The expected and unexpected
By Maureen Mullen, Special to CNNSI.com
With the expected graduation of seniors such as UCLA's Maylana Martin and Oregon State's Sissel Pierce and the rather surprising loss of 2000 conference player of the year Shaquala Williams of Oregon and freshman of the year Jamie Carey of Stanford, a lot of questions remain as the Pac-10 teams began play.
For the No. 24 Ducks, a William-less year doesn't look so bleak. In their first two games, Oregon upset No. 16 Wisconsin 71-57 and No. 19 N.C. State 50-47, with senior forward Angelina Wolvert erupting for 41 points between the contests. While they've still got a long way to go, Jody Runge's Ducks are sending an early message that Stanford isn't necessarily the team to beat on the west coast.
The Cardinal is having a little more trouble finding its wings. Stanford looked to have plenty of freshman firepower to take the place of Carey in its only exhibition game, but when put to the test against Bay Area rival St. Mary's on Friday night, Tara VanDerveer's squad struggled with rebounding and ball control. They lost their first ever contest to the Gael's 74-63. While the Cardinal rebounded with a romp over Santa Clara at home on Monday, they still have a long way to go to be among Stanford's signature squads.
UCLA is perhaps in the worst shape of all, playing without any of its five starters from last year. Sophomore Nicole Kaczmarski was scheduled to return, but isn't back in school this fall for personal reasons. She is expected to be back on the squad December 16. The Bruins are looking desperately for some direction after dropping their first three contests, losses to Duke, New Mexico and Utah.
Their cross-city rivals, the USC Trojans are experiencing similar opening season heartbreak, falling to Creighton and Drake in their first two tightly-contested road games.
Both ASU and Arizona seem to be shining as brightly as the desert sunshine. Both teams picked up opening round wins, with freshmen and transfer stars leading the way.
Meanwhile, the Washington Huskies looked promising in an opening tour of the Big Ten, cruising to a 73-60 win over Michigan after dropping a close 77-74 overtime loss to Indiana on Friday.
Washington looks forward to return of Payne
The Huskies opened up their season without the offensive firepower of sophomore Loree Payne, who is out with a stress fracture to her left foot.
Payne, who hasn't missed a game since eighth grade, averaged 17.4 points per contest last year and earned Pac-10 all-freshman team honors.
"It is disappointing not to have Loree as we open our season," said coach June Daugherty . "Our main concern is for her health and recovery. It is too early to tell how long she will be out. We can only hope for the best."
In other critical injuries throughout the conference, UCLA junior Michelle Greco re-aggravated her right ankle sprain and was held scoreless in the Bruin's loss over Utah. Greco earned Pac-10 honorable mention honors last season. The guard had a combined 50 points in opening losses over Duke and New Mexico.
In addition, last year's conference leader in steals, California guard Courtney Johnson nurses a torn calf muscle. The senior saw limited action in the Golden Bears 66-47 loss against No. 7 Rutgers.
Perhaps it is the loss of many key players to injury and graduation or maybe it is the added excitement generated by their first college games or possibly the Pac-10 is seeing one of the conference's best recruiting classes ever. Whatever the cause, various freshmen throughout the conference put up veteran level performances in the opening week of play.
Leading the way was Arizona forward Becky Boardman. The freshman posted a game-high 15 points in the Sun Devil's 57-40 win over Texas-San Antonio. Teaming with Boardman was fellow Pac-10 rookie, transfer Melody Johnson, who tallied 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Wildcats also hold some newfound bragging rights in freshmen Veranda James and Aimee Grzyb. While James posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the team's 76-71 win over Brigham Young , Grzyb came of the bench to score 12 for Arizona, including knocking down a stone-cold three-for-four from the free throw line in the final two minutes of play.
Husky freshman Giuliana Mendiola , showed some closing minute poise of her own, throwing up what looked like a prayer from beyond the arc, tying the Washington-Indiana game at 65 and sending the game into overtime. She scored 15 points in the contest on five-for-six shooting.
For the Lady Trojans, newcomer Jessica Cheeks led the team with 10 points and seven rebounds against Creighton, while freshman Ebony Hoffman grabbed 11 rebounds in the loss to Drake.
The Cardinal roster sports five recruits that have all distinguished themselves in the early season. Most notably point guard Susan King has stepped up to fill the role of the sidelined Carey, pacing the Cardinal with nine points and nine assists in its win over Santa Clara. Fellow guard Nicole Powell has posted impressive numbers as well, notching a triple-double in Stanford's exhibition contest.
With a slew of early season contests this weekend, all each of the Pacific-10 teams want to be thankful for is some solid wins and development of strong foundations to take with them into the Pac-10 season. With Washington taking on No. 1 Connecticut at home, Arizona at the Wahine Classic, and USC's match-up with UC-Santa Barbara, as well as a slew of other exciting contests, Thanksgiving weekend promises to bring another round of exciting games.
Maureen Mullen is a reporter for The Stanford Daily, the student newspaper of Stanford University.