Pac-12 women's basketball recruiting at an all-time high
For its recent standards, Pac-12 women’s basketball had a “down” year in 2021-22. Coming off a spring of 2021 that saw two of its institutions wind up in the national championship game, a 2022 NCAA tournament featuring just one Pac-12 team surviving the opening weekend and making it to the Final Four felt like a letdown by comparison.
Considering which hotshot 18-year-olds are entering the Conference of Champions, however, there is plenty of potential for future NCAA Tournaments to have a 2021 feel to them.
With the top two recruits and seven of the top 10 according to the 2022 espnW HoopGurlz recruiting rankings selecting Pac-12 schools, the conference is seeing an unprecedented influx of talent. Five Pac-12 teams have landed top-10 recruiting classes nationally, including the top three, something that hasn’t happened in the last 15 years, according to conference research.
“I think it’s great. I think it obviously shows that the recruits are really smart because if I was in high school, I would want to play in the Pac-12,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said at Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day. “Great coaching in this league, a conference that really cares about women’s basketball, and...a rising tide lifts all ships, right? They want to play against the best, so that’s why they’re coming out here.”
Leading the way is UCLA, with head coach Cori Close reeling in four top-50 recruits, including 2nd-ranked recruit Kiki Rice, a 5-11 point guard who is lethal in transition and can get downhill, and Gabriela Jaquez, another top-20 prospect who is also the younger sister of UCLA men’s basketball star forward Jaime Jaquez.
Close is no stranger to nabbing prized high-schoolers, having also hauled in the No. 1 recruiting class in 2014 that featured future WNBA players Jordin Canada and Monique Billings. Close says the experience of coaching that class — she admits to overscheduling too soon in the careers of Canada and Billings — has helped her with this class, which is already making sizable contributions in preseason practices.
“They have a great balance of unshakable confidence and competitive spirit. I don’t think they’re afraid to step into whatever role is going to help our team win,” Close said at Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day. “It has not been easy, it has not been a walk in the park for them, and at the same time, they are making an impact.”
Coming off a disappointing first-round upset in last year’s Big Dance, Oregon was able to wipe its tears away with the No. 2 class in the country. It’s a group that features four top-100 recruits and two McDonald’s All-Americans in guard Chance Gray and forward Grace VanSlooten.
Just behind the Ducks are their rivals in Corvallis. McDonald’s All-Americans and top-10 recruits Timea Gardiner and Raegan Beers propelled Oregon State to the third-ranked recruiting class in the country, a welcome sight for a Beaver squad that is looking to get back to where it rightfully belongs in the NCAA Tournament following a WNIT appearance last spring.
Apparently nabbing the No. 1 recruit – 6-7 post Lauren Betts – and another top-20 player in 5-9 guard Indya Nivar was only good enough for Tara VanDerveer to land the fifth-best recruiting class in the country over at Stanford.
Oh, and how does it feel to have the eighth best class in the country but just fifth best in your own conference, Arizona?
For a conference that has featured half of its teams make at least one Final Four since 2013 and regularly sends half of its squads to the NCAA Tournament, it looks like those Pac-12 trends won’t be slowing down any time soon, especially with the national recognition the conference gets.
“There have been so many great players that have played in the Pac-12. What I’ve said over and over is we’ve always had great teams, great universities, great coaches,” VanDerveer said. “The difference has been people have seen our teams play…The support that we get from…just being on television, Pac-12 Networks has put Pac-12 women’s basketball on the map. We were always good but now people know about it.”