As the Pac-12 Conference celebrates its 100th year of existence, and continues to mold some of the best women's basketball programs in the country, this year's slate will undoubtedly add to the conferences' stellar reputation of consistently landing its teams in the NCAA Tournament and Top 25 polls.
The Pac-12 has a little bit of everything to offer in terms of women's basketball this season: youth and veterans, long-tenured coaches and new hires, all-conference selections and role players. All 12 squads, whether rebuilding or building off last season's momentum, will likely turn some heads this year.
It's been a shaky couple seasons for the Wildcats, and the 2015-16 preseason polls tell us exactly that as they were picked last in the Pac-12. Even so, it's hard to rule them out this year. Head Coach Niya Butts enters her eighth year at Arizona- likely with high hopes that her squad can dodge the injury bug.
While they graduated their leading scorer Candice Warthern, the Wildcats return junior LaBrittney Jones, who averaged nine points per game (ppg) and a team-best 5.7 rebounds per game (rpg). Butts will rely on her upperclassmen Keyahndra Cannon and Malena Washington in addition to Jones, given her squad has eight players with two years of experience or less.
There's no question whether or not the Sun Devils will be a scary team to face this season: they will. With one first-place vote in the Pac-12 preseason polls, and a third place selection, Head Coach Charli Turner Thorne should feel somewhat at ease as she brings back four of five starters.
Under Turner Thorne's tutelage, Arizona State will continue to bring it on defense. The Sun Devils held their opponents to a league-best 55.9 points per game, which was also good for 21st in the country.
With redshirt Senior Katie Hempen (12 ppg), senior Elisha Davis (7.5 ppg) and junior Sophie Brunner (11.9 ppg) leading the way on the offensive end, ASU will be in good hands. It will be a challenge living up to last season's 29-6 record and a trip to the Sweet 16, but they surely have the weapons.
California has some big shoes to fill after saying goodbye to seniors Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray- the bulk of the Golden Bears' offense last season. Under their leadership, Cal finished 24-10 and made it all the way to the Final Four. This season, the roster looks a bit different containing no seniors and just two juniors.
Sophomores Mikayla Cowling (10 ppg) and Gabby Green (6.7 ppg/5.7 rpg), along with junior Courtney Range (8.7 ppg), will look to carry the team this year as they pursue what would be their fifth straight NCAA appearance. Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who joined the 100-win club last season, also welcomes five freshmen including McDonalds All-American Kristine Anigwe.
Head Coach Linda Lappe enters her sixth season with Colorado and looks to improve upon a 15-17 record from 2014-15. While the Buffalo's graduated two key starters, Jamee Swan, a 6'2" forward, will be a handful among Pac-12 foes.
She led the team in points (13.2) rebounding (7.9) and blocked shots (62) last season, which ultimately landed her All-Pac-12 honors. The Buffs also bring back junior Haley Smith, who started in all 32 contests last season. Smith led the team in field goal percentage at .472 and pulled down 3.9 rpg.
Colorado has another not-so-hidden gem in its ability to shoot the three. The Buffs shot .382 from 3-point land, good for eighth in the country. It will be much of the same story this year-especially with Lauren Huggins in the rotation- who cashed in 43 3-pointers in the 2014-15 campaign.
Guess who's back? Oregon's top three double-digit scorers, the first being Jillian Alleyne, a third team All-American selection and Pac-12 rebounding leader (15.2)- all while putting up 18.4 ppg. The Ducks' eighth-place preseason poll finish is misleading, as this year's squad brings even more to the table under Head Coach Kelly Graves in just his second season.
Sophomore guard Lexi Bando and senior Lexi Peterson are right up there with Alleyne in terms of talent. As a rookie, Bando garnered Pac-12 All-Freshman Team honors while posting 10.4 ppg and shooting a blistering .440 from behind the arc. Peterson also ended the 2014-15 season averaging double-digit points with 11.1 ppg. This season looks bright for Oregon in more ways than one.
If anyone has a target on their back, it's the Beavers. Oregon State was picked to win the Pac-12 this year, and rightfully so. The Beavers captured their first regular season conference title in school history last season, advanced to the second round of the Big Dance and finished 27-5. With fifth-year Head Coach Scott Rueck at the helm of OSU's program, a total of eight upperclassmen and four starters will lace up for him again this season.
