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This week in the Pac-12: Stanford and Arizona State meet in top-25 matchup, while Cal vies to stay ranked against Arizona

All 12 teams play tonight, featuring the regional battles that the conference is known for cultivating. Plus, the new Wooden Award watch list is Pac-12 heavy, and Utah’s star freshman class shines again.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-ASU vs Stanford
Arizona State’s Kianna Ibis and Stanford’s Alanna Smith, the top scorers for their respective teams this season, will duke it out once more tonight in Tempe.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

One of the things that makes the Pac-12 such an interesting conference is the regional bragging rights that are on the line nearly every weekend.

This weekend, for example, it’s the Bay Area vs. Arizona, Oregon vs. Los Angeles and Washington vs. Undefined Mountain Region (Utah and Colorado). Next weekend, it’s Washington vs. the Bay Area and Arizona vs. Oregon, while the Los Angeles schools face each other and Utah and Colorado face each other. It’s a neat system that cuts down on travel fatigue and keeps things competitive all season long.

This week’s edition — the Bay Area vs. Arizona piece of the puzzle — features the weekend’s first of two matchups between ranked teams, as No. 6 Stanford faces off against No. 19 Arizona State tonight, while Arizona State then takes on No. 24 California on Sunday. A tough weekend for the Sun Devils to be sure, but all things considered, at least they’re playing at home.

The Stanford-Arizona State game marks the sixth season in a row that either of these teams is in the top 25 when they meet. Since that streak began, the parity between the Cardinal and Sun Devils has increased dramatically, from Stanford winning 16 games in a row to the teams being 5-5 against one another since 2014. In fact, ASU has won three of the last four games against Stanford at home, including handing the Cardinal their first Pac-12 loss of last season. With a win, the Sun Devils would leapfrog the Cardinal in the conference standings by a half-game.

Before their own ranked-teams matchup on Sunday, Cal will try to hold its own against Arizona. The Golden Bears finally ended their three-game losing streak with a win against USC on Jan. 6, but the fact is — all three losses came at home. Sure, one was a relatively close loss to then-No. 1 UConn, and they took UCLA to overtime in their Pac-12 opener, but the loss to Harvard to close out 2018 had to hurt the most.

Now, the Golden Bears will have to muster as much momentum as possible from finally earning a home win as they take the show on the road against a team that, while strong in their own right — the Wildcats have already won twice as many games as they did last season — just saw an 11-game winning streak disappear. If Cal can’t perform on the road against an unranked team that recently suffered a significant loss, there’s a real chance they could drop out of the top 25.

This weekend’s top games

No. 6 Stanford Cardinal (12-1, 2-0) vs. No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils (11-3, 2-1)

When: Friday, Jan. 11, at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, AZ

How to watch: Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona

Notes: The biggest disparity between the Cardinal and Sun Devils comes in pure scoring — Stanford averages 80.5 points per game, while Arizona State averages just 69.1 points per game. ASU’s 39-point outing against Arizona on Dec. 30 may still haunt them, but they most recently outscored their average in a win against Colorado.

No. 24 California Golden Bears (10-3, 1-1) vs. Arizona Wildcats (12-2, 2-1)

When: Friday, Jan. 11, at 9 p.m. ET

Where: McKale Center, Tucson, AZ

How to watch: Pac-12 Bay Area

Notes: This game will showcase two of the Pac-12’s (and the nation’s) top scorers in Arizona’s Aari McDonald and Cal’s Kristine Anigwe, both of whom average over 22 points per game. The Wildcats, though, will need to find a way to get some other scorers in the mix, considering that both of last season’s meetings with Cal resulted in Arizona scoring just 90 total points in a pair of losses. Even the Wildcats’ Pac-12-leading scoring defense won’t matter much if they can’t outscore a low-scoring opponent.

No. 24 California Golden Bears (10-3, 1-1) vs. No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils (11-3, 2-1)

When: Sunday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, AZ

How to watch: Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona, Pac-12 Bay Area

Notes: The tone of this game will be greatly dictated by how each team does against tough competition on Friday’. Both teams will be keenly aware that their spot in the top 25 isn’t a given, especially considering the big movement that resulted in this week’s poll. But if the Sun Devils can knock off Stanford on Friday, they should have a massive advantage at home going into this meeting with Cal.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12:

  • Six Pac-12 players were named to the Wooden Award watch list this week, the most of any conference: Cal’s Kristine Anigwe, Arizona’s Aari McDonald, Stanford’s Alanna Smith, Oregon State’s Destiny Slocum and Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard and Sabrina Ionescu.
  • For the third time this season, the Pac-12 Player of the Week is Arizona’s Aari McDonald. This past weekend, McDonald became the first player in Arizona history to score 30 points in consecutive games, adding to her school-record 14 games in a row of scoring 15 points or more.
  • Utah’s Dru Gylten is the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for her second time. Gylten picked up her first career double-double (10 points, 10 assists) against Arizona on Sunday. This marks Utah’s sixth Freshman of the Week honor of the season.
  • Either Colorado or Washington will win its first conference game of the season tonight when the teams face each other. For the Huskies, a win means improving to 8-8 on the season; for the Buffaloes, it means breaking a frustrating chain of close losses.

Full Pac-12 schedule and results