For years, the Pac-12 belonged to Stanford in women's basketball.

The Cardinal won at least a share of 14 consecutive conference titles from 2001-14. They were the preseason favorite 15 years in a row.

The tide has officially turned, however.

Oregon State, a perennial doormat for years, is the defending league champion, and many project the Beavers to win the title again this year.

OSU's resurgence speaks not just to the job head coach Scott Rueck has done in Corvallis, but to the parity that now exists in the Pac-12.

This has become the best conference in women's basketball, with five teams among the latest Associated Press rankings. That group doesn't include the only two undefeated teams in the conference, Southern California and Oregon. ranks the Pac-12 as the top conference in the country.

For Colorado, none of that is good news. The Buffaloes (5-6) are the only team in the conference with a losing record at the close of nonconference play and they have typically struggled against the Pac-12, even when it wasn't this deep.

The Buffs went 13-5 in Pac-12 play during the 2012-13 season, but in their other three years in this conference, they are a combined 18-36, posting 6-12 marks in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

To turn things around this year, the Buffs need to figure out a way to contend with a collection of great teams.


It all starts with Oregon State (9-2), which has two losses against top-13 teams by a combined four points. The Beavers have proven they have the tools to repeat as Pac-12 champs.

Stanford, of course, will be in contention. Coach Tara VanDerveer, now in her 29th season with the Cardinal, is the best coach in this conference, and she's got many of the best players.

Arizona State, California and UCLA are among the nation's best teams and they'll all fight to stay in the race.

Don't forget about the two unbeatens, either. USC and Oregon haven't had the toughest schedules around, but they're a combined 23-0. USC has one of the country's best defensive units, and Oregon features future WNBA first-round pick Jillian Alleyne.

Meanwhile, Washington is seeking a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, and the Huskies have got the nation's leading scorer (junior Kelsey Plum) to try to carry them there.

Where does that leave Colorado? With a huge hill to climb.

Going into the season, the Buffs have typically been lumped with Utah, Washington and Arizona as the teams fighting to avoid the bottom third of the standings.

Buffs coach Linda Lappe's roster is small (just 10 healthy, eligible players) and it's inexperienced. Not a good combination for a team looking to make a leap forward.

However, the Buffs are hopeful that its youth can come together in time to make some noise over the next couple of months. Doing so won't be easy, but CU's journey begins Saturday when the Huskies come to town.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.