Throughout the season, the metrics kept saying the Pac-12 Conference was the best in the country.
When it came time to back it up in the NCAA Tournament, the Pac-12 delivered.
Pac-12 teams will make up 25 percent of the Sweet 16 when the women’s regional semifinals get started Friday. No. 2 seed Oregon State, No. 3 seed UCLA, No. 4 seed Stanford and No. 7 seed Washington all advanced through the first weekend of the tournament, giving the Pac-12 four teams in the final 16 for the first time in conference history. The league had never advanced more than three teams beyond the first weekend.
“It’s awesome for the Pac-12 to have four teams in the Sweet 16. We only started with five to begin with,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think it’s a big statement. I think the win by Washington is huge. … I think people really took care of business and that’s awesome. But we know we’ve been playing against good teams.”
Oregon State romped into the regional semis a year after getting upset in the second round. UCLA and Stanford both held off upset bids on their home courts. And Washington pulled the surprise of the first two rounds by taking out two-time Final Four participant Maryland on the Terrapins’ home floor.
The only stumble came from No. 2 seed Arizona State, which saw its run end with a second-round loss to perennial power Tennessee.
While the Pac-12 fell on its face in the men’s tournament with six of seven teams eliminated on the opening weekend, the women’s teams are living up to their billing. The SEC is the only other conference to advance four teams to the regional semifinals.
“I was hoping for five,” VanDerveer said. “I think ASU played a team that in a lot of ways is a really talented team and they just played really well.”
Here’s a look at the four remaining Pac-12 teams:
A season ago, the Beavers were the upstarts looking to the NCAAs as the next step in their progression to becoming an elite program, only to get upset in the second round on their home floor by Gonzaga.
That lesson has hung with Oregon State all season and when the same situation presented itself again, the Beavers made quick work of St. Bonaventure.
“We know we didn’t want it to feel like that again,” Pac-12 player of the year Jamie Weisner said. “We didn’t focus on the past. We focused on what we had to do going forward.”
The Beavers have what appears to be the easiest matchup of the remaining Pac-12 teams, facing No. 6 seed DePaul in the regional semis, but a win there would likely set up a regional final against Baylor in Dallas.
The Bruins are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 17 years thanks to guard Jordin Canada. Held in check by South Florida for three quarters of the second-round matchup, Canada scored 17 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Bruins held on.
The last time UCLA reached the regional semifinals was 1999, when the Bruins lost to Louisiana Tech in the regional final. The Bruins’ reward for getting this far is facing No. 2 seed Texas in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and the winner likely getting a date with undefeated UConn.
The Cardinal needed a late rally and Lili Thompson’s three-point play in the closing seconds to beat No. 12 seed South Dakota State in the second round. Stanford did not win a share of the regular-season conference title or the conference tournament for the first time since 2000. But the Cardinal are in the Sweet 16 for a ninth straight season.
Stanford has the most difficult challenge in the regional semis, facing No. 1 seed Notre Dame.
The Huskies are the surprise of the four after beating Maryland in the second round. It’s been 15 years since the Huskies last made the regional semifinals, but with a scorer like Kelsey Plum anything is possible with the Huskies. Plum had 32 points in the win over Maryland and will need another big game when Washington faces No. 3 seed Kentucky on the Wildcats’ home floor.
“We felt like the Pac-12 Conference schedule and conference tournament particularly had really gotten us prepared for (the Maryland) game and that weekend and the way it all unfolded it turned out to be 100 percent true,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said.
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