ASU Basketball: Ranking the Pac-12 women’s basketball teams

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11: Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky the Sun Devil stands on the court during a first-round game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the USC Trojans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 11, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. USC won 67-64. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 11: Arizona State Sun Devils mascot Sparky the Sun Devil stands on the court during a first-round game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the USC Trojans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 11, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. USC won 67-64. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

With Pac-12 play tipping off this weekend, where does ASU women’s basketball rank in the toughest conference in women’s basketball?

Last season, Arizona State finished 9-9 in Pac-12 play in what was the toughest conference in the nation as a record seven Pac-12 teams made it to the NCAA Tournament.

This season, the Pac-12 seems to be a little bit weaker, but it will still be one of the most competitive conferences.

Entering this weekend, 10 of the 12 Pac-12 teams sit above .500 with eight teams posting at least nine wins.

Surprisingly, not among the 10 teams with a record above .500 is Stanford as the Cardinal are 6-6 after playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation.

Arizona State had a solid non-conference season finishing with a 9-3 record with all three losses coming against teams currently ranked in the AP Top-25.

The only blow the Sun Devils suffered was the season-ending injury to guard Sabrina Haines, who tore her ACL Dec. 3 against UC Riverside.

With Arizona State opening up Pac-12 play at Colorado Friday, here is how I rank the Conference of Champions.

12. Arizona Wildcats (4-7)

Arizona struggled in non-conference play despite playing one of the weakest schedules in the nation.

The Wildcats are going through a rebuild year in Adia Barnes’ second season after the graduations of a productive senior class.

After beginning the season 2-0, the Wildcats went on a six-game losing streak before ending non-conference play winning two of three against Hawaii and Southern Utah in double overtime.

Senior guard JaLea Bennett leads the Wildcats averaging 16.5 points per game on 45 percent shooting with forward Sam Thomas the Wildcats’ leading rebounder averaging nine a game to go with 9.6 points per game.

The Wildcats are always a tough team to play, and they will have a chance to get off to a good start facing Utah and Colorado to open up Pac-12 play.

11. Washington Huskies (6-5)

Washington are going through a rebuild of their own under first-year head coach Jody Wynn.

The Huskies lost head coach Mike Neighbors to Arkansas, college basketball’s all-time leading scorer Kelsey Plum to the WNBA, forward Chantel Osahor and guard Aarion McDonald, who transferred to Arizona.

Wynn’s team was tested in non-conference play losing at then-No. 9 Ohio State, then-No. 2 Texas in Las Vegas, at Boise State and versus North Carolina.

Washington recovered well after a stunning 20-point home loss versus Idaho State in the season-opener picking up wins over BYU and Creighton.

Sophomore guard Amber Melgoza is the team’s leading scorer with averaging 15.4 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.3 assists per game.

For the Huskies to have any success in Pac-12 play, they will need to play better defensively as they have the worst scoring defense in the conference allowing 76.7 points per game.

10. Utah Utes (9-2)

Another solid non-conference record for the Utes after they entered Pac-12 play undefeated last season.

Similarly to last season, however, Utah didn’t face a tough slate of games with their best win coming against Purdue on Nov. 20. The two losses for Utah both came on the road versus Alabama and BYU.

Forward Emily Potter has put the Utes on her back in recent years as this season she’s averaging 13.5 points per game and eight rebounds per game, but this year Potter has support around her.

Redshirt junior forward Megan Huff is averaging 13.4 points per game and eight rebounds per game, forward Daneesha Provo is averaging 11.9 points per game and freshman guard Tori Williams is averaging 9.9 points per game.

It still remains to be seen if Utah can compete with the better teams in the Pac-12, but head coach Lynne Williams has this team moving in the right direction.

9. Colorado Buffaloes (9-2)

Similar to Utah, Colorado put together another strong non-conference record after entering Pac-12 play undefeated as well last season.

The Buffaloes challenged themselves this season losing in overtime at North Carolina with their best win coming at home against the Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 18.

