Michelle Smith recaps first round of 2023 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament
Finding a way to win this time of year can mean the difference between the end of the season and not. While this wasn’t the case for UCLA on Wednesday in the opening game of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas — the Bruins will be playing in the NCAA Tournament in a few short weeks — their 81-70 overtime win over 12th-seeded Arizona State was a stress test that should prove valuable for what lies ahead.
“We earned another game, that’s all I care about,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said after her team scored 19 points in overtime to overwhelm the Sun Devils. “At this point (in the season) there’s no time to unpack or be philosophical. We got the chance to earn another game and I’m going to enjoy that.”
The Bruins (23-8) had four players in double figures and withstood a big charge from ASU in the final quarter as the Sun Devils erased a 19-point deficit to take a two-point lead with 3:15 to go in regulation and force overtime.
UCLA senior Charisma Osborne scored eight points in the overtime period to propel the Bruins into the second round against No. 4 seed Arizona on Thursday at noon PT. She finished with a game-high 27 points.
“I definitely think I was thinking that we’re not losing this game right now,” Osborne said. “I feel like I actually didn’t do as great leading in the fourth quarter and I wanted to reset myself.”
Arizona State’s season ends at 8-20, not the record that the Sun Devils wanted in their first season under head coach Natasha Adair, but a place to build from. Pushing a nationally-ranked team to overtime as a No. 12 seed, and getting 26 points from Tyi Skinner, showed the resilience that Adair said she knows they have.
“It was a pretty sad locker room, but I was able to go in there and tell this special group of young ladies that I'm proud of them,” Adair said. “I'm proud of their fight for what they have shown this season in all different types of circumstances. I've seen them grow, I've seen them compete, and I've seen them get better.
“Today was not the outcome that we wanted, but what we've shown and what we showed, who we are, we competed. We competed. And for this group, we talked about what's next and that we don't have to feel like this anymore.”
No. 9 Oregon 52, No. 8 Washington 50
The Ducks, playing in their first first-round game in this tournament in six years, pulled off the first upset of the tourney, knocking off the eighth-seeded Huskies in a taut contest that saw Oregon come back from seven points down midway through the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Endyia Rogers finished with a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, scoring 10 points in the final 3:18 of the game to lead Oregon on a day when freshman stars Grace Van Slooten, back after missing three games with an injury, and Chance Gray shot a combined 0-for-6 from the floor. Rogers’ stepback jumper with 1:23 to go gave Oregon the lead for good as the Ducks held on the rest of the way to come away with the win.
“I'm really proud that we were the ones that showed the composure down the stretch,” said Oregon head coach Kelly Graves. “We made the plays, executed really well offensively when we needed to, and then those last couple of stops defensively obviously proved to be the difference.”
The Ducks have won three in a row for the first time since December, putting a seven-game losing streak in the rear-view mirror. Oregon junior point guard Te-Hina Paopao, who combined with Rogers to score 41 of Oregon’s 52 points in the game, said her team has showed its heart.
“They say life struggles build character, and I think that's what we had to do is build character,” Paopao said. “We came back stronger and trusted each other and believed in each other.”
The win kept Oregon in position for an NCAA berth. A loss likely would have ended those hopes.
Oregon moves on to face top-seeded Stanford on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. PT
Washington, at 15-14, will hope for a shot at the WNIT field. The Huskies had four players scoring in double figures, led by senior Haley Van Dyke with 12 points and six rebounds in her final Pac-12 Tournament game.
“We know that we can continue to battle and we would be really excited to have that opportunity,” said Huskies head coach Tina Langley. “This is a team that was fighting to get into the NCAA Tournament. We’ve had some really good moments and we’ve played our best basketball of late.
“It's been a little bit since we've been in the postseason and so I think it's important that we get back there, get back to work in the postseason and feel what that feels like and try to battle to win a championship.”
No. 7 Washington State 61, No. 10 California 49
The Cougars solidified their NCAA resume with a first-round win over the Bears, a game in which Cal led much of the way. WSU rode the performances of their veterans — Charlisse Leger-Walker and Bella Murekatete.
Leger-Walker finished with a game-high 23 points to go with six rebounds. Murekatete, her time on the floor limited by foul trouble, ended up with 13 points and 12 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
Washington State will take on second-seeded Utah in the quarterfinals Thursday at 6 p.m. PT
Cal led 27-21 at the half, but the Cougars outscored the Bears 40-22 in the second half, shooting 72 percent in the third quarter and 50 percent in the fourth.
“I think Cal was certainly the more aggressive team in the first half,” said WSU coach Kamie Ethridge. “They made it really hard for us to run any kind of offense. They were switching and we couldn’t find the mismatch…I think our defense kept us in it when we weren’t so good.”
Leger-Walker said she felt like her team was “frantic” in the first half.
“We kind of let their pressure on ball presence kind of get to us and kind of muck up our offensive game,” Leger-Walker said. “Coming out in the second half and having the sets and just kind of spreading the floor and moving the ball a lot more, we were getting good looks.”
The Bears saw their season end on a tough shooting day from beyond the 3-point arc — 1 for 10 — and the challenge of keeping the Cougars off the offensive boards. Sophomore guard Jayda Curry led Cal with 16 points.
“I thought we had moments where we had a good play. We had a good look and we didn’t execute it,” said Cal coach Charmin Smith. “And then on the other end, Charlisse is making plays. They went from shooting something like 20 percent in the first half to 72 percent in the third quarter and a lot of that was her and Bella. It was tough for us to figure out how to slow them down. And we weren’t taking advantage of our opportunities at the other end.”
Smith said she will take time to reflect on Cal’s season.
“I just wanted more for this group,” Smith said. “We work so hard. We do. They are great young women and I want them to be the ones happy and jumping up and down and celebrating. I know we are making steps and next year we will be even better.”
No. 11 Oregon State 56, USC 48
The magic of the 11 seed strikes again in the Pac-12 Tournament. Oregon State rallied in the fourth quarter behind Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Raegan Beers and fifth-year senior guard Bendu Yeaney to upset sixth-seeded USC in the nightcap of the tournament’s opening day.
Teams with the No. 11 seed are 6-6 all-time in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament and the Beavers did what they needed to do to join that club, overcoming an eight-point deficit with 7:11 to go and holding the Trojans without a score for six minutes in the critical fourth quarter.
Oregon State finished a rocky Pac-12 regular-season with a win over Arizona last weekend, and now they knock out another team headed for the NCAA Tournament in USC. The Beavers will take on Colorado at 8:30 p.m. PT on Thursday in the quarterfinals looking for another big win.
Beers, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, said this win was “all grit” for OSU.
“We’ve been working for this,” she said. “We’ve had a bunch of close games and we wanted this. You could see it, we left it all out on the court.”
USC, who will now await the NCAA bracket reveal to learn its seeding, struggled offensively, shooting 29.8 percent for the game, making just one of its last eight shots as the Beavers grabbed the lead. Kadi Sissoko led the Trojans with 16 points. Sophomore Rayah Marshall pulled down 11 rebounds and fouled out late in the fourth quarter.