LOS ANGELES (AP) — For a league that is mostly disintegrating next year, the Pac-12 has the most teams of any conference in the AP Top 25 women’s preseason poll.
UCLA is No. 4 to lead the six teams in the poll, with Utah right behind at No. 5.
Stanford is 15th, its lowest preseason ranking since 2015. No. 20 Colorado got in for the first time since 2013. No. 21 Southern California is in the preseason poll for the first time since 2011, while No. 24 Washington State is ranked for the first time.
Five of the six ranked schools are going into their last season in the Pac-12 before leaving for other conferences next year. UCLA, Stanford and USC are headed to the Big Ten, while Utah and Colorado will be in the Big 12.
"It’s heartbreaking,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “But we are committed to this year being a great year. Our team’s theme is best year ever, and I think that that’s kind of what everyone wants.”
The Pac-12 sent a league record-tying seven teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, with three advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time in seven years.
GOING OUT WITH A BANG
The defending Pac-12 co-champion Utes return all five starters, led by league player of the year Alissa Pili in her final season. They’ll get a couple of early tests: against No. 19 Baylor on Nov. 14 and playing No. 6 South Carolina on a neutral court Dec. 10.
Utah went 15-0 at home last season and shared the league title with Stanford. The Utes were picked by the league’s coaches and media to win the title this season.
UCLA got a boost when leading scorer and rebounder Charisma Osborne decided to use her extra COVID-19 year of eligibility. Her 52 steals were a single-season career high.
The Bruins added 6-foot-7 Lauren Betts, who transferred after one season at Stanford. Kiki Rice is back for her second season and was named to the preseason all-conference team. She was the first freshman since Jordin Canada to have 400-plus points, 100-plus assists and 100-plus made free throws in her first season.
“Maybe the first time in my time at UCLA such a great mix of not only talent sets and versatility but also age and experience,” coach Cori Close said.
The Bruins will find out quickly where they stack up nationally with neutral-site games against No. 2 UConn on Nov. 24 and No. 18 Florida State on Dec. 10, followed by a visit to No. 7 Ohio State on Dec. 18.
REBUILDING ON THE FARM
Stanford is in a rebuilding year, although the Cardinal will be stabilized by Pac-12 defensive player of the year Cameron Brink. She is one of four starters to return who’ll be joined by three freshmen.
VanDerveer is touting Brink as a player of the year candidate.
“What I love about Cam is she’s not fouling, so I’m really excited about that,” VanDerveer said. “She’s aggressive and understands how important she is for our team to be out there.”
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball