Stanford and Cal dominated Pac-12 Conference play en route to top-five national rankings this season.
But not even Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer is ready to predict it will be an all-Bay Area finale Sunday in the Pac-12 tournament championship at KeyArena in Seattle.
"It's jumping the gun to put either us or Cal in the championship game," she said before the four-day tournament began Thursday. "Too much is going to happen between now and then."
Top-seeded Stanford, which has won nine of 11 conference tournaments including the past six, received a bye into Friday's quarterfinals. The Cardinal (28-2) will play the winner of Washington State-Arizona State. No. 2 Cal faces USC or Oregon State on Friday.
A potential third meeting between the Bay Area schools could determine seedings for the NCAA tournament, which begins March 23. The teams split their league series in January.
Fifth-ranked Cal (27-2) has a league-best 15-game winning streak, Stanford has won 14 in a row.
"Stanford and Cal are not perfect basketball teams," ESPN analyst Mary Murphy said. "They have very obvious weaknesses."
The fourth-ranked Cardinal won't have guard Toni Kokenis, who has missed the past eight games because of an undisclosed illness. VanDerveer said the junior might be healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament.
Murphy, who will be calling the games for the Pac-12 Network and ESPN, said Stanford is vulnerable against physical teams. Connecticut and Cal outmuscled the Cardinal in the school's two defeats this season.
"Cal, their perimeter shooting can come and go," said Murphy, who cited No. 14 UCLA and No. 18 Colorado as teams that could surprise the top two.
"I wouldn't put my bracket in ink at this point," she added.
Washington State coach June Daugherty expects a wild ride in Seattle.
"There has been a lot of close battles throughout the season," she said. "You are going to see some upset specials."
When asked who he thought could be the tournament surprise USC coach Michael Cooper picked his Trojans.
"We have the ability to be the Cinderella team," he said. "Sometimes it is how you finish that people remember the most."
So far most in women's basketball are remembering the play of Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike. The junior forward won Pac-12 player of the year and defensive player of the year honors. VanDerveer was voted as coach of the year by her peers because Ogwumike hasn't had an elite supporting cast.
"I don't think our team is necessarily built for three games in three days," VanDerveer said. "This is going to challenge our role players. We're going to need people contributing in ways we haven't always seen all year."
Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb also expects a challenge, although the Bears have perhaps the most talented starting five led by all-Pac-12 performers Brittany Boyd, Gennifer Brandon and Layshia Clarendon.
"Our players have passed every test," Gottlieb said. "We want to be the fastest, hardest-working team out there for three straight games. If we can hit free throws that could be a real separator for us."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.