SEATTLE — For the first time in the 14-year history of the Pac-12 Conference women's basketball tournament, Stanford will not be the No. 1 seed.
That fact alone makes the 2015 version noteworthy.
At least for one year, Stanford isn't the power of the Pac-12. The Cardinal are not even the No. 2 seed. Those top two positions belong to Oregon State — No. 8 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 — and No. 9 Arizona State, with both trying to strengthen their NCAA tournament position with a good showing in the conference tourney.
“I think what the conference has prepared all of us for is a deep run in the NCAA Tournament,” said California coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose Golden Bears are the No. 4 seed. “I think we've faced all styles of play, I think we've faced some of the best guards in the country in our own conference. And that's a good thing for all of us.”
The conference tournament opens Thursday with Washington State facing Oregon, UCLA taking on Arizona, Southern Cal against Colorado, and Washington facing Utah. The tourney will likely determine just how many Pac-12 schools will end up hosting games for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The top four seeds in each region will have the opportunity to host first- and second-round games on campus.
Oregon State and Arizona State appear to be solid bets to get top four seeds no matter how they fare in the tournament. Stanford and California are both in position to potentially host. Even Washington could find itself with a top four seed if the hometown Huskies can put together a deep run.
Oregon State's rise began a year ago when the Beavers made the conference tournament championship game and advanced to the second round of the NCAAs before losing to No. 1 seed South Carolina. The Beavers went 16-2 in conference play this season and ended Stanford's 14-year run of winning at least a share of the conference regular season title.
“Oregon State is legit. They are for real. They have everything you need: perimeter game, post game, (offense), defense, rebounding,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I'm really excited for Scott (Rueck) and their team because they've got the Pac-12 tournament coming up and then the NCAA tournament, which they should be hosting. I think they can go a long way in it.”
The surprise of the year has been Arizona State after the Sun Devils were picked to finish seventh in the preseason poll. And they've proven to be quite good in close games. The Sun Devils have eight wins this season decided by five points or less.
Stanford so far hasn't been the powerhouse that reached the Final Four in six of seven years. But despite being in a “transitional year,” as VanDerveer called it, the Cardinal won at Oregon State last week, the Beavers' only home loss of the season.
“It gives a big boost, just knowing that we can execute like that, we can follow a game plan like that,” Stanford sophomore Erica McCall said. “It shows us we're prepared for the Pac-12 tournament. It might have taken us a while to figure out our identity, but I think we definitely figured it out, and we know where we're going.”