Stanford is the overwhelming favorite in the Pac-12 women’s hoop race

FILE - Stanford's Haley Jones grabs a rebound during the second half of a college basketball game against UConn in the semifinals of the Women's Final Four NCAA Tournament on Friday, April 1, 2022 in Minneapolis.  Jones was named to the Associated Press Preseason Women's All-America Team on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

FILE – Stanford’s Haley Jones grabs a rebound during the second half of a college basketball game against UConn in the semifinals of the Women’s Final Four NCAA Tournament on Friday, April 1, 2022 in Minneapolis. Jones was named to the Associated Press Preseason Women’s All-America Team on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

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Even though there is a youth movement in the Pac-12 Conference, Haley Jones, Cameron Brink and Stanford continue to stand tall as a central program.

The Cardinal is looking to qualify for the Final Four for the third consecutive season and win its second national title in three years after falling short against UConn in the semifinals last season.

Jones, the conference player of the year last season, said the loss to the Huskies was tough, but they got some motivation from it.

“I think losses are part of the game, so you have to live with it and learn from it. There’s even more to play this coming year,” Jones said.

Stanford, ranked second in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, will make national television appearances against defending national champion South Carolina on Nov. 20 and Dec. 18 against Tennessee.

Arizona No. 19 – who played at Stanford for the national title two years ago – includes three fifth-year seniors, but is also bolstered by an incoming group of transfers and freshmen. No. 20 Oregon, which won three straight regular-season conference titles from 2018-20, has one of the best backcourts in the nation.

As for the youth, there will be a lot of them this season. The conference has 11 players named McDonald’s All-Americans last season and five of the top eight recruiting classes. UCLA had the consensus top class in the nation, followed by Oregon and Oregon State.

Stanford has as many rates as the top freshman in the country in Lauren Betts.

TEAM TO BEAT

Stanford has plenty of depth, but the clear leaders are Jones and Brink. Jones is on the AP’s preseason All-America team after averaging 13.2 points and 7.9 rebounds last season. She will be the main leader of the Cardinal after the graduations of Anna Wilson and Lacie Hull.

Brink, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, has been working on her shooting perimeter this offseason. Coach Tara VanDerveer says the junior was playing small forward in pre-season training.

“I think Cam’s versatility, Haley’s versatility, they train with a sense of urgency,” VanDerveer said. “Cam just didn’t lay on the beach in Hawaii all summer. She worked hard with Pau Gasol. I think she expanded her game.

“Haley has always been an extremely versatile player, but she put hours and hours into her game in the gym. She also knows she wants to have a great senior year, but she has a bright future.

INTERESTING MIX

Arizona still has plenty of players from the 2021 squad that won the national title game against Stanford, but the Wildcats also added a pair of transfers to attempt another deep tournament run.

Wildcats, picked to finish third by coaches, bring back fifth-year seniors Cate Reese and Shaina Pellington, who combined to average 25.7 points last season, but also added Arizona State’s Jade Loville and Lauren Fields of Oklahoma State. Loville finished second in the conference in scoring last season with 16.6 points per game.

“We have players who can play on both sides of the pitch, so I think the areas we have improved this year are adding players who can play our type of defense and who can score the ball well,” said coach Adia Barnes.

DON’T DODGE IT

Oregon, chosen second by the coaches, again has one of the best backcourts in the nation with all-conference guards Endyia Rogers and Te-Hina Paopao. The Ducks’ most intriguing player is Sedona Prince. The redshirt senior, whose social media posts about the difference in athlete condition between men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments spurred change, averaged 9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds last season . Coach Kelly Graves thinks no one has seen the best of Prince yet.

“She makes the difference. She really is. It changes who we are and how we can play when we can play through it,” Graves said. “She has always played alongside a top professional. So now it’s sort of his time to shine.

THE FUTURE IS NOW

UCLA has one of the best guards in the conference in Charisma Osbourne and the best recruiting class in the country. Kiki Rice is the nation’s second rookie and will likely join Osbourne in the backcourt.

The Bruins, picked fourth by coaches, have struggled with depth the past two seasons and did not play in the NCAA Tournament last season. Coach Cori Close said they remain a work in progress but the chemistry on the pitch will develop over time.

KEEP AN EYE ON …..

Utah, Colorado and Washington State, which made the NCAA Tournament last season after long droughts. The Utes received VanDerveer’s vote for the conference title in the preseason poll since coaches can’t select their own teams.

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AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https:/ /twitter.com/AP_Top25

This story was originally published October 26, 2022 11:30 a.m.

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