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Stanford Oregon Basketball

Stanford's Alanna Smith, left, battles Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu for the ball last season in Eugene. The Ducks won the regular season and Pac-12 conference tournament titles last year. Oregon and Stanford are among the favorites to battle it out again this season.

It has been a pretty good start to the season for the Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball season with some impressive wins against some top-ranked teams.

Stanford and Oregon recently made headlines with upset wins. The Cardinal knocked off then-No. 4 Baylor, 68-63, at home, then went to then-No. 9 Tennessee and left with a 95-85 victory.

That same day, Oregon upset then-No. 4 Mississippi State 82-74.

“It makes our conference look really good for sure,” Oregon State senior guard Katie McWilliams said. “Obviously Oregon and Stanford have been doing really well and it just makes us even hungrier to want to play them and get Ws against them.”

The Ducks, who play an exhibition game against Concordia on Sunday, are up to No. 5 in The Associated Press poll and are one of five conference teams in the top 17.

Stanford is No. 6, Oregon State No. 11, California No. 14 and Arizona State No. 17. Utah and USC also received votes.

As of Dec. 23, the conference had three teams in the top seven in RPI — Oregon (3), Stanford (4), California (7) — and eight in the top 55 — Arizona State (24), USC (39, Colorado (44), UCLA (49) and Oregon State (55).

Utah is at No. 85 followed by Washington (100), Arizona (104) and Washington State (138).

“The conference is doing great and that recognition has been there and continues to be proven,” said Oregon State coach Scott Rueck. “I think everybody is taking note now that they know how good this conference is.”

It sets up for yet another difficult and competitive conference season, which begins Sunday for eight of the 12 teams.

For those eight teams who open conference play Sunday, it starts against their "rivals."

It kicks off with Utah (11-0) at Colorado (10-1) in a battle of teams that went a combined 21-1 in the nonconference slate.

Washington State (5-6) is at Washington (7-5), UCLA (7-5) at USC (10-1) and Arizona State (9-2) at Arizona (10-1).

Nine of the 12 teams will enter conference play with fewer than three losses and all but Washington State are above .500.

Arizona State’s losses are against ranked teams Baylor (No. 7) and Louisville (No. 3), while USC’s lone loss was to Texas A&M.

California, 9-1 entering Sunday’s nonconference home game with Harvard, has only lost to no. 1 Connecticut.

Oregon State (10-2) has losses to Texas A&M (No. 23) and then-No. 1 and reigning national champions Notre Dame in a game the Beavers led until late in the fourth quarter before the Fighting Irish pulled away for a 10-point win.

Colorado’s lone loss was to No. 24 Miami while Oregon’s only loss came at Michigan State, currently ranked No. 21.

Stanford’s (10-1) loss came at home against a Gonzaga team that is now ranked No. 20 and before the back-to-back wins against Baylor and Tennessee.

Arizona has won nine straight after a 66-64 home loss to Loyola Marymount.

“I think everybody is looking at the bottom, what people say is the bottom, and they’re saying these teams are extremely competitive as well, they’re up and coming,” Rueck said. “This conference is coached as well as any and now we’re keeping West Coast players on the West Coast and we’re acquiring talent from the rest of the country, and overseas.

“It’s just fun to be a part of. It’s a battle every night and we’re all going to be prepared for postseason because of it.”

The Beavers, who wrapped up the nonconference slate with Saturday’s 92-52 win over Cal State Bakersfield, will open the conference season next Friday against Washington State.

Of Oregon State's 12 games, four have come against perennial NCAA tournament teams. In addition to losses to Notre Dame and Texas A&M, the Beavers have wins over South Carolina and Duke.

Those matchups have the Beavers prepared for the grind of the Pac-12 season.

“A lot of the biggest games that we played this preseason are very similar to the type of competition we will have in the Pac-12,” McWilliams said. “So it’s just good to get our toes wet so we kind of know what’s coming and we’ll be ready for those games.”

The conference title has run through the state of Oregon the past four years with Oregon State claiming three straight before Oregon took home the crown last season.

The Ducks are once again the favorites while Stanford and Oregon State were also picked to be in the top three.

“It’s a different mindset for sure,” Oregon State junior Kat Tudor said of conference play. “Every day matters. If you lose, you’re almost out of getting that championship. It’s a different kind of mindset, just more intense, just more locked in.”

The Pac-12 tournament will be held in Las Vegas this season with Seattle’s Key Arena undergoing renovations. The four-day event is set for March 7-11 at MGM Arena.

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald