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NCAAW Preview: No. 6 Stanford seeks dominance, Washington State is after consistency

Cameron Brink, Haley Jones and the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal are looking to re-establish themselves as the best team in the Pac-12. Charlisse Leger-Walker and the Washington State Cougars, meanwhile, just hope to win in regulation after four of their last five contests have gone to overtime.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stanford at Utah
Cameron Brink (jersey #22) leads the Pac-12 with a field goal percentage of 64.1 percent.
Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 6 Stanford Cardinal (12-2, 9-2 Pac-12) blew out the USC Trojans 86-59 on Sunday, but the memory of their back-to-back losses on Jan. 17 and Jan. 22 is still fresh.

The No. 1 team in the nation for six weeks this season, Stanford could still be a national championship contender despite its surprising loss to the Colorado Buffaloes. But the Cardinal can’t afford to lose many more games if they want a good shot at regaining 1-seed status. As of Tuesday, ESPN’s Bracketology with Charlie Creme has them as a 2-seed.

The Cardinal’s next task is to begin a new winning streak when they travel to face the Washington State Cougars at 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday night (Pac-12 Network). Stanford will play at Washington State on Friday as well.

The Cougars also suffered a losing streak recently — to USC on Jan. 15, No. 5 UCLA on Jan. 17 and No. 11 Oregon on Jan. 22) — before also winning on Sunday: 77-75 over the Oregon State Beavers in double overtime. Before their skid, the Cougars defeated No. 10 Arizona on Jan. 10, which brought them into both the national spotlight and rankings.

All of those games were close, and those against Oregon State, Arizona, USC and UCLA all went into overtime. Washington State lost to Oregon by just eight points. And if you look at the rest of the Cougars’ Pac-12 slate, you will find that they have played in nine single-digit conference games this season and just one double-digit — a 76-63 win over Colorado on Jan. 3. So it’s really anybody’s guess as to how good this Washington State team (8-4, 6-4 Pac-12) really is.

Stanford’s Haley Jones was the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2019 and has upped her numbers across the board as a sophomore. She's up from 2.4 assists per game to 3.2; her rebounds have increased from 4.2 per game to nine. Her scoring average is up from 11.4 to 15.2, which leads the team.

Jones’ versatile play is what puts Stanford over the top as a national power, but Kianna Williams (13 points per game) and Lexie Hull (12 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) play vital roles as well. Then there’s dunking sensation Fran Belibi, who is good for 11.6 points and six boards per contest, and freshman Cameron Brink (9.8 and 6.7), who has provided a huge spark off the bench.

Stanford’s talented roster will be put to the test against the Leger-Walker sisters of New Zealand, who lead Washington State. Charlisse Leger-Walker is the Cougars’ go-to scorer — she leads the Pac-12 with 20.3 points per game. Her sister, Krystal, is second on the team with 12.5 points per outing and first with 4.2 assists per game. Together, they hold it down in the backcourt, while Bella Murekatete and Ula Motuga are key players in the frontcourt.

Watch out for C. Leger-Walker if the game is on the line. She made the game-winning layup against Arizona and was the hero again on Sunday with the game-winning jumper.

Game Information

No. 6 Stanford Cardinal (12-2, 9-2 Pac-12) vs. Washington State Cougars (8-4, 6-4 Pac-12)

When: Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 9:30 p.m. ET

Where: Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, WA

How to watch/listen: Pac-12 Network/TuneIn (Stanford) or Washington State’s athletics site

Key to the matchup: Turnovers. Stanford has advantages across the board except for when it comes to turnover margin. Its margin is plus-2.2 compared to plus-3.7 for Washington State. And at least the Cougars are close to the Cardinal in 3-point percentage, ability to get to the free-throw line and free-throw percentage. Maybe Washington State can swing the balance in its favor if it wins the turnover battle by a significant margin.

Reason to watch: It’s difficult to tell if Washington State is for real, but tune in to see if it can follow in Colorado’s footsteps and upset Stanford. The Cougars have certainly shown flashes of upset potential this year.