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|St. Joseph's upset No. 5 Maryland 50-49 on Saturday in Philadelphia.|
Stanford is the stock of the moment, and for good reason. The team that plays its home games so close to Silicon Valley went to Hawaii and ended Baylor's winning streak at 42 games in a 71-69 decision for the Cardinal.
No Nneka Ogwumike? No problem. Behind another command performance from Chiney Ogwumike and the type of supporting efforts from players such as Taylor Greenfield and Mikaela Ruef that largely erase the question marks about Stanford before anyone has even brined their Thanksgiving turkey, the Cardinal made a case for New Orleans from Honolulu. By all means, buy Stanford for No. 2 or even No. 1.
But now is not the time to sell Baylor. Nor is it time to sell Maryland, not even a little.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said she hoped her team's loss would stick with the players, hoped it would bother them. If they need that for motivation over the grind of a long season, so be it. The same goes for Maryland after it lost in arguably more stunning fashion against Saint Joseph's. But in all honesty, they shouldn't give the losses a second thought. Nor should we.
Five seasons ago, Stanford opened the season ranked No. 2 and lost its second game of the season at Baylor in the days before Brittney Griner. Maryland opened that season ranked No. 3 and lost its first game at unranked TCU. By the time the NCAA tournament rolled around, Stanford and Maryland were ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
Top teams lose early every year. These lose in part because of injuries, such as Baylor's Odyssey Sims lasting just four minutes against Stanford before she was forced to the bench with a hamstring injury, and they lose because good players have bad days, such as Maryland's Alyssa Thomas missing 19 shots and committing seven turnovers.
Between Connecticut's 90-game winning streak and the stability at the top of the polls last season, when Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford never budged from spots in the top five, it had grown easy to think of the championship race in women's basketball in the same way as the BCS race in college football. But one loss doesn't eliminate anyone in basketball, and it doesn't have to carry greater meaning than the sum of one rough night.
When Maryland visits Connecticut on Dec. 3 and Baylor visits Notre Dame on Dec. 5, the road teams won't be perfect. They will still be among the bluest of blue-chip stocks in the sport.
Saint Joseph's: It's the nature of the beast at this time of year that a game like Saint Joseph's played against Maryland will always be more about the team that lost than the team that won.
Nobody outside of Philadelphia had expectations one way or the other for the Hawks; we all had expectations for the Terrapins. But this wasn't all about one team giving something away. Saint Joseph's ranked third in the Atlantic 10 last season in field goal defense, behind only NCAA tournament teams St. Bonaventure and Dayton. The Hawks entered the game against Maryland with a win and a loss, but both Princeton in a win and Drexel in a loss shot 38 percent against them. Team defense like that allows individual performances like Chatilla van Grinsven's 18 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and three steals to carry extra weight. If the Colorado State transfer can do things like that, this team has staying power in the A-10 race.
It should be noted that fellow A-10 contender Dayton, after getting the nod in this spot a week ago, didn't give up the label without a fight. The Flyers improved to 4-0 with a win against No. 13 Vanderbilt on Sunday. Delaware might drop out of the Top 25 this week after its loss at Duquesne in the Preseason WNIT consolation bracket, but Dayton should ensure mid-major representation continues.
Ashley Eide, South Dakota State: Each Monday, espnW will name its national player of the week, but this space also will try to highlight a weekend performance that might not rise to that level but need not be overlooked. Sharing the court with No. 15 Nebraska's Jordan Hooper and Lindsey Moore, Eide still managed to play the leading role in her team's 60-55 upset win at home Sunday. The senior preseason all-conference pick finished with 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting and added four steals. Consistent? She had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the first half and 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the second half.
That Delaware played without Elena Delle Donne took some sting out of the WNIT, but North Carolina's recent postseason history is such that it shouldn't turn up its nose at tournament wins in any setting. The Tar Heels have a total of three NCAA tournament victories over the past four seasons, notably missing the big tournament entirely a season ago. So going on the road Sunday for a 77-64 win at Iowa in the championship game of the preseason event, after beating Georgetown earlier in the week, is an achievement for a team that needs some to build on. And the Tar Heels did it their way, even as some of the numerous young players continue learning what that way is.
North Carolina had 22 second-chance points and 22 points off turnovers against the Hawkeyes, paced by freshman Xylina McDaniel's double-double (15 points, 14 rebounds) and 22 points from Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Those are the kinds of numbers that the Tar Heels relied on to drive success prior to their recent dry spell, a recipe that flummoxed opponents who couldn't match them athletically.
"The first half, it was turnovers and second-shot opportunities for them," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, according to the postgame transcript. "That was the majority of their points. And we can't get big deficits like that and expect to dig ourselves out."
This is still North Carolina basketball in other ways -- the Tar Heels turned over the ball at least 20 times in three of their four WNIT games and had more turnovers than assists in all of them. At the moment, it also appears to be about a seven-player rotation for Sylvia Hatchell, which is a tricky thing for her preferred style of play. But four wins in a tournament setting, any tournament setting, is a good start.
We know that Missouri and Texas A&M begin play in the SEC this season. Hampton, last we checked, had not yet similarly relocated, and that might be good news for a few coaches in the conference who won't have to worry about the Lady Pirates. Just four days after going on the road to beat Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Hampton protected its home court in a 67-58 win against LSU on Friday. Prior to those back-to-back results, Hampton's only victory against an SEC team was a win against Florida during the 2010-11 season.
Although the selection committee didn't seem to notice, inexcusably sticking the MEAC champion with a No. 16 seed and a first-round game against Stanford, Hampton was a really good team a season ago, beating Pitt and Boston College on the road en route to a 26-5 record. But the Lady Pirates lost 221 assists, or 57 percent of their season total, with the graduation of point guard Jericka Jenkins, also the team's leading scorer. Big deal? Well, yes, but not as painful as it might have been thanks to Nicole Hamilton. After totaling 25 assists in 419 minutes last season, Hamilton has 19 assists through three games this season, including 10 in the win against an LSU team that managed only five assists. Hamilton also has 17 turnovers in three games, not quite in Jenkins' league as a master of assist-to-turnover ratio, but three wins in as many tries, including two against SEC foes, is the line that matters most.
It's safe to assume that if BYU ends up in the NCAA tournament, it would just as soon skip the regional in Bridgeport, Conn., or pretty much any site in New England. The preseason favorite in the West Coast Conference endured a tough trip east