas averages 11.2 points per game on 42.1% shooting. She has 19 made 3-point shots this season while shooting 39.6% from distance. She’s second on the team with 36 assists against only 13 turnovers. She’s also second on the team with eight steals.

What are their strengths?

As Anigwe’s stats would suggest, Cal is tough on the defensive boards and inside shooting. The team ranks in the top 50 in overall field goal percentage (44.4%) and 2-point field goal percentage (50.9%). They are also in the top 20 in defensive rebounding with 30.6 per game. They have a defensive rebound rate of 73%.

What are their rankings?

The Golden Bears are ranked No. 14 by the Associated Press and No. 13 in the USA Today/WBCA poll. They are No. 7 in the RPI. The Pac-12 preseason poll pegged them at fourth in the conference.

When do they play and how can you watch?

Cal comes to Tucson on Jan. 11 for a 7 p.m. game. That game will air on the Pac-12 Networks. The return game in Berkeley will be at 3 p.m. MST on Feb. 24. It will be streamed on Cal Live Stream.

What are Arizona’s chances?

The Wildcats barely lost to Cal by a score of 53-51 in Tucson last season. The Golden Bears destroyed Arizona when the game was held in Berkeley. California will likely win both of these, but they should be closer to the scoreline at McKale than the one in Haas Pavilion. Prediction: 0-2

Stanford Cardinal

What’s their record and who have they played?

The Cardinal stand at 9-1 with one game to go in their non-conference season. Oh, yeah...two of the last three games were wins over top 10 opponents. They have faced the tenth-ranked schedule in the nation, which is tops in the Pac-12.

Their lone loss came on the road against Gonzaga. Tara VanDerveer’s team rebounded to beat No. 3 Baylor and No. 9 Tennessee in the next two contests. The Tennessee win came on the road.

Who are their top players?

The Cardinal have three players averaging double-digit scoring. They are led by Alanna Smith with 19.4 points per game. She also averages 1.1 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. Smith is shooting 58.5% from the field, including 50.9% from three. She’s second on the team with 6.7 rebounds per game.

Smith is followed by Kiana Williams with 14.3 points per game and DiJonai Carrington with 11.6.

What are their strengths?

As a team, the Cardinal shoot very well. They are in the top 15 in the country in field goal percentage, 3-point shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, points per scoring attempt, and points per play. They are just outside the top 20 in 2-point shooting percentage.

They are strong on the defensive boards, ranking fourth in the nation in defensive rebounding rate and No. 19 in total rebounding rate.

Stanford is also deep. They have a roster of 14 players. Nine of those have played in all 10 games. Another has appeared in nine contests and two more have seven appearances. Ten of the 14 players average over 10 minutes per contest.

What are their rankings?

The Cardinal are No. 6 according to the AP and No. 8 according to the coaches. RPI places them fourth. They were selected to finish second in the conference, although ESPN analyst Deb Antonelli said that, along with Oregon and Oregon State, they are one of three Pac-12 teams that have the potential to reach the Final Four.

When do they play and how can you watch?

The Cardinal come to McKale Center on Jan. 13 at noon MST. That game will air on the Pac-12 Networks. The Wildcats go to Maples on Feb. 22 for a 8 p.m. MST game. That game will stream on Stanford Live Stream.

What are Arizona’s chances?

When the Arizona program was at its peak, they were able to challenge the Cardinal. That hasn’t been the case in almost 15 years, though. The Wildcats will likely lose both match-ups with Stanford, but they are building a program that can once again challenge the best teams in the conference. Prediction: 0-2

Oregon State Beavers

What’s their record and who have they played?

The Beavers played the No. 70 schedule in the pre-season, going 9-2 on the way. They still have one game to go before starting Pac-12 play, but they have faced several major conference foes already. They went 1-1 against No. 25 South Carolina (a 70-68 win) and No. 2 Notre Dame (a 91-81 loss) in Vancouver, BC.

Who are their top players?

Redshirt sophomore Destiny Slocum is playing in her first Pac-12 season after transferring from Maryland. She’s leading the Beavers in scoring with 15 per game. She’s shooting 43.3% from outside. She aslo leads the team in assists with 5.4 per game.

Mikayla Pivec is the team’s leading rebounder with 9.1 per game. She is second on the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game on a 52.8% shooting percentage.

What are their strengths?

Oregon State has seven players who have taken at least 50 shots this season. They all shoot at least 41.3% from the field. In fact, 41.3% is the lowest shooting percentage on the team, with all eleven players who have taken a shot besting that percentage.

