The Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball schedule has officially entered the second half of the season, and the battle for the title is still in reach for a number of teams.
Oregon has been the most dominant team of the first half, and enters this weekend at 9-1 in the conference and is up to No. 6 in the Associated Press poll.
But the Ducks, who have their highest ranking in program history, are only a game ahead of Stanford and UCLA. Both teams enter the weekend at 8-2.
Oregon State, which has won or shared the regular-season conference title the last three seasons, is still in the hunt in fourth at 7-3.
The No. 16 Beavers are coming off a road sweep of the mountain schools and are the only team to knock off the Ducks in Pac-12 play.
California and Arizona State are a game back at 6-4, tied for fifth.
The spotlight will be on the Willamette Valley this weekend as Stanford and Cal head north to take on Oregon State and Oregon.
The Cardinal and Beavers meet at 6 p.m. Friday while OSU hosts Cal at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Golden Bears are at Oregon at 8 p.m. Friday and the Cardinal face the Ducks at noon in a game that could be a battle for first, depending on Friday’s outcomes.
What also makes this weekend so big, other than all four games will be contested by Top-25 teams, is that it will be the only meeting between the Bay Area and Oregon schools this season. The winners will hold the tiebreaker for seeding purposes to the Pac-12 tournament.
“Fortunately for all of us we’re in that situation to do it,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said in his postgame radio interview following Sunday’s win at Colorado. “We needed two wins on the road this weekend to put ourselves there and I’m really proud of this team to give themselves the opportunity to fight for the top of this conference.”
Rueck admitted he was a bit under the weather this past weekend. Not being 100 percent, he entrusted his staff of Jonas Chatterton, Brian Holsinger and Katie Baker to take charge.
“I’ve got to give our staff a ton of credit,” Rueck said. “I haven’t been feeling great this week, my energy has been low and these guys have really done a phenomenal job. … (They) got this team ready to play.”
The Beavers earned their first two conference road wins, thanks to some balanced scoring and quality production off the bench.
Taylor Kalmer, Joanna Grymek and Maddie Washington all contributed key minutes. Kalmer had 17 combined points, Grymek 14 and Washington chipped in a seven-rebound performance at Colorado.
“We’re getting better,” Rueck said. “I think we’re understanding what it takes. I think we handled adversity exceptionally well this weekend. That was something that we struggled with a week ago and certainly in L.A. And at different times during this year.
“That’s the sign of the maturation of this team. They want it, they have the capabilities and they’re rising to the challenges. It just felt like it was a matter of time until we figured these things out. We just have to experience them.”
While Oregon (No. 6) and UCLA (No. 9) give the conference two teams in the top 10, Stanford is back in the AP poll at No. 24 this week.
The Cardinal are a spot ahead of California with Oregon State (No. 16) the fifth Pac-12 team in the rankings.
Arizona State is six points behind Cal, which the Sun Devils routed on Sunday, 57-42.
Players of the week
UCLA’s Jordin Canada was named the conference’s player of the week after averaging 20.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in a road sweep of the Washington schools. It’s her second honor this year and third of her career.
Oregon’s Satou Sabally won her fourth freshman of the week honor after averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 rebounds a game in a sweep of Colorado and Utah.
ESPN’s Charlie Crème has six Pac-12 teams in the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament with one more in the running.
This week’s bracketology has Oregon as the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional with Notre Dame as the top seed. Arizona State is the No. 8 seed in the regional.
UCLA is a No. 3 seed in the Lexington Regional where Louisville is the No. 1 seed. Stanford is a No. 8 seed in Lexington.
Oregon State is a No. 6 seed in the Kansas City Regional and would head to Athens, Georgia, for the first and second rounds. Mississippi State is the top seed.
California is the No. 6 seed in the Albany (New York) Regional where Connecticut is the top seed.
USC is listed second in the first four out category.