The Beavers bring back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Ruth Hamblin, who averaged just short of four blocks per game, 8.6 rpg and 12.9 ppg. Add Jamie Weisner (13.7 ppg) and Sydney Weise as the floor general into the mix and you have a pretty dangerous lineup. If OSU can lead the conference again in made 3-pointers per game (8.34), look out.
Stanford has been the face of the Pac-12 conference for many years, reaping a lot of championships, post-season appearances, and marquee players. Last year was somewhat of an uncharacteristic year as they finished third in the Pac-12 regular season.
But even so, the Cardinal got hot at the right time and sealed their 11th tournament crown in the last 14 years, finishing with an overall record of 26-10. Stanford returns a strong core of junior guards in Lili Thompson, Karlie Samuelson and Erica McCall.
Thompson was a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 13.3 ppg and surely made scouting reports as a 3-point threat. In Tara Vanderveer's 29 years with Stanford, her squad has found their way to the NCAA Tournament a whopping 26 times.
Your 2014-15 WNIT champions, the UCLA Bruins. What could year five for Head Coach Cori Close possibly have in store? Close returns four starters including the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Jordin Canada and the team's leading scorer and rebounder, Nirra Fields.
As a guard, Fields averaged 15 ppg and 5.4 rebounds per game. Canada, in her debut season, put up 11.8 ppg and also led the team in assists. Korver not only brings tremendous experience to this year's squad, but a hot hand from 3-point range. She connected on 74 three's last season and shot above .400 percent.
The Bruins finished neck-and-neck with Cal in the preseason polls at fourth, but look to secure an NCAA berth this season for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
All things considered, there are a lot of unknowns for the Trojans after graduating their top three scorers and two best rebounders. USC finished in a tie for seventh last season and was picked to finish the 2015-16 seventh as well. After going 15-15 in Head Coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke's third season, the Trojans will turn to three of their experienced players and starters, Jordan Adams, Courtney Jaco and Brianna Barrett. Adams was solid across the board last year averaging 7.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and team-best 3.7 assists per game. Her, in combination with Jaco at guard, who dished out 45 assists and notched 7 ppg as a year ago, and Barrett as a 3-point threat should bid USC well heading into 2015-16.
Under new Head Coach Lynne Roberts, the Utes are positioned to shift the program in a new and stronger direction after winning just nine games last season. Utah will lean on senior guard, Danielle Rodriguez and sophomore forward, Tanaeya Boclair, who found herself in the starting lineup all 30 games as a freshman.
Rodriguez averaged 8.6 ppg a year ago while Boclair averaged 9 ppg. Two redshirt players, who missed last season to injury, will also be thrown into the mix this year. Redshirt sophomore Emily Potter will rock the Utah uniform once again after starting every game as a rookie along with Mali Nawahine, who played in two games before getting injured. In that short time, she averaged 13.3 ppg. Utah was picked 11th in the preseason polls, but could likely be the Pac-12 sleeper.
Although the Huskies bring back three starters, they also lose the program's all-time leading scorer, Jazmine Davis and the program's all-time leading rebounder, Aminah Williams. Sounds like a big hit, yet Washington should still be in good hands this season under Mike Neighbors.
Neighbors led the 2014-15 squad to their first NCAA appearance since 2007 picking up 20 plus wins along the way. With Kelsey Plum, the Pac-12 scoring leader last season (22.6 ppg) as the glue to the Huskies this year, the team should be well on pace to lead the conference once again in points per game (75).
Talia Walton also averaged double figures (13 ppg) and 5.8 rpg last season. A total of 10 returners saw action at some point a year ago; this depth will be pivotal again in 2015-16.
Washington State is another team losing the core of its offense after graduating two all-conference selections that averaged 20 and 16.7 ppg respectively. Under the reign of Head Coach June Daugherty, entering her 9th season, the Cougars will have to rely on their two senior starters, Mariah Cooks and Dawnyelle Awa.
Cooks and Awa both did a little bit of everything last year statistically speaking. While Awa averaged below five ppg, she led the team in shooting percentage (.447), was second on the team in assists (2.5) and started all 32 contests. Cooks averaged 7.5 ppg while snagging 5.3 rpg. Like Utah, WSU is easy to overlook, but proved last year they can compete with the best after upsetting Maryland and picking up four wins over Top 50 RPI teams.