They are first in the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 43.4%, and they are second at effective field goal with a percentage of 58.2%. They are top 10 in overall shooting percentage (49.8%), points per scoring attempt (1.19), and points per play (0.99).

What are their rankings?

Both the AP and the coaches have the Beavers at No. 11. They are No. 55 in the RPI. The Pac-12 coaches predicted that they would finish third in the conference.

When do they play and how can you watch?

Arizona will visit Gill Coliseum on Jan. 18 for a 8 p.m. MST tip-off. That game will not be televised or streamed, but you can listen to it and follow along on Arizona Live Stats. The Beavers will play in Tucson on Mar. 3 at 3 p.m. MST. That match-up will be aired live on the Pac-12 Networks.

What are Arizona’s chances?

In January, Oregon State will be the second of three straight games the Wildcats play against teams with Final Four potential. The Wildcats lost by 40 and 25 points in the two games last season. The Beavers might be even better this year, especially with Slocum playing like she is. Don’t expect Arizona to take one off OSU. Prediction: 0-2

Oregon Ducks

What is their record and who have they played?

The Ducks enter Pac-12 play at 11-1. Their lone loss of the season came at Michigan State. They have victories over two teams who were ranked at the time they played: No. 18 Syracuse and No. 4 Mississippi State. Both of those wins came in Eugene. With the No. 14 strength of schedule, they have played the third-toughest slate in the Pac-12.

Who are their top players?

Sabrina Ionescu was an All-American last year. Ruthy Hebard was All Pac-12. Both returned for the 2018-19 Ducks.

Ionescu is scoring 20.2 points per game, good for 26th in the country and fifth in the conference. She is first with 8.5 assists per game. She shoots over 54.7% from 3-point land, which places her second in the Pac-12.

Hebard is seventh in the conference with 8.5 rebounds per game. She is second on the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game.

What are their strengths?

Shooting, shooting and more shooting. Oregon ranks first in Division I in free throw percentage, effective field goal percentage, points per scoring attempt, and points per play. They are second in the country in 2-point shooting percentage, eighth in 3-point percentage, and fourth in overall shooting percentage.

They are the number one team in assist-to-turnover ratio, and come in at No. 5 in assists.

What are their rankings?

The AP and the coaches both have the Ducks at No. 5, while the RPI puts them third. The preseason Pac-12 poll placed them first in the conference.

When do they play and how can you watch?

The Pac-12 Networks will air the Oregon-Arizona game in Eugene on Jan. 20 at 1 p.m. MST. The two teams will again appear on the Pac-12 Networks when Oregon comes to McKale Center on Mar. 1 at 8 p.m. for both teams’ final regular season game.

What are Arizona’s chances?

Early in the season, this will be the third straight game Arizona plays against a team said to have Final Four potential. Oregon won 62-44 in Eugene last year, then followed it up with a 74-61 victory to secure the regular season crown in Tucson. The Wildcats are unlikely to take either game off the Ducks this season, either. They can show that they are progressing by keeping it in single digits, especially when Oregon comes to Tucson at the end of the season. Prediction 0-2

Southern California Women of Troy

What is their record and who have they played?

The Women of Troy wound up the non-conference at 10-1 against the No. 156 schedule in the country. They played only one major conference team—Texas A&M—and lost to them by 20 points. Like the Wildcats, USC’s pre-conference record doesn’t tell us much about the team.

Who are their top players?

Also like Arizona, USC is working in transfers this season. Mariya Moore spent three years at Louisville before transferring to USC to play with her younger sister, Minyon. The elder Moore scored over 1,000 points in her three years with the Cardinals. At USC, she trails her sister, but she’s still scoring in double digits.

Minyon Moore leads USC with 14.9 points per game. Mariya is third on the team with 12.3. In between the two, they have Aliyah Mazyck scoring 12.7 per game.

Shalexxus Aaron leads the conference in 3-point percentage. The redshirt freshman has made 21 of the 36 long-distance shots she has attempted, good for a 58.3% shooting percentage from beyond the arc.

What are their strengths?

Despite playing a weak non-conference schedule, the Women of Troy aren’t statistically dominant in any particular area of the game. The best part of their game has been limiting their opponents’ rebounding. They rank 20th in opponents’ offensive rebounding and 21st in opponents’ total rebounding per game.When

What are their rankings?

USC sits at No. 39 in the RPI. They were chosen seventh in the Pac-12 preseason poll.

When do they play and how can you watch?

Because of the unbalanced schedule, the two teams meet only once this season. The Women of Troy will come to McKale on Jan. 25. The game will air live on the Pac-12 Networks at 7 p.m. MST.

