Oregon State picked to defend Pac-12 women’s title

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott is so impressed with Washington’s preparation and training curriculum leading up to its men’s basketball team’s trip to China next month to open against Texas, he can envision a women’s regular-season game there in the near future involving a conference team.

California women’s basketball made a goodwill tour to China in August 2013 shortly after the program’s lone Final Four berth, and the Golden Bears added 6-foot-7 freshman Chen Yue from Beijing for this season.

”It’s truly a groundbreaking effort,” Scott said Wednesday at Pac-12 women’s basketball media day. ”I’m expecting it’s going to go very well. If it goes as well as I think it will, we will be planning on not only Year 2 for the men’s event but thinking about where we go from there in terms of other events. Women’s basketball would be a natural. We have dipped our toe in the water in bringing the Cal women’s basketball team over to China for a tour of exhibition games against collegiate teams in China as well as professional club teams.”

The Washington women’s team is raising its hand to go, eager for a turn when the time comes.

”That is an area that we really need to continue to explore,” Huskies coach Mike Neighbors said. ”It’s a dynamic area, and I’m excited that our university’s part of that. I hope that we do such a good job over there that they just want to take us in a couple years. We have a study abroad program over there anyway, so it makes a lot of sense.”

Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb also is volunteering to be the first conference team to play in China.

”Maybe we’ll shoot for it, how’s his jumper looking?” she joked of Neighbors. ”My willingness to buy into the progressive nature of this conference and Larry Scott saying that the Pacific Rim and China is the new kind of opportunity for all of us, and I’m like, `OK, we’re in, we’ll go.”’

In the preseason coaches’ poll announced Wednesday, Oregon State was picked to repeat as Pac-12 champion. Reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year Scott Rueck’s Beavers won the conference regular-season crown last season for the first time in school history and are bumping perennial power Stanford from the top spot for the first time in 16 years.

”We had an amazing year a year ago. Obviously the expectations are high, we found that out this morning,” Rueck said. ”But we knew that already. This group is one that’s going to embrace that challenge.”

Oregon State received the maximum 11 first-place votes for 121 points, while Stanford was picked second with 104 points. Arizona State was selected third with 102 points.

The last time Stanford wasn’t picked conference champion in the preseason coaches’ poll was 1999-2000, when UCLA was chosen to win.

”I don’t really think about it,” Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said of not being the favorite. ”I know that when we play we will be.”

Cal and WNIT champion UCLA are tied for fourth, followed by Washington, USC, Oregon, Colorado, Washington State, Utah and Arizona.

”I’m a strong believer the stronger the other teams are in our conference the better it makes everybody else,” said Arizona coach Niya Butts, who will take her Wildcats crew to a Tucson-area military base this weekend for some ”unique training.”

In an interesting twist, Cal and UCLA will play a nonconference matchup Dec. 21 shortly before Pac-12 play begins. The schools made the decision because they only play once during the Pac-12 regular season this year – eager to have one meeting in each program’s home arena.

”From a rivalry standpoint, we think we have a great, fun rivalry,” Bruins coach Cori Close said. ”Long before this rotation happened we agreed we were going to keep it going.”

Arizona State’s ”Heart Health Awareness” season opener Nov. 15 against Kentucky will serve to bring attention to cardiovascular disease and positive lifestyle changes. The university partnered with the American Heart Association and will offer a variety of screenings and the opportunity to donate blood during the game.

”It’s personal for our program. It’s a great cause,” said coach Charli Turner Thorne, whose husband Will suffered a heart attack last year. ”We want to challenge people to eat better, exercise, get checkups.”

Washington State will honor late university President Elson Floyd, who died in June following a bout with cancer.

”We’re playing for the loss of our President Elson Floyd with heavy hearts,” coach June Daugherty said. ”You’ll see those patches on our uniforms for good reason.”