Pac-12 women: Stanford and 11 dreamers
The yes-we-can generation of dreamers has plenty of examples of long odds being overcome.
And so dream big, you other 11 women's basketball teams in the Pacific-12 Conference. When it comes to this week's Pac-12 tournament and heavy favorite Stanford, that might be all you've got.
Even the University of Washington, which needs a win over Oregon today just to get a shot at the seemingly Final Four-bound Cardinal, enters tournament play with a glimmer of hope.
"Everyone knows how amazing Stanford is," sophomore guard Mercedes Wetmore said. "But any given day, they can have an off-day (and) you can have an on-day. I just think the level between the teams is shrinking as the years go on."
Huskies coach Kevin McGuff won't even entertain talk of a possible second-round matchup with Stanford, while players such as Wetmore followed his lead in saying that Oregon was the only thing on UW's mind heading into today's opening game. But for anyone playing in or watching the Pac-12 tournament, it's difficult not to have one eye on the Goliath that is Stanford women's basketball.
"Stanford is clearly, almost any way you want to look at it, superior," said Oregon coach Paul Westhead, whose Ducks face UW at noon today. "But on the other hand, if someone is going to knock Stanford off, it could be any one of the (other) 11 (because the rest of the conference is so balanced). That's why we're playing this tournament, to see if Stanford can win three games in a row. But they sure don't look like they have any weaknesses."
The Cardinal, ranked second nationally, made their expected 18-0 run through the Pac-12 during regular-season play, with 12 of those wins coming by margins of 20 points or greater. Stanford has won the past five conference tournament titles, and eight of the 10 that have been handed out since the conference began hosting a postseason tournament.
If Stanford doesn't win three consecutive games this week, it would be a major upset on the national landscape.
So if the rest of the Pac-12 is banking on anything this week as the conference tournament begins, it might be what Arizona coach Niya Butts said Tuesday: "Anything can happen when you get into March."
Teams like UW and Oregon are not only evenly matched to each other but also to most of the rest of the league. As the Ducks' Westhead pointed out, the conference has remarkable balance after Stanford.
"There are a whole bunch of teams -- six, seven, eight or more teams -- that are pretty much dead-even," he said Tuesday.
Westhead's assessment of his own team could have summed up the entire Pac-12 outside of Stanford: "We can beat anyone, and we can lose to anyone. ... Flip a coin. Heads, we win; tails, we lose."
The Huskies hope that the coin flips their way today.
And after that? It's OK to dream. Anything is possible.
"We're pretty much taking it one game at a time," UW senior Mollie Williams said. "But as a personal feeling, the dream's there. Winning four games and making it to an NCAA tournament as a senior is pretty big."
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