What are Arizona’s chances?

After losing on the road in the teams’ only game last season, the Wildcats stand a very good chance of returning the favor this season. Both teams have played uninspiring out-of-conference schedules, but USC has had a few close calls to go with their lone loss. Prediction 1-0

UCLA Bruins

What is their record and who have they played?

The Bruins have are sitting just above .500 as conference season starts. They emerged from the No. 13 schedule with a 6-5 record. Things started off on the wrong foot with UCLA dropping their opener to Loyola Marymount. The Lions would also beat Arizona, proving that they’re not afraid of Pac-12 competition. The Bruins have played only three teams outside the major conferences, and they lost a one-point overtime game against No. 18 Kentucky. They have definitely been tested coming into conference play.

Who are their top players?

The Bruins have three players averaging in double digits: Michaela Onyenwere (15.4 points per game), Kennedy Burke (14.7), and Japreece Dean (13.0). Onyenwere is also second on the team in rebounds, accounting for 8.5 boards per game. Onyenwere and Burke are just outside the top 10 in the conference, placing at No. 11 and No. 13 in points per game.

What are their strengths?

UCLA is tough on the offensive glass. They rank No. 3 in the country in offensive rebounds per game and No. 2 in offensive rebound rate. They are 4th in Division I in total offensive rebounds.

What are their rankings?

The Bruins sit at No. 49 in RPI. They were picked to place sixth in the conference.

When do they play and how can you watch?

The teams will meet only once this season—Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. MST at McKale Center. It will be streamed on Arizona Live Stream and stats will be available on Arizona Live Stats.

What are Arizona’s chances?

The Bruins won 69-46 last season. That UCLA team was ranked No. 8 and had a future WNBA champion on the roster. Not only is Arizona greatly improved, but they won’t be meeting that team in Tucson this season. Arizona won’t blow out the Bruins, but they stand a good chance of beating them this year. Prediction 1-0

Washington Huskies

What is their record and who have they played?

The Huskies are 7-5. They have played some major conference teams, including No. 4 Mississippi State, giving them the No. 59 schedule in the country. The problem is that they haven’t done much against those teams. They also sport losses to Fordham, Tulane and Boise State.

Who are their top players?

Washington has two players averaging double digits: Amber Melgoza (18.5) and Missy Peterson (10.4). Melgoza is also their second-leading rebounder with 5.3 per game.

What are their strengths?

The Huskies are a team in rebuild mode. During media day, they were primarily asked about the WNBA championship of the Seattle Storm rather than the prospects for their season. Their season stats bear out why.

Washington ranks 100 or lower in most major statistical categories. Their strongest two are free throw percentage, where they are 48th in the nation, and 2-point shooting percentage (55th in the nation).

What are their rankings?

The Huskies were picked to finish last in the conference. They are currently ranked No. 100 in the RPI.

When do they play and how can you watch?

Arizona and Washington will meet only once this season. The Feb. 7 game will tip off at 8 p.m. MST in Seattle. It will be streamed on Washington’s Live Stream.

What are Arizona’s chances?

The most difficult part of the match-up for Arizona will be that it’s on the road. The Wildcats won lost year in Tucson, nudging past the Huskies by a score of 72-70. They should repeat the victory this season. Prediction: 1-0

Washington State Cougars

What’s their record and who have they played?

The Cougars will enter Pac-12 play at 5-6. They are the only conference team with a losing record. They have played the No. 27 schedule in the country, including a loss at then-No. 24 Gonzaga. The problem is that they have also lost to a number of mid-majors.

Who are their top players?

First year head coach Kamie Ethridge is dealing with a shifting roster that often occurs after a coaching change. Borislava Hristova leads the Cougars in scoring with 21.8 points per game. That trails only Aari McDonald and Kristine Anigwe in the Pac-12.

Maria Kostourkova is the team’s leading rebounder. Her 9.5 boards per game tie her with Arizona’s Cate Reese for second in the conference.

What are their strengths?

The Cougars are definitely at their best when shooting the ball. They are No. 44 in the country with a 44.7% shooting percentage. They are 35th in 3-point shooting percentage at 36.7%. Their effective field goal shooting percentage is 50.9%, placing them 41st in Division I.

What are their rankings?

After playing 11 games, WSU is No. 138 in the RPI. They were picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 this season.

What are Arizona’s chances?

Just like Washington, the strongest advantage Washington State has in this game is home-court advantage. Arizona should be able to overcome that and repay the Cougars for their victory in Tucson last season. Prediction: 1-0