Michelle Smith Feature: Preview of the non-conference Pac-12 women's basketball slate

Eric Evans Photography

The 2017-18 Pac-12 women’s basketball season is here. Let the games begin.

Teams that have been training, working and practicing for months will hit the floor for real this weekend with non-conference schedules walking a careful line between creating opportunities for success and embracing challenges.

Let’s take a quick look at what the non-conference schedule holds for all Pac-12 teams, some of whom will be starting out of the gate with some of the toughest matchups in the country:

ARIZONA. With six home games at the McKale Center, Arizona has a chance to build a strong home-court advantage before the start of the conference season.

The Wildcats, a team with eight new players, including four freshmen and four transfers, are building for success and a preseason schedule without a major conference opponent means that they will have an opportunity to win games.

The Wildcats open with Iona at home and then spend the next two weeks on the road. The toughest games on Arizona’s schedule look like a Dec. 14 matchup against New Mexico State and a Dec. 3 matchup against San Diego State.

ARIZONA STATE. Charli Turner Thorne’s team will face four NCAA teams during the non-conference schedule, looking to add to their total of 40 regular-season non-conference wins since the 2013-14 season, the most in the Pac-12.

The Sun Devils head to Cancun over Thanksgiving break to take on NCAA runner-up Mississippi State, a stiff test. Arizona State closes the non-conference schedule with three games against major conference opponents in Florida State – the third matchup against the Seminoles in the past four years - Idaho (a first-ever meeting) and Arkansas, coached by former Washington coach Mike Neighbors.

CALIFORNIA. The Kristine Anigwe-led Bears will face seven opponents in their non-conference slate, including a measuring-stick matchup against the country’s top-ranked team.

Like their cross-Bay rivals at Stanford, the Bears get a shot at title-favorite Connecticut in Storrs on November 17, the first ever regular-season meeting between the two programs. That trip also includes a sentimental journey to coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s alma mater at Brown.

Missouri, a team that has made trips to the second-round of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, will travel to Cal for their annual tournament at Haas Pavilion and the close of the non-conference schedule will be a test, with back-to-back games against BYU (at home) and Kentucky in Lexington.

COLORADO. Last season, the Buffaloes built an impressive 10-1 mark in the non-conference and briefly earned a spot in the national rankings, a springboard to the program’s first postseason appearance since 2014.

The first week of the Buffaloes non-conference schedule looks as if it will present its biggest challenges with a Nov. 12 matchup at North Carolina – the first matchup between the two teams since 2003 - and then a Nov. 18 game against Miami at home in Boulder. Colorado has never faced the Hurricanes. A run of six out of seven games at home will allow J.R. Payne’s team to build confidence heading into Pac-12 play.

OREGON. The Ducks are one of the most attention-getting teams in the country, and will hope to build a great non-conference resume with at least eight home games in Eugene during the early-season stretch. Oregon’s non-conference schedule could include as many as seven NCAA opponents, as it enters a Preseason Women’s NIT field that also includes Louisville and Michigan.

The Ducks’ marquee games including a Nov. 25 home game against Oklahoma and a road game on December 13 against Mississippi State in Starkville. Oregon will close the non-conference with a Dec. 21 game in Las Vegas against Texas A&M.

OREGON STATE. A Beavers team with one senior in post Marie Gülich, will begin its remodeling project early with a big challenge, a Nov. 19 matchup in Corvallis against Notre Dame. It will mark the third time in the last five seasons the two teams have met with the Beavers still looking for their first win.

The Notre Dame game will be one of six that OSU will play at Gil Coliseum.

Less than a week later, the Beavers will cross the country to take on Duke in Durham, the first-ever matchup between the two national powers.

STANFORD. The Cardinal are going to find out very quickly where they stack up in the national picture. In the first three days of the season, Stanford takes on a Kelsey Mitchell-led Ohio State team in Columbus, followed by Sunday’s matchup against top-ranked Connecticut, the first meeting between the two powerhouses since 2014..

Stanford picked up a late game against Baylor on Dec. 3 after Pacific backed out of a matchup and then comes the annual matchup against Tennessee, the 30th-straight season these two teams have matched up, to close the non-conference schedule on December 21.

UCLA. Back when Jordin Canada and Monique Billings were freshmen, Bruins coach Cori Close handed them the toughest schedule in the country as their welcome-to-college gift. Now the Bruins are bookending their stellar careers with another tough non-conference slate that includes a pair of blockbuster matchups.

UCLA will take on Baylor at home on Nov. 18 and then three days later will match up against No. 1 Connecticut, the Huskies third Pac-12 opponent in the preseason. The game against the Huskies is a rematch of last spring’s Sweet 16 matchup won by UConn.

The toughest December matchup for UCLA should be a road game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, the first meeting between the programs since 1985.

The schedule includes a run of four straight home games, a promising scenario for a team that has a 28-game home winning streak going.

USC. The Women of Troy are settling in under Mark Trakh, back for his second tenure as head coach. USC will play just three home games in their non-conference schedule, including a Dec. 15 matchup against Texas A&M.

USC will travel to Hawai’i and Texas for tournaments during the early weeks of the season, and will face Big Ten stalwart in Purdue in Hawai’i.

UTAH. The Utes, in their third season under head coach Lynne Roberts, will be able to get comfortable in Salt Lake City this fall, playing eight home games during the non-conference campaign, including five of the first seven at home.

Opening against Nevada on Friday, the Utes are 2-0 in home-openers under Roberts and 19-3 all-time when opening the season in Salt Lake City.

The schedule, which include six postseason participants, includes games against Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Purdue. Utah has six newcomers on the roster who have brought depth to the roster and they will be tested early, setting the stage for Pac-12 play.

WASHINGTON. The short-handed Huskies, who have been dealing with injuries and retirements in the early week of the season, play seven postseason teams in their non-conference schedule, including three NCAA Tournament teams.

Washington, playing under new head coach Jody Wynn, will take on Ohio State on Nov. 19, coached by former Huskies coach Kevin McGuff in Columbus, the first matchup between the two programs since 2006, followed by another big matchup against Texas in Las Vegas on Nov. 25.

The other marquee game on the Huskies preseason schedule is a Dec. 17 game against North Carolina for a neutral-site game in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

WASHINGTON STATE. Always known for their tough non-conference schedules, this year is no exception for the Cougars, who will play eight games away from home. A WSU team with 12 returning players will open the season with a three-game road trip to California to take on UC Davis, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s.

When they return to Palouse, they will take on Kentucky on Nov. 19, the only home game in the opening month of the season.

The Gulf Coast Showcase at South Florida puts WSU in line for potential matchups with Notre Dame and NCAA champion South Carolina.

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