Stanford and UCLA advance to their respective semifinals

I slept through UCLA 74, Oregon St. 66 in a round-of-8 WNIT game, though it was the last chance to Back The Pac on both sides. I might’ve erred by enrolling in a data science class before April, but I’m preparing for the Basketball Analytics Summit.

The Bruins get South Dakota State Thursday in a semifinal game. That’ll be weird, because I’ve rooted for South Dakota State since they came into Maples for NCAA rounds 1 and 2 some years ago, with fans who were insanely in love with their team. It was charming, and they said ‘you think this is nuts, come to a home game in Brookings’.

Stanford 59 Texas 50

There’s a common trope that says if you want to establish a bad guy as a serious threat, start by having him kick your toughest guy’s ass. The uber example is Worf on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. A Klingon warrior assigned to tactics and security, Worf got curbstomped repeatedly, just to set the bad guy of the week as bad.

That’s how I saw Texas. They’d already beaten Stanford, and they pounded Utah in round 2 of the NCAA tournament. Not even Stanford smacked Utah as hard as Texas did.

Stanford could get North Carolina St. (#1 from Bridgeport region) then Louisville (#1 from Wichita) or South Carolina (#1 in every sense of #1), and those teams don’t scare me as much as Texas.

Stanford beat Texas 59-50 by winning quarters 2-through-4 by margins of 2, 4, and 3, for being tougher and more physical than the Longhorns. Stanford’s been dealing with a “cute kids who get good grades and look like the girl who delivers your newspapers” misconception since the ’90s. If I were Coach VanDerveer, I’d milk that for as long as I could. The cute kids who get good grades and look like the papergirl out-rebounded Texas 45-29, and blocked 11 shots (to Texas’ 1). I thought 11 might’ve had some historic significance, but it’s not even their highest total of the season: The Cardinal blocked 13 vs. South Carolina Nov. 21.

It was sort of a tag team effort for Stanford. Cameron Brink might’ve delivered all of her 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 blocks during the 3rd quarter. In the 4th, it was all Haley Jones and Lexie Hull. A game as physical at that results in many free throws attempted, and Stanford shot 18-of-22 to Texas’ 11-of-20.

11Joanne Allen-Taylor7.6
03Rori Harmon7.1
01Lauren Ebo-3.3
05DeYona Gaston-2.3
10Shay Holle-0.4
31Audrey Warren7.3
21Aaliyah Moore5.3
02Aliyah Mathura-3.3
35Latasha Lattimore-1.7

No matter what happens to Stanford Sunday, the Pac-12 will survive in the WNIT

Defending champion Stanford could be ousted Sunday by Texas — Texas looked invincible against Texas, but were quite vulnerable vs. Ohio State — but the Pac-12 would still be alive in the WNIT, because UCLA and Oregon St. have to play each other in Corvallis.

UCLA 82 Wyoming 81 was weirdly anticlimactic for a triple overtime game. Maybe both sides were completely gassed, or at least disspirited for the disqualifications of each team’s leading scorers.

Oregon St. overcame a 30-point first quarter by New Mexico (the Lobos shot 8-of-12 3FG), and won each of the last three quarters to win 78-73. Senior Ellie Mack scored a season-high 22.

The Bruins and Beavers met once in the regular season, a 72-58 OSU win. UCLA, playing shorthanded all year, were without team leader Charisma Osborne.

Oregon St. 70, Long Beach St. 59

Oregon State overcame a nearly-flawless start by the visiting Long Beach State 49ers, and won 70-59 in a first-round WNIT game.

The 49ers did not commit a turnover for the first 15:35 of the game, while sophomore guard Kianna Hamilton-Fisher shot 4-of-4 3-point field goals in the first quarter. Hamilton-Fisher had her best game of the season, making highs in points, rebounds, and steals. LBSU led 26-16 after one.

Long Beach St. led by as many as 15 in the first quarter. Oregon St. sophomore forward Kennedy Brown entered with 4:49 remaining, and sparked their comeback with 6 points, 7 rebounds, one block and one steal. At halftime, the LBSU lead was cut to 35-30. Brown finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, her first double of the season.

The lead changed hands five times in the third quarter, and the score was tied at 45-45 at 2:47. The Beavers scored 15 of the game’s next 18 points, holding throughout the fourth.

Oregon St. was the first Pac-12 team to play in either national tournament. UCLA begins WNIT play against UC Irvine Friday, while Stanford, Colorado, and Utah get started in the NCAA tournament.

