The top three teams in the ESPN women’s college basketball Power Rankings haven’t changed since Dec. 5, when Ohio State moved into the third spot behind South Carolina and Stanford, which have been 1-2 all season. But there were moments Sunday when it looked as if there might be a real shake-up at the top.
The Gamecocks ended up winning by seven, the Cardinal by four and the Buckeyes by six. There is just one loss among the three: South Carolina defeated Stanford in overtime on Nov. 20.
But the top five didn’t go unscathed. Notre Dame fell to a North Carolina squad that was desperate to get its first ACC win. That Fighting Irish loss made way for LSU to crack the Power Rankings’ top five for the first time this season. LSU, South Carolina and Ohio State are the only remaining undefeated Division I women’s teams after losses last week by Utah and St. John’s.
In the midst of all this is UConn, which remains in the top five yet is without coach Geno Auriemma because of illness and had Sunday’s game postponed because the Huskies didn’t have enough healthy players.
If the top three teams had lost Sunday, would the Huskies — despite their two defeats this season — have ascended to No. 1 on the same day they didn’t even have seven players available to play? The Gamecocks, Cardinal and Buckeyes held on, so we didn’t have to make that call.
But as competitive as conference play is across the country, some big week-to-week changes among our 16 won’t be a surprise.
Sarah Andrews increases Baylor’s lead with a 3-pointer as time expires in the third quarter.
Player of the Week: Sarah Andrews, Baylor
The junior guard had one of the biggest weeks of her college career. In a physical, foul-plagued game at Oklahoma, she was the difference, scoring 30 points in an 81-70 victory. Then in a 75-62 win at Kansas, Jayhawks coach Brandon Schneider called Andrews “the best player on the floor tonight” after a 27-point performance. Andrews was a combined 18-of-36 from the field in the two victories.
“I’m pretty confident as a scorer now, but it’s really about doing whatever we need,” said Andrews, who is leading Baylor at 15.3 points per game and has a team-high 35 3-pointers. “Next game, if I need to have four points and 10 assists, that’s fine. I just want to win. I don’t care what it takes.”
Dontavia Waggoner scores a game-high 23 points during Boston College’s 79-71 win vs. NC State.
Almost as impressive, Boston College followed that up Sunday by handing visiting Florida State its first ACC loss this season. In that 77-71 overtime decision, Waggoner again led the way with 21 points, 14 rebounds and four steals.
Haley Cavinder makes a nice move for the layin.
Coach of the Week: Katie Meier, Miami
Like Boston College, Miami had a big week in the ACC, beating ranked teams back-to-back. First was a 62-58 home win over North Carolina on Thursday. Then came a 77-66 victory over visiting Virginia Tech on Sunday. Credit veteran coach Meier for keeping the Hurricanes’ spirits up after three tough losses to end December.
Miami had fallen by three points in overtime to Florida then by seven points to another Sunshine State rival, Florida State. And against Notre Dame, Miami lost 66-63. That left the Hurricanes at 7-6 to start the 2022-23 campaign. But they have won three in a row since, beginning with a New Year’s Day victory at Pitt to get back on track.
Team of the Week: Baylor
The Bears have dominated the Big 12 for more than a decade, and that includes another regular-season title in 2021-22 under new coach Nicki Collen. Still, after losing NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo to the first round of the 2022 WNBA draft, the Bears were picked to finish fourth in the league.
Things got more difficult because two transfers whom Baylor had hoped would have big impacts are not playing. Aijha Blackwell, who arrived from Missouri, has been limited to five games this season with a leg injury. Dre’Una Edwards is not eligible. That created a social media stir this past week when Edwards blamed Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy, who in turn explained her side of the story: that she did not want to falsely sign an NCAA document. It’s safe to say there is now significant bad blood between these two programs.
But in the midst of all this, Baylor has played some really good basketball, with victories at Oklahoma and Kansas putting the Bears at 3-0 and in the lead of the Big 12.
It’s been awhile since the Gamecocks were really tested, but it happened Sunday when they beat Mississippi State on the road 58-51. They won with defense and rebounding, which are their specialties. Reserve forward Sania Feagin was out Sunday with a leg injury described as day-to-day, but the Gamecocks’ depth is another major strength. South Carolina also got victories over Georgia and Auburn last week. In this Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET game on ESPN, the Gamecocks host the only team to beat them in the regular season last year: Missouri.
The Cardinal beat Arizona 73-57 last Monday at home behind 18 points and 16 rebounds from Haley Jones. But they got a scare on their short trip to face Cal on Sunday. Thanks to Cameron Brink‘s 25 points and 17 rebounds, the Cardinal prevailed 60-56 and kept alive their 38-game winning streak against Pac-12 opponents (including tournament games). But the 60 points and 32.2% shooting from the field were both season lows.
Rebeka Mikulasikova drains triple vs. Michigan Wolverines
The Buckeyes have shown great resilience. They trailed 61-55 on the road against Minnesota after three quarters Thursday, then rallied to win by 12. On Sunday, they were down 17 in the third quarter to Illinois. Ohio State erased the deficit by the end of the period with a 25-8 run, then won 87-81. Taylor Mikesell had a combined 53 points in the two victories.
