When California snuck into the NCAA women’s basketball tournament on Monday as one of the last four teams into the field of 64, it meant the Pac-12 Conference set a record.
The seven teams are the most ever by the conference, which expanded to 12 teams in 2011.
“I think it shows how difficult the conference season has been for us, how we beat each other up but now it’s paying off because look at how many teams made it,” Oregon State senior point guard Sydney Wiese said.
The conference coaches had been preaching before and during the Pac-12 tournament that seven or eight teams should make the field.
The Southeastern Conference led the way with eight teams in the field while the Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference each had seven.
“I’m so proud of our conference and seeing that this league got the respect that it deserved because we are what we are and now everybody’s starting to see it across the country,” Oregon State coach Rueck said.
“I think two Final Four teams last year really opened some eyes and (with) a great performance in the nonconference by our conference to be the No. 1 RPI, we deserve at least seven to be honest, so I’m really happy about that.”
The Golden Bears (19-13) finished tied for seventh in the Pac-12 and had a 6-12 conference mark but received the No. 9 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional. Cal will open with LSU on Saturday in Waco, Texas. The winner gets No. 1 seed Baylor.
“Everybody was speculating six teams in but you look at these teams,” Rueck said. “Are you kidding me? How do you keep Kristine Anigwe and that group out of the NCAA tournament? They’re that talented and have an opportunity to win every night.”
Cal was on the bubble for sure but managed to get in, likely in part to the conference having the top RPI in the country.
"That's awesome,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves, who’s Ducks team also made the field. “It’s great for the league. It shows that we’re the toughest league in the country.”
Graves and his young Oregon team received a No. 10 seed in the Bridgeport Regional, the Ducks’ first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2004-05 season.
Oregon (20-13) will head to Durham, North Carolina, to take on Temple on Saturday. The winner will likely face No. 2 seed Duke.
The Beavers (29-4) are the No. 2 seed in the Stockton Regional and will host Long Beach State at 2 p.m. Friday.
Arizona State (19-12) is also in the Stockton Regional as the No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Michigan State on Friday in Columbia, South Carolina.
Stanford (28-5) is the No. 2 seed in the Lexington Regional but because the school is hosting the Pac-12 gymnastics championships on Saturday, has to hit the road.
The Cardinal will be in Manhattan, Kansas, to take on New Mexico State on Saturday. Kansas State is the No. 7 seed and host.
Washington (27-5) is the No. 3 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional and hosts Montana State on Saturday. The Huskies, who tied for second in the regular season but were upset by Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, boast the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in Kelsey Plum.
UCLA (23-8) is the No. 4 seed in the Bridgeport Regional and will host the first and second rounds. The Bruins, fourth in the regular season, open against Boise State.
According to Gabby Hanson and Wiese, it’s time to “Back the Pac” when it comes to the tournament.
“Yeah, they are our competition but I think you also want to see our Pac-12 teams do well,” Hanson said. “So I’m excited about the run that the Pac-12 teams are going to have.
Added Wiese: “You want to do the best you can as a group and you want to represent your university but I think our conference is going to represent very well and I’m looking forward to seeing how all these teams compete in this tournament.”
The players know that having played in such a deep and talented conference has prepared them for the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“Obviously that was really good preparation having to play Cal, UCLA and Stanford in the tournament,” Hanson said. “Three games in three days was brutal but it definitely helped build our confidence and I think also exposed some of our weaknesses that we still need to clean up and perfect.”