Long Beach St.
Oregon St.
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WNIT begins today

USA Today named the Pacific-12 one of the losers on Selection Sunday for sending merely six teams to the NCAA tournament, only one of which seeded higher than #4. The Pac-12’s bubble teams — UCLA and Oregon State — play today in the WNIT.

UCLA vs. UC Irvine

UC Irvine
Big West automatic bid
NET: 136
Neutral floors: 3-1
Best win: 119 Illinois St.
Worst loss: 195 Grand Canyon

The Anteaters received an automatic bid as the highest-placing Big West team (that isn’t the tournament champion Hawaii). My friend Justin Wilson was an assistant coach at Pacific when I started loitering there, and most recently at UC Irvine. Coach Wilson is gone, so there goes my last link to UCI. I wrote to Cal Poly coach Mimnaugh a few weeks ago, then learned the Mustangs were 3-22, signaling the right time for Mimnaugh to retire after 25 years in paradise (Seriously, San Luis Obispo is one of the most pleasant places I’ve ever visited. It’s a little college town hidden in the valley between two mountains, and it’s kept some bohemian character despite the modernization of its downtown.).

The only friends I have left in the Big West are on the coaching staff at UC Davis, which feels odd. Years ago, while the Big West preseason media poll was circulating, one of my coaching friends asked her media relations fellow if I received a ballot. “He knows more about this conference than anybody,” she said, and that might’ve been true… 13 or 14 years ago.

Pac-12 automatic bid
NET: 41
Neutral floors: 2-4
Best win: 19 Arizona
Worst loss: 102 Kent State

It was a season of what-could-have-been for the Bruins, who lost around 100 player games to injury and illness (the total was 70 at the end of November, so I reckon 100 is a conservative estimate), and had to cancel one game for not having five healthy bodies. UCLA has eight seniors or graduate students on their roster, an exceptional amount of experience. During the Pac-12 championship tournament, Coach Close was talking about finally getting to coach her team recently, rather than struggle to keep the ship afloat.

Pay attention to: Forward Ilmar’l Thomas.

Two doubles in February. Big, graceful and smart (among forwards, 2nd in the conference in assist-to-turnover rate). When I saw Thomas with Sacred Heart Cathedral HS, I said ‘wow, can we get her’, to which Coach replied she’s already committed to Cincinnati. Cincinnati?! She looked like a player who could’ve gone wherever she liked, and she opted for Cincinnati. The story goes that she decided as an upperclassman that she wanted to compete with the strongest competitors, which brought her back to California. Thank goodness for that.

Oregon State vs. Long Beach State

Long Beach State
Big West at large
NET: 130
Neutral floors: 2-1
Best win: 61 Rhode Island
Worst loss: 259 Cal State Northridge

Like I said, I’ve become a stranger to the Big West (LBSU was one of my favorite stops, while their coach was a record-setting guard for UCLA; and their gym is architectured, strikingly, as a pyramid, ). I don’t know anything about this Long Beach St. team. They lost at Oregon in December while Oregon was without Nyara Sabally.

Oregon State
NET: 53
Neutral floors: 3-3
Best win: 12 Oregon
Worst loss: 47 Arizona St.

The Beavers lost 13 games this season, and 12 of those losses were to teams in the NCAA tournament. Oregon St. lost three of four at the end, and that was while seven teams were jockeying for 3rd and 4th places, and that sweet first-round bye. The Pac-12 is brutal. Say you’ve got a 20-game in-conference schedule, with four against last season’s national finalists. No one will hate you for losing those, but to reach .500, you’ve gotta go 8-4. The Beavers will be as tough as usual next year; four starters (one freshman on the all-conference first team) return.

Pay attention to: Forward Jelena Mitrovic.

I wrote one year ago: My favorite basketball players are oddballs, the top-of-the-circle distributing post players. Conventionally, the big people are placed nearest the basket because they’re closest to the goal vertically. But in my view, if you’ve got a tall person who can pass the ball, put them near the middle of the court where they can see everyone else moving.

The best example of this type was ill-fated 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school because every college in the nation wanted him. Ralph’s problem was that in high school, he was still encouraged to play like a growing boy, but in college and the NBA, they wanted him to play like a guy who’s 7-foot-4. Someone hit the 88-inch nail on the head when he said: “Ralph is a 6-foot-2 guard in a 7-foot-4 post player’s body”.

These days there are two such players in the region (U San Francisco has one in forward Lucija Kostic). Oregon State has a girl who’s 6-foot-9, and her greatest skill is passing: Jelena Mitrovic.

I wrote that a year ago, and what puzzles me now is that I saw Mitrovic four or five times this season, and not once did she remind me why I thought so highly of her passing ability.