Colorado is once again led by junior guard Kennedy Leonard, who just reached the 1,000 point career milestone. Leonard is averaging 15.5 points per game and 3.7 assists per game.

Assisting Leonard is freshman forward Annika Jank, who’s averaging 13.7 points per game and eight rebounds per game, and has been named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week three times this season.

Colorado will be a tough team to play this season sporting the third-highest scoring offense in the Pac-12 averaging 80.2 points per game this season. With the inside-outside combination of Leonard and Jank, the Buffs could surprise people in conference play.

8. USC Trojans (10-1)

Under first-year head coach Mark Trakh, the Trojans enter Pac-12 play with the best record at 10-1.

Despite the impressive record, USC did not play an overly tough non-conference schedule with their best win coming against Purdue in Honolulu on Nov. 24.

The Trojans almost secured a signature win over then-No. 19 Texas A&M, but lost 75-74 thanks to a 46-point performance from Aggies guard Chennedy Carter.

Forward Kristen Simon and guard Minyon Moore lead the Trojans as two key returning starters. Simon is averaging 18.5 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game with Moore averaging 15.4 points per game, 5.3 assists per game and 4.1 rebounds.

In total, USC has four players averaging at least 14.5 points per game with guards Aliyah Mazyck and Sadie Edwards joining Simon and Moore.

USC has the depth to compete in Pac-12 play, and they will be tested early facing No. 20 Cal and Stanford on the road this weekend.

7. Washington State Cougars (7-5)

Sporting the nickname of “Road Warriors,” Washington State were pegged as a dark horse to contend for a Pac-12 championship this season.

The Cougars got off to a slow start in non-conference play losing four of their first five game with four of those games coming away from Pullman.

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Washington State faced ranked teams in Kentucky and South Florida, with Wazzu losing both games.

After the 1-4 start, the Cougars reeled off six wins in seven tries including a road win at Nebraska to end the non-conference portion of their schedule.

Washington State was ravaged with injuries last season, but are healthy this season led by forward Borislava Hristova who’s averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game.

The Cougars are one of the deepest teams in the conference with Hristova, guard Alexys Swedlund, forward Louise Brown, guard Pinelopi Pavlopoulou, center Maria Kostourkova and guard Chanelle Molina.

Washington State will be tested with road games at No. 10 Oregon and No. 17 Oregon State this weekend.

6. Stanford Cardinal (6-6)

Head coach Tara Vanderveer and the Stanford Cardinal enter Pac-12 play in an unfamiliar position: unranked and a .500 record.

The Cardinal played one of the hardest scheduled in the nation having to play Ohio State twice, Connecticut, Baylor and Tennessee with Stanford going 0-5 in those games.

Stanford dropped out of the AP Poll for the first time since the 2001-02 season after losing to Western Illinois and Tennessee last week.

Guard Brittany McPhee, their best returning player, just returned to action last Thursday against Tennessee after missing nine games with an injury.

McPhee and forward Alanna Smith have been forced to shoulder the load as Stanford has a very young team after the graduations of Erica McCall and Karlie Samuelson.

Stanford is the lowest scoring team in the Pac-12 averaging 67.8 points per game. Vanderveer will be relying on guard DiJonai Carrington, forward Maya Dodson, guard Kiana Williams and forward Nadia Fingall to step up and contribute.

They’ll open up Pac-12 play Friday against No. 11 UCLA.

5. Arizona State Sun Devils (9-3)

The Sun Devils finished the non-conference with wins over Idaho and Arkansas to close out the non-conference slate.

Arizona State play a condensed schedule to open up the season playing nine games in the first three weeks of the season.

The Sun Devils faced three ranked teams in Mississippi State, Green Bay and Florida State, with Arizona State losing all three games.

Arizona State might be peaking at the right time as the team has adjusted after guard Sabrina Haines suffered a torn ACL in early December.

Forward Courtney Ekmark is coming off a career-high 23 points against Arkansas in which she tied the school record with seven 3-pointers.

The Sun Devils frontcourt of Kianna Ibis, Charnea Johnson-Chapman and Ekmark have performed well.

