Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne shouts instructions to her players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Utah, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin
January 20, 2016

For the better part of two decades, Stanford dominated women's basketball in the Pac-12. Now, teams like Arizona State and Oregon State are catching up and building their own legacies.

The result of this growing parity has been good for the league as a whole. The Pac-12 has four teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25: Arizona State at No. 8, Oregon State at No. 11, Stanford at No. 12 and UCLA at No. 20. Washington is just outside of the rankings.

Utah coach Lynne Roberts, in her first year with the Utes, noted the challenge as the league gets into the thick of conference play: ''Every night, anyone can beat anybody.''

Evidence of the Pac-12's upswing is in the RPI. There are six Pac-12 teams among the top 20 in the NCAA RPI rankings, more than any other conference. That's the league's best showing since it expanded to 12 teams in 2011.

''I think the exciting thing is we came out of the preseason with the No. 1 RPI, and I don't think we've done that very much,'' Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. ''I think one of the criticisms was the strength of schedule for some of the teams in our conference.''

Because RPI figures into a team's fate in the postseason, there's speculation that the Pac-12 could see as many as eight teams make the NCAA tournament this season, up from five the past two years.

The shift in the league was apparent on Sunday, when Stanford's dominance over Oregon State finally ended. The Cardinal (14-4, 4-2 Pac-12) had won 29 straight meetings between the two teams - stretching back to 2001 - until the thrilling come-from-behind 59-50 Beavers victory.

Deven Hunter had 19 points, including five 3-pointers, as well as 12 rebounds, and the Beavers (14-3, 5-1) erased a 15-point third-quarter deficit and finished on a 23-4 run.

The Beavers have been on an upward track for the past six years, when coach Scott Rueck took over a team in shambles and had to stage open tryouts. Oregon State won the league's regular-season title last year, ending a 14-year streak during which Stanford had either won it outright or shared it.

After the loss, Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer pointed to the league's parity.

''I think that now there's a little bit more - like in the past there might have been teams here, and some teams here,'' she said, indicating two levels with her hands. ''There have always been good teams, now there's just a tighter pack.''

With stellar defensive play, the Sun Devils also defeated Stanford, 49-31, on Jan. 4.

Arizona State's ranking this week matches the highest ever for the team. The Sun Devils (15-3, 6-0) are the only undefeated team left in conference play, coming off an 80-60 victory over the Utes on Sunday.

The school's 12-game winning streak is three shy of the school record set during the 2008-09 season.

Turner Thorne thinks there's something more at play when it comes to the Pac-12's rise: Television. The Pac-12 Network has made women's basketball on the West Coast more accessible than ever before, which is key to both ranking and recruiting.

''A lot of great players and a lot of great teams didn't get near the recognition they deserved,'' she said. ''Now you can't help but watch and see us. From the first year it's been drastically different, in terms of the polls, in terms of NCAA selection, players getting recognized.''

Oregon's Jillian Alleyne is one of those players benefiting from the league's exposure. Although the Ducks (12-5, 1-5) are building under second-year coach Kelly Graves, Alleyne is rightfully getting national attention.

Last weekend, Alleyne became the Pac-12's all-time leading rebounder with 1,574 boards, passing former Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike (1,567).

A senior, Alleyne has appreciated the competition.

''This is probably the toughest the Pac-12 has ever been since I've been a part of the conference. And it's so fun to go in every night knowing you're playing against a great team, or a team that's going to make you better,'' she said. ''Any night, it's anyone's game. The competition is just far and beyond than when I started.''

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