For University of Washington senior guard Giuliana Mendiola, the Huskies’ task is simple if they want a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We know we need to win the Pac-10 tournament,” she said.
As the sixth seed in the Pacific-10 Conference Tournament, with six freshmen in the rotation and a large chunk of its talent on the bench with assorted injuries, it seems a monumental task.
You can say that at the end of the year, that freshmen can’t be considered freshmen anymore, but the fact remains that Washington’s youngest players haven’t experienced anything like a conference tournament.
“It’s another level of intensity,” said Mendiola, picked Thursday on the all-conference team for the third time. “Every game you play in the Pac-10 season is difficult, but the Pac-10 Tournament turns it up a notch. You need to win to survive.”
It’s especially true this time around, when the Pac-10 appears to be getting less respect than ever.
It is likely that only 10th-ranked Stanford and unranked Arizona can count on bids for the NCAA tournament. And maybe not even Arizona, despite being conference co-champion with the Cardinal and three genuine national stars in post Shawntinice Polk, guard Dee-Dee Wheeler and guard Aimee Grzyb.
So for virtually every team not named Stanford, an NCAA bid likely means the automatic invitation that comes with winning the Pac-10 tournament.
It is no small issue to Pac-10 coaches that only one conference team is ranked in the two major women’s basketball polls, despite the Wildcats’ 22-7 record, which includes a split with Stanford and a close loss to powerful LSU.
“I don’t understand it, because Arizona has been talked about all season long,” Oregon State coach Judy Spoelstra said. “It’s pretty incredible. It’s a lack of respect and an insult that people aren’t looking harder at the West Coast.”
It’s a familiar predicament. Through the years, the Pac-10 has been balanced, but perhaps never so much so as this season.
Stanford and Arizona shared the conference title with four losses each, a result of extremely even teams beating up on each other. Unfortunately for the league, its own parity has done much to damage teams’ records. Eight of the 10 conference teams have 10 losses or more, which may well have a bearing on the number of teams the NCAA Selection Committee chooses for the tournament.
“The reality is the Pac-10 is a very competitive conference,” UCLA coach Kathy Olivier said. “When the winner has no losses, it shows a different side to the conference. Stanford has really had to fight for its wins. That says something about the conference, and it’s not just (Stanford and Arizona). Four or five teams are right there in the mix.”
The Pac-10 also is fighting recent unimpressive performances in the NCAA Tournament.
The last team that reached the Elite Eight was Washington, in 2001. Before that, it was UCLA, in 1999. Since 2000, Pac-10 teams are 10-13 in the tournament, with six teams leaving after one game.
This season, three teams – UCLA, USC and Arizona State – appear to be on the bubble and almost certainly need to win at least one game and probably have to advance to the title game in the conference tournament to have any hope for an NCAA bid.
“Conference-tournament play is really going to provide additional direction for the committee in regards to selection and seeding,” said Marie Tuite, senior associate athletic director at Washington and a member of the selection committee.
Pac-10 honors for Mendiola, Lalum, Hicks and Bell: Washington women’s basketball seniors Giuliana Mendiola and Andrea Lalum were named to the 2003-04 All-Pac-10 Team as voted upon by the league’s coaches. Cameo Hicks was also named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team, while Jill Bell earned All-Freshman honorable mention acclaim.
Stanford’s Nicole Powell was named Pac-10 Player of the Year, while UCLA’s Noelle Quinn earned Freshman of the Year honors. Caren Horstmeyer, the head coach of the California Golden Bears, earned Coach of the Year honors.