Only a few should challenge Stanford for Pac-12 title this year

Cameron Brink makes a move toward the basket. Stanford Athletics photo.

With Stanford excepting to be heads and shoulders above the rest of the Pac-12, two early – and surprising – losses give hope to a few other conference teams. Even so, it will all come down to conference play to see if any team can overtake the Cardinal.

Preseason top five rankings

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. UCLA
  4. Oregon State
  5. Arizona

Current standings

  1. Arizona 9-0
  2. Colorado 9-0
  3. Washington St. 8-1
  4. Utah 7-2
  5. Stanford 6-2
  6. California 6-2
  7. UCLA 5-3
  8. OregonĀ  5-3
  9. Oregon St. 5-3
  10. USC 5-3
  11. Arizona State 5-5
  12. Washington 3-3

Contenders

Charisma Osborne is a shooting guard who sometimes take the point guard role. UCLA Athletics photo.

Stanford is currently ranked No. 3 in the country despite losing to Texas and South Florida. They return four of their top five scorers from last year’s National Championship squad: Haley Jones, Lexie Hull, Fran Belibi, and Cameron Brink. The sophomore Brink is the Cardinal’s top scorer, at 14.6 points per game. Last year’s NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Jones, averages 10.7 points. She was expected to have a big season, but is off to a slow start. Jones will need to pick up her pace for Stanford to repeat. They have the depth, but need to find more rhythm together.

Arizona has surprised many people so far this season, but coach Adia Barnes, who guided the team to the National Championship game last April, is doing a heck of a job. She has six brand new faces, including three newcomers and three transfers. The Wildcats are ranked fourth this week, led by top scorer Cate Reese (13.6 points per game). She will have to keep playing well if Arizona wants that Pac-12 title.

Oregon is well-coached, but they are dealing with a cascade of injuries this season. Starters Nyara Sabally, Te-Hina Paopao, and Endyia Rogers are all injured, and have been out for several weeks. Rogers and Sabally are close to returning, and once fully healthy, the Ducks can compete for the conference title. It will be up to coach Kelly Graves to keep the team afloat.

Like their neighbors 40 miles away, Oregon State has struggled of late, and recently fell out of the rankings for the first time in years. Talia Von Oelhoffen joined the Beavers last year in what should have been her senior year of high school, and averaged 11.3 points per game over 13 outings. This season her scoring average is up to 16.3. Taylor Jones is also playing well, scoring 12.6 points per game. Those two players will need to continue to play well for Oregon State to win.

UCLA is an exciting team. Last weekend they had then-No. 3 Connecticut on the ropes, but fell short. Junior guard Charisma Osborne is a flat-out baller with a growing skill set that has grown to include prolific three-point shooting. In the game against the Huskies, she threw up a career-high seven threes. She is averaging 19.6 points per game and shooting 40 percent from three-point land. llmar’l Thomas, a transfer from Cincinnati, is playing well, averaging 18 points per game, and is the perfect co-star to Osborne. The Bruins have two other players averaging double-digit scorers in seniors Natalie Chou and Jaelynn Penn.

A Team that could surprise

Colorado players converge at a game pause.. Pac-12 Conference photo.

Colorado is one of 10 unbeaten teams in Division I, and was ranked in the top 25 briefly before falling out this week. Last year their record kept them in the middle of the conference pack. But with all of their top five scorers returning this season, they are making noise. Mya Hollingshed is averaging 13.3 points per game on 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc. Quay Miller is second in scoring, with 10.6 points per contest. The Buffs will need better play from Frida Formann and Jaylyn Sherrod to continue this strong play.

Once the conference play starts, the Pac-12 is Stanford’s to lose. Arizona will compete hard, but the Cardinal have too much depth not to come out on top. UCLA, Oregon and Oregon State will compete as well, but will likely come up short. So far, it looks like California, USC, Washington State, and Utah have gotten better, but still are a few years away from truly competing.