This piece is being published on the morning of Wednesday, March 1, hours before the start of the 2023 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas. Before the games begin, we’re getting our bracket picks on record for this four-day event, the lead-in to the NCAA Tournament two weeks later.
USC faces Oregon State in the late-night game on Wednesday, the last of the four first-round games on March 1. The Trojans would realistically love to beat Colorado in Thursday’s quarterfinals and gain a seed line for the NCAA Tournament. We talked about that on our recent podcast.
Beyond USC, the big story in the 2023 Pac-12 Women’s Tournament is the possibility of a third meeting this season between top seeds Stanford (1) and Utah (2). The teams shared the Pac-12 championship, splitting the two games by winning on their respective home floors. Part three for all the marbles would be compelling. The winner would get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Here are our picks for every game at the 2023 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament, in chronological order:
GAME 1, WEDNESDAY: (5) UCLA OVER (12) ARIZONA STATE
Oct 25, 2022; San Francisco, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils coach Natasha Adair (center) poses with guards Sydney Erikstrup (11) and Jaddan Simmons (2) during Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day at the Pac-12 Network Studios. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona State has won just one Pac-12 game all season. Better days are ahead, but this season is ready to end in Tempe.
GAME 2, WEDNESDAY: (8) OREGON OVER (9) WASHINGTON
Oregon’s head coach Kelly Graves calls out to his team during the first half of the game against Oregon State on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore.
Oregon and Washington play the one true NCAA Tournament bubble game at the Pac-12 Tournament. Both teams must win this game to have any shot at an at-large bid. If Washington wins, it will absolutely need to beat Stanford in Thursday’s quarterfinals. It might also need to win the semifinals on Friday as well, but beating Stanford is a must for the Huskies. They have to win two games this week.
If Oregon beats Washington, its odds of getting in will improve significantly. The Ducks would be a lock if they beat Stanford on Thursday, but they have to beat UW to be on the good side of the bubble. There’s no real path for them if they lose here. Crunch time.
GAME 3, WEDNESDAY: (7) WASHINGTON STATE OVER (10) CALIFORNIA
Washington State’s Bella Murekatete, center, tries to shoot under pressure from Oregon’s Endyia Rogers, left, and Te-Hina Paopao during the first half Sunday, Jan. 15, 2022, at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore.
Washington State will be in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars are a far better team than Cal and should win without too many problems.
GAME 4, WEDNESDAY: (6) USC OVER (11) OREGON STATE
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck, right, watches the game against Oregon at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene Dec 11, 2022.
USC needed overtime to beat Oregon State two and a half weeks ago in the Galen Center, so this is not going to be an easy game for the Trojans. Many experts have this game as an “upset alert” special, so the Trojans need to get off to a good start and make Oregon State chase them.
The obvious limitation for USC — beyond its bench — is that the Trojans often shoot below 30 percent. That has happened a lot in recent weeks. USC has to generate better shots and get to the free throw line. If the Trojans can shoot at or close to 40 percent, they are not going to lose to equally-talented opponents.
This game will finish the first-round slate of games on Wednesday. Let’s move to Thursday’s projected quarterfinal matchups.
QUARTERFINAL NO. 1, THURSDAY: (4) ARIZONA OVER (5) UCLA
Jan 8, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Cori Close reacts to a foul call in the first half against the USC Trojans at Pauley Pavilion presented by Wescom. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona erased a large deficit with a massive late comeback to stun UCLA in Pauley Pavilion a few weeks ago.
It will be hard for UCLA to shrug off that painful memory against an Arizona team which just stumbled in the state of Oregon, losing twice. This game sets up well for Arizona.
QUARTERFINAL NO. 2, THURSDAY: (1) STANFORD OVER (8) OREGON
Jan 20, 2023; Stanford, California, USA; Stanford Cardinal guard Haley Jones (30) shoots against Utah Utes guard Isabel Palmer (1) during the fourth quarter at Maples Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Oregon has been banged up this season and doesn’t have its full complement of players. That’s not the situation the Ducks need to give Stanford their best shot.
QUARTERFINAL NO. 3, THURSDAY: (2) UTAH OVER (7) WASHINGTON STATE
Feb 17, 2022; Stanford, California, USA; Utah Utes head coach Lynne Roberts looks on during the third quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Utah could be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Utes will be confident heading into this game against a good, tough Washington State side. This could be a terrific game, but we’ll give the edge to the Utes.
QUARTERFINAL NO. 4, THURSDAY: (6) USC OVER (3) COLORADO
Dec 18, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; USC Trojans head coach Lindsay Gottlieb calls a play against the Texas Longhorns during the first half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
USC drilled Colorado by 17 points in Boulder, easily CU’s worst home-court performance this season. Colorado might gain revenge here in the rematch, but that performance was so decisive that it points to Lindsay Gottlieb finding matchup advantages she was able to exploit. We also think that as long as USC shoots reasonably well, it will thrive against teams which aren’t massively superior to the Trojans. We’ll pick the Women of Troy to advance.
SEMIFINAL NO. 1, FRIDAY: (1) STANFORD OVER (4) ARIZONA
Apr 4, 2021; San Antonio, TX, USA; Stanford Cardinal players celebrate after winning the national championship game of the women’s Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament against the Arizona Wildcats at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The rematch of the 2021 national championship game would favor the Cardinal, who blew out Arizona in Tucson a few weeks ago. Arizona needs to hit a ton of 3-pointers to have a real chance here.
SEMIFINAL NO. 2, FRIDAY: (2) UTAH OVER (6) USC
Jan 20, 2023; Stanford, California, USA; Utah Utes forward Alissa Pili (35) is congratulated by guard Gianna Kneepkens (left) and forward Jenna Johnson (right) during the third quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Maples Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
USC’s defense is elite, but Utah solved the Trojans’ defense thanks to the likely 2023 Pac-12 Player of the Year, former USC star Alissa Pili. The woman who transferred from the Trojans has helped make Utah a co-Pac-12 champion and a contender for a No. 1 seed. This is one team USC’s defense might not be able to solve.
CHAMPIONSHIP, SUNDAY: (1) STANFORD OVER (2) UTAH
Mar 31, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Stanford Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer during NCAA women’s Final Four press conference at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Winter weather in the mountains caused Stanford to have brutal travel delays for each of its two games last week in Boulder (Colorado) and Salt Lake City (Utah). Stanford played a double-overtime game against Colorado and was running on fumes against Utah, and still made both games close, winning against CU.
Assuming Stanford does make the final, it will have had all of Saturday to rest, and travel problems will not be part of the picture at a tournament site. The Cardinal will be hugely motivated, and it’s unlikely Utah can beat them twice in nine days.