Conference play in NCAA Division I women’s soccer reaches its dramatic denouement this weekend. In the Pac-12, USC and Stanford will continue their battle for the conference title after both teams notched victories on Thursday night, with USC beating Cal and Stanford topping UCLA. Meanwhile, the Big Ten conference tournament gets underway, with intriguing matchups that could have major implications. Here are the games to watch this weekend.
No. 16 California (13-3-1, 6-2-1 Pac-12) at No. 6 UCLA (13-2-2, 6-2-1 Pac-12)
Sunday at 4 p.m. E.T.The Cal Bears and the UCLA Bruins were both eliminated from Pac-12 title contention with their losses on Thursday night. But these two teams, currently tied for third in conference standings with 19 points apiece, are still major threats heading into the postseason. The Bruins will rely on junior forward Hailie Mace, the conference leader in goals per game. UCLA also boasts another scoring threat in sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming, the Canadian Olympic bronze medalist who led the team in goals per game last season. But UCLA will face a Cal team that has the best save percentage in the conference. And the Bears could look to capitalize on UCLA’s recent struggles with set pieces — the Bruins have allowed three set piece goals in the last four games.
No. 1 Stanford (16-1-0, 9-0-0 Pac-12) at No. 5 USC (14-1-1, 8-0-1 Pac-12)
Sunday at 6 p.m. E.T.
These two titans — the only two Pac-12 teams without a loss in conference play this season — will clash on Sunday in a match that could decide the conference champion. Both Stanford and USC are riding double-digit win streaks into the weekend: the Cardinal has won 14 straight while the Trojans have won 13. If Stanford continues their streak with a win over USC, the Cardinal will mathematically clinch the Pac-12 title.
USC, the reigning national champions, will have to score on a Stanford side that hasn’t allowed a goal in 773:20 minutes if they want to keep their own title hopes alive. And the Trojans will have to contend with the relentless Cardinal offense, which is No. 1 in the nation in goals per game (4.06). But if anyone can topple Stanford, it’s USC – the Trojans handed the Cardinal its last Pac-12 loss on Oct. 6, 2016.
No. 11 Penn State (10-4-3, 6-2-3 Big Ten) at No. 25 Rutgers (12-2-4, 6-2-3 Big Ten)
Sunday at 1 p.m. E.T.
The Big Ten tournament kicks off this weekend, and while Ohio State got the top seed, this match between the fourth seed Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the fifth seed Penn State Nittany Lions is the most interesting of the quarterfinal round. Two weeks ago, these teams faced off to a scoreless draw at Rutgers. On Sunday, both teams will be looking for a big win to bolster their position ahead of NCAA tournament selection. The Scarlet Knights will have the advantage in goal, where redshirt junior Casey Murphy has posted 14 shutouts this season — the most among all Division I goalies. Murphy, who was named to the watch list for the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy, has allowed just five goals this season. Penn State will need to get crafty if they want to advance to the semifinals.