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Pac-12 Preview: Can Stanford repeat?

Stanford was the best team not just in the Pac-12, but the entire NCAA last season. The Cardinal will be looking to repeat that success in a stacked conference.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Championship
Stanford celebrates its national championship.
Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Our conference previews continue with a look at the Pac-12:

Rewind: A look at where the Pac-12 left off

Stanford is the best team in the Pac 12. Last season it was as dominant as ever, going 19-2 in the conference and winning the national title. The Cardinal are predicted to finish first the Pac-12 and are ranked third in the country.

Despite the dominance Stanford demonstrated last year, the Pac-12 wasn’t a cakewalk. Three teams lost less than four conference games, and six teams made it to the NCAA tournament. Stanford won it all, but Arizona and Oregon made deep runs. Oregon reached the Sweet Sixteen and Arizona lost the championship game to Stanford. With such a top-heavy conference, this season is sure to be as entertaining as the last.

Team-by-team analysis

Here’s where each team stands entering the 2021-22 season, in order of the preseason standings predicted by the Pac-12 head coaches:

1) No. 3 Stanford Cardinal

Stanford was top of the conference last season and is expected to be top of the conference again. The Cardinal have guards Haley Jones and Lexie Hull leading the number one offense in the conference and Northwestern transfer Jordan Hamilton coming aboard. Until someone can prove otherwise, Stanford will be the team to beat.

2) No. 10 Oregon Ducks

The Ducks are here to stay. They’ve proven that they can lose top-tier talent and continue to remain competitive in the Pac-12. They have an exciting balance of returning players and transfer students that fill out the roster. It will be interesting to see how much better Nyara Sabally can be after a productive 2020-21 season. Can coach Kelly Graves implement five new transfers, top freshmen recruits and upperclassmen? It should be fun finding out.

3) No. 20 UCLA Bruins

UCLA had a great 2020-21 campaign. The Bruins finished with a 12-4 conference record and lost to Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They will be looking for Charisma Osborne to be a leader for the team. She averaged 17 points and 5.8 rebounds last year and will be asked to carry more of the offensive load this season. Similar to Oregon, UCLA will integrate multiple transfer students into their roster and try to maximize its potential.

4) No. 14 Oregon State Beavers

How stacked is the Pac-12? The fourth-best team in the conference is ranked 18th in the country. The Beavers should have an explosive guard-heavy lineup again this season. Talia von Oelhoffen will continue to be a shooter. She already contributed last year as an early-enrollment player. Oregon State struggled in the Pac-12 last year, going 7-6. That should improve this year.

5) No. 22 Arizona Wildcats

Don’t call it a comeback; the Wildcats are still a good team. Yes, they will likely take a step back with Aari McDonald gone, but the team is still primed to compete. Cate Reese is returning for her senior year and is expected to lead the way offensively. Add Alabama transfer Ariyah Copeland and Koi Love from Vanderbilt, and you have an Arizona team no one will be looking forward to playing this season.

6) Washington State Cougars

We’ve finally reached the first team not ranked in the Top 25: Washington State. The Cougars had a joyous 2020-21 season. They ended the year seventh after being picked to finish last in the Pac-12. They also made it to the NCAA tournament for only the second time in program history. No one will be surprised this season as the Cougars now have a target on their back. The team has young talent like last season's Freshman of the Year Charlisse Leger-Walker and also have fifth-year senior Krystal Leger-Walker (yes, they are related). That duo seems to be up to the challenge of contending in the Pac-12 and making it back to the Big Dance.

7) Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado had a good season last year. The Buffaloes were 8-8 in the conference, but failed to reach the NCAA Tournament. The team is filled with savvy veterans and will be relying on that veteran leadership all year long. Mya Hollingshed was last season’s leading scorer and is expected to have similar production as a fifth-year senior.

8) Arizona State Sun Devils

The Sun Devils have a lot of turnover from last year’s team. Gone are top offensive players like Jaddan Simmons and Taya Hanson. Arizona State will likely struggle to be productive enough offensively, but one thing we know about coach Charli Turner Thorne is she’ll have the team playing hard defensively, and that should be enough to keep it in most games.

9) USC Trojans

First-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb will usher in a new era of Trojan basketball this season. USC has been stuck in mediocrity and a breath of fresh air is welcomed. In a stacked Pac-12, she'll have her hands full trying to turn the program around. Coach Gottlieb brought in a couple of California native freshmen to the university, and there is an excitement that they can help begin the rebuild of this program.

10) Utah Utes

Utah is a work in progress. It has two new transfer students in Maka Jackson from Texas Tech and Dasia Young from UT Martin and is hoping sophomore Peyton McFarland continues to show promise. However, the Utes still have a long way to go before they can earnestly contend in the Pac-12.

11) Washington Huskies

Washington is a youthful team. Their roster is comprised of mainly freshmen and sophomores and has only two seniors. In women’s college basketball, that usually isn’t a recipe for success. The Huskies will be relying on their two senior captains to lead the team on and off the court. Due to a lack of experience and offensive capability, it’s tough to imagine Washington doing much better than last season’s 3-13 conference record.

12) California Golden Bears

Someone has to be last, and California is that team in the Pac-12. They can’t do much worse than last year when they went 1-12 in conference play. The Golden Bears were hit with the injury bug last year, so they are hoping a healthy season for Jazlen Green and Alma Elsnitz will help get them out of the Pac-12 basement.

Preseason nods

As voted on by the Pac-12 media:

All Pac-12 Team: Cameron Brink (Stanford), Mya Hollingshed (Colorado), Lexie Hull (Stanford), Haley Jones (Stanford), Taylor Jones (Oregon State), Charlisse Leger Walker (Washinton State), Charisma Osborne (UCLA), Te-Hina Paopao (Oregon), Alissa Pili (USC), Sedona Prince (Oregon), Cate Reese (Arizona), Endiya Rogers (Oregon), Nyara Sabally (Oregon), Sam Thomas (Arizona), Talia von Oelhoffen (Oregon State)

HONORABLE MENTION (received votes from three or more members of the media): Kennedy Brown (Oregon State), Gina Conti (UCLA); Natalie Chou (UCLA), Dalayah Daniels (California), Dru Gylten (Utah), Taya Hanson (Arizona State), Krystal Leger-Walker (Washington State), Brynna Maxwell (Utah), Nancy Mulkey (Washington), Jaylyn Sherrod (Colorado), Anna Wilson (Stanford)

Key conference dates

Dec. 28: Pac-12 season start (UCLA vs USC)

Must-see Pac-12 matchups

Dec. 28: UCLA vs USC. Watching the battle of LA to kickoff the season seems like a must-see viewing.

Jan. 7: Oregon vs Stanford. The conference’s number one and number two teams go head-to-head after the holidays in what is sure to be a classic game.

Feb. 13: Oregon State vs Oregon. The state rivalry should be an intresting matchup to watch late in the Pac-12 season.