As usual, the Sun Devils rely on their bench with guard Kiara Russell and forwards Jamie Ruden and Sophia Elenga providing solid contributions.

After finishing as the lowest scoring team last season, Arizona State is ranked eighth in the Pac-12 this season averaging 73.7 points per game. Sun Devils are tied with Oregon State for the best scoring defense allowing 52.9 points per game.

Arizona State will look to get off to a good start in Pac-12 play with Colorado and Utah this weekend before hosting No. 20 Cal and Stanford next weekend.

4. California Golden Bears (9-2)

The Golden Bears have the majority of their team back from last season in which the Golden Bears reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Cal played a difficult non-conference schedule with their two losses coming at No. 1 UConn and at home versus then-No. 23 Missouri. Golden Bears’ best win came last Thursday at Kentucky.

Forward Kristine Anigwe continues to be in the conversation for Pac-12 Player of the Year as the junior is averaging 17.0 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game.

Anigwe has a deep supporting cast in guards Asha Thomas and Kianna Smith and forwards Penina Davidson and Mikayla Cowling.

Smith has been named Pac-12 Freshman Player of the Week twice as she’s averaging 10.4 points per game and 5.4 assists per game.

This is the best team head coach Lindsay Gottlieb has had at California, and they will be a tough opponent for the rest of the Pac-12.

3. Oregon State Beavers (9-2)

After the graduation of guard Sydney Wiese, most thought this would be a reboot year for head Scott Rueck and Oregon State.

That has not been the case as the Beavers are sitting at 9-2 and ranked No. 17 in the latest AP Poll.

Oregon State did not pick up a marquee win in non-conference play with their two losses coming against then-No. 6 Notre Dame and at then-No. 16 Duke.

The Beavers are led by forward Marie Gulich who’s averaging 15.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game.

Oregon State’s backcourt pairing of Mikayla Pivec and Kat Tudor have also had strong seasons with Pivec averaging 13.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds with Tudor averaging 12.5 points per game.

It will be interesting to see how a relatively inexperienced Oregon State team fares in conference play. Their depth will also be tested.

2. UCLA Bruins (9-2)

The preseason favorite to win the Pac-12, UCLA has the conference’s best win so far with a 24-point win over then-No. 3 Baylor.

The Bruins’ two losses came versus No. 1 Connecticut and at Oklahoma State.

UCLA is led by the senior tandem of guard Jordin Canada and center Monique Billings. Canada is averaging 14.3 points per game and ranks third in the Pac-12 averaging 6.5 assists per game. Billings is averaging a team-high 14.8 points per game with 8.7 rebounds per game.

The Bruins also have depth on their team in guards Kennedy Burke and Kelli Hayes and forwards Michaela Onyenwere and Chantel Horvat.

UCLA will be tested the opening weekend of conference play as they’ll be on the road to face Stanford and No. 20 Cal.

1. Oregon Ducks (11-2)

After a surprising run to the Elite 8 last season, Oregon entered this season with all but one player back and with heightened expectations.

The Ducks have embraced it and put together an impressive 11-2 record considering their strength of schedule.

Oregon defeated then-No. 19 Texas A&M team twice while also playing road games at then-No. 5 Louisville and at then-No. 5 Mississippi State.

The Ducks are led by the triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu as she’s averaging 18.0 points per game, 7.9 assists per game and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Joining Ionescu in the backcourt is guard Maite Cazorla averaging 10.0 points per game and 6.7 assists per game and is coming off a 26-point performance against Texas A&M last Thursday.

In the frontcourt, Oregon has one of the most efficient shooters in the game in forward Ruthy Hebard, who’s averaging 15.9 points per game on 64.7 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds per game.

The Ducks also have a standout freshman in the frontcourt in forward Satou Sabally who’s averaging 12.4 points per game and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Next: ASU Basketball: Ready to compete with the best of the Pac-12?

Oregon is the most complete team in the Pac-12 and has the most depth on the roster, and heading into Pac-12 play, the Ducks are the favorites to win the Pac-12.