It has been such a challenging season for UConn with injuries and illness. After the Huskies got wins on the road against Butler and Xavier last week, their game Sunday against DePaul was postponed because UConn had just six players available. The Big East requires a team to have at least seven scholarship players available. Aaliyah Edwards and Ayanna Patterson are the latest to be added to UConn’s injury list. We’ll have to see whether the Huskies will be able to play Wednesday. Might Azzi Fudd make her return then?
Angel Reese posts an impressive 26-point, 28-rebound stat line as LSU beats Texas A&M 74-34.
With each SEC victory, Angel Reese is moving into the national player of the year race. The Tigers had comfortable wins over Texas A&M and Kentucky last week, as Reese extended her season-opening double-double streak to 16 with a combined 52 points and 41 rebounds. Her 28 boards against Texas A&M broke an LSU single-game record that had been held since the 1970s by Maree Jackson — yes, mother of former Seattle Storm star Lauren Jackson.
The Hoosiers got a big lift Sunday as super senior guard Grace Berger was back in action for the first time since injuring her knee Nov. 25 at what became known as the infamous Las Vegas Invitational tournament. The All-Big Ten standout made an immediate impact with 16 points and five assists as Indiana won on the road against Northwestern. Mackenzie Holmes, who led Indiana with 24 points and 13 rebounds, continues to be one of Division I’s most efficient players, shooting 68.4% from the field.
The Irish had a week to get ready to face the Tar Heels, but it was a tough time to go into North Carolina. The Heels fought hard to avoid going 0-4 to start ACC play for the first time since 1990-91. It was a rough offensive day for Notre Dame, which went 2-of-22 from 3-point range and had its first sub-60 point total of the season.
One of two big climbers this week along with Duke, the Terps beat Rutgers and Michigan State last week and have won six in a row. Getting blown out at home by 23 points by Nebraska on Dec. 4 seems like a very long time ago. Maryland has victories over ranked Baylor, Notre Dame and UConn, and it will try to add Indiana to that list this week in a marquee Big Ten clash.
Kennedy Brown makes a nice move for the layin
Coming off the back-to-back wins over NC State and Louisville that propelled them into the Power Rankings a week ago, the Blue Devils had no letdown. In their lone game this past week, they beat Wake Forest 60-50. Duke’s defense continues to be one of the nation’s best. The Blue Devils have allowed only one opponent to hit 60 points or more this season (a 78-50 loss to UConn in November).
The Utes just moved into the Power Rankings top 10 for the first time this season last week. But then they lost their first game, 77-67 to Colorado on the road, on Friday. It was a dramatic turnaround from the teams’ first meeting, in Salt Lake City on Dec. 14, when Utah won 85-58. This time, the Utes lost the turnover battle 21-15 and shot 39.3% compared with 56.9% in December. Still, with other teams’ losses, the Utes remain in the top 10.
Lina Sontag makes a great defensive play for the steal
11. UCLA Bruins (14-2)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. Stanford (Friday), vs. Cal (Sunday)
Senior guard Charisma Osborne was back from a shoulder injury after missing UCLA’s loss to the Oregon State Beavers on Jan. 1. She had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists as the Bruins beat the crosstown rival USC Trojans for the second time this season. Both games were very close: 61-60 this Sunday and 59-56 on Dec. 15. Osborne was just 2-of-16 from the floor Sunday, but UCLA’s 40-29 edge in rebounding helped the Bruins overcome shooting 30.6%. They will need to be better to have a chance to upset Stanford this week.
After a loss to Illinois on Jan. 1, the Hawkeyes had almost a week to prepare for another big road game. They bounced back Saturday against Michigan, winning in Ann Arbor for the first time since 2014. Guard Caitlin Clark‘s 28 points and eight rebounds were typical, but this time forward/center Monika Czinano led in assists with a career-high eight. All victories are important, but this one felt big for Iowa, now 4-1 in Big Ten play.
Arizona takes a four-point lead late in the fourth as Jade Loville and Cate Reese get two clutch buckets.
A 27-point loss at home to the Kansas Jayhawks on Dec. 8 was keeping the Wildcats out of the Power Rankings. But since then, Arizona has won seven of eight, with the only loss coming at Stanford last Monday. The Wildcats subsequently beat Oregon State and the Oregon Ducks over this past weekend.
Guard Diamond Johnson back on the floor was a welcome sight for Wolfpack fans. Her return from injury wasn’t enough in Thursday’s loss to Boston College, but she was one of five NC State players to score in double figures in Sunday’s victory over Virginia. The ACC is so tough the Wolfpack might be challenged to stay in the Power Rankings.
As evidenced by the Bears winning two of our awards, it was a huge week for them with the victories at Oklahoma and Kansas. The guard play was stellar in both games, but super senior forward Caitlin Bickle was a big key, too. She had 10 points and 10 rebounds against the Sooners, and then 12 and 12 against the Jayhawks while holding Kansas center Taiyanna Jackson to just eight points.
After a 20-point win over West Virginia last Wednesday, it was a tough Sunday for Iowa State. In an 82-79 loss on the road against Oklahoma, center Stephanie Soares was lost 2 minutes into the game to a knee injury. If she’s out a significant amount of time, it’s a big blow to Iowa State, which had added Soares to a returning group that made the Sweet 16 last year. Ashley Joens is used to carrying a heavy load for Iowa State and did again Sunday with 27 points in the loss.
Knocked out: Virginia Tech (11), Michigan (12)