Pac-12’s final chapter not over yet; conference has 5 teams in women’s Sweet 16

Associated Press | 3/28/2024, 6 p.m.
In a women’s NCAA Tournament where Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, LSU Coach Kim Mulkey and undefeated South Carolina have dominated the ...
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark celebrates with teammates Monday after a second-round college basketball game against West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 64-54. Photo by Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - In a women’s NCAA Tournament where Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, LSU Coach Kim Mulkey and undefeated South Carolina have dominated the headlines, the Pac-12 Conference is making sure it doesn’t go away quietly in its final season.

The onetime “Conference of Champions” leads the way with five teams making the Sweet 16.

The Pac-12 is one of five conferences to have multiple teams get to the regional semifinals. The ACC has three, with the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 placing two apiece. The Pac-12 also had five teams get to the second weekend of tournament play in 2017 and 2019. The conference has had at least one team reach seven of the last 10 women’s Final Fours. That includes an all-Pac-12 final in 2021 when Stanford defeated Arizona.

“Every coach is campaigning that their conference is the best in the country. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that. Well, I’m going to say it, and I’m going to say our numbers are backing it up,” UCLA Coach Cori Close said after the Bruins defeated Creighton 67-63 on Monday night.

Southern California Coach Lindsay Gottlieb, who led California to the women’s Final Four in 2013, said she is not surprised with the showing because everyone in the conference knew what one another was capable of doing.

“It was such a good league top to bottom. I’ve said the whole time I think even the teams in the middle were better than people realized,” Coach Gottlieb said after USC beat Kansas 73-55 on Monday night to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994.

“We knew that we were playing Sweet 16, Elite 8, quality games, Final Four-quality games, night in and night out and sometimes three and four times in a row.”

USC, the top seed in the Portland 3 Regional, last made it this far when USC great Cheryl Miller was the coach.

All-American JuJu Watkins, who has the third-most points by a freshman in NCAA history, will lead the Trojans against Baylor on Saturday night.

The Trojans and Bruins both hosted region-als and drew great crowds despite the games going up against each other — UCLA’s game tipped off at 5:30 p.m. PDT while USC began 90 minutes later.

UCLA had 7,839 at Pauley Pavilion while USC drew 8,941 at the Galen Center.

“It’s a Monday night in LA. We have students who probably have homework and school in the morning, so just to know that people really support us throughout their busy sched-

ule,” said Watkins, who scored 28 points. “They could really be doing anything else, but they decided to be here so we’re grateful for them.”

UCLA and Colorado will also be in action Saturday in the Albany 2 Regional.

The second-seeded Bruins get defending national champion LSU while No. 5 seed Colorado faces No. 1 seed Iowa and Clark.

The Buffaloes did not host a regional but advanced with a 63-50 victory at Kansas State on Sunday.

Oregon State and Stanford will begin play on Friday.