There’s no stronger conference in collegiate women’s basketball than the Pac-12, which is why a record-tying seven teams from the highly talented conference have made it to the dance. Here’s our breakdown of each Pac-12 team in the women’s tournament this year.
No. 1 Stanford
Kenzo Fukuda: Head coach Tara VanDerveer has compared this Stanford team to the Golden State Warriors in how both teams have an abundance of talent they need to fulfill. However, Stanford has shown its Achilles heel in recent upset losses against UCLA and Utah. Still, this team looks invincible when Cameron Brink is in her zone. How far Stanford goes will depend on how well its veterans can lead its rising stars; freshman Talana Lepolo could be a key contributor in a Stanford championship run.
Jane Kenny: Rightfully tagged a No. 1 seed, Stanford is lined with proven weapons such as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Brink and sharpshooters Haley Jones and Hannah Jump. Yet, a massive target pins its back, and on several occasions this season opponents have exposed the Cardinals’ weaknesses. It would not be entirely surprising if the giant was taken down in second or third rounds, if not by Iowa’s Caitlin Clark thereafter.
No. 2 Utah
KF: Utah’s record-breaking season experienced a hiccup after losing early in the Pac-12 tournament. But the Utes are one of the scariest teams in the dance because of Alissa Pili. The Pac-12 Player of the Year is one of — if not the — best power forwards in the country. Pili’s elite scoring gives her a gravity that allows her teammates wide open shots. Utah does have Indiana in its section, but this group feels like the team of destiny.
JK: It’s Utah’s year, as demonstrated all season by Pac-12 Player of the Year Pili. The Utes’ high-flying offense tramples opponents in the transition game, averaging 19.6 points off turnovers per game and shares the ball remarkably well, averaging just under 20 assists per game. The Utes’ placement in the Greenville 2 sector of the bracket opens the door for a deep tournament run, with Final Four potential embedded in Utah’s spirits.
No. 4 UCLA
KF: The Bruins have had an up and down regular season but they are hitting their stride when it matters. What makes this team special is head coach Cori Close. Close has this team absolutely buzzing with joy and confidence. During the Pac-12 tournament, Close repeated the team’s mindset: “We talk about people preparing to beat us, we are competing to be us.” When the Bruins are competing to be themselves, there are few teams in the tournament that can match their energy.
JK: The Bruins’ luck of the draw placed them enroute for a potential third round collision with undefeated and No. 1 South Carolina. Veteran-rookie duo Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice recently overcame Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament, and the team took a dignified crack at the Gamecocks in the preseason, but fell just nine points short. Even with a feel for Aliyah Boston and South Carolina, it would be rather surprising to see the Bruins surmount the powerhouse on the big stage — but a Sweet 16 run is not out of the picture.
No. 5 Washington State
KF: After winning the Pac-12 tournament as the seventh seed, Washington state is poised to make some noise in the big tournament. Charlisse Leger-Walker is the engine that makes this team, leading it with 18.1 points a game this season. But Washington State’s X-factor is center Bella Murekatete. Murekatete anchors the Cougar defense and they need her size to stay aggressive on the boards.
JK: Momentum breeds madness, and steered by All-Pac-12 guard Leger-Walker, the Cougars have just that. A freshly-clinched Pac-12 championship in hand, Washington State will take on FGCU in the opening round. Leger-Walker, in tandem with center Murekatete, who averaged 16.2 points in the Pac-12 tournament, will likely continue her stride through the round-of-64, where a potential match-up with No. 4 Villanova awaits. The Wildcats are led by prolific scorer Maddy Siegrist, who has put up 20+ points in every single matchup of the 2022-23 season. A tough path aligns for the Cougars, but as seen just last week, Washington State is capable of topping a momentous underdog ride.
No. 6 Colorado
KF: Colorado feels like the least talked about team in the Pac-12, which is a disservice to its excellent season. While the Buffs sit in a group of death containing both Stanford and Iowa, Colorado boasts one of the stronger big rotations in the country thanks to Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh. Factor in the Buffs’ ability to slow games down and dominate the posts when picking this team.
JK: Feisty throughout Pac-12 play, the Buffs have captured impressive wins over Utah and Arizona. Backcourt forces Miller and Vonleh spearhead a defensive system, embellished with interior physicality and active hands in the passing lanes, which in turn propels offense. Largely flying under the radar, Colorado’s perseverance against top-tier competition all season sets the groundwork for a first-round stride through Middle Tennessee. Challenge then arises in a potential matchup with No. 3 Duke. The Blue Devils’ second-ranked defense in the nation may very well be grounds for a Colorado knockout.
No. 7 Arizona
KF: Arizona is scattered after losing its last three games, including one to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament. Following that upset, head coach Adia Barnes sent a message to her team about what needs to change if the Wildcats want to rally for the tournament. “The stuff I’m talking about isn’t something I can teach. I can’t make you go play hard. I can give you all the tools but if you can’t perform, that’s on you.” The Wildcats aren’t gelling right now, so it’s hard to see the team finding their footing in March.
JK: The Wildcats’ road performance raises questions ahead of their first-round matchup against No. 10 West Virginia. Arizona is a distinguished 12-3 in McKale Center, but cannot say the same for its 7-5 record outside of its territory. Certainly the heightened pressures of March Madness could accentuate this flaw, particularly paired with Arizona’s dwindling confidence ensuing a three-game losing streak. Not the ideal foundation for success on the big stage, so the Wildcats will have a bit to prove if they are going to make a run.
No. 8 USC
KF: USC at its best is frightening. But this team has a tendency to play down to its opponents’ level. The Trojans were bounced early by Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament. Additionally, USC was the only ranked team that Cal was able to upset this season. Seeding wise, No. 1 seed Virginia Tech lurking in the second round spells doom for the Trojans.
JK: Cal’s recent overtime triumph over the Trojans goes to show that anything can happen, even in seemingly lopsided matchups. Although Destiny Littleton and Kadi Sissoko have excelled throughout the season, a momentous wave — like the one the Bears rode to defeat USC in overtime — is all too common in the midst of March Mayhem. In an ever-competitive No. 8 vs. 9 match-up, the Trojans may see a disappointing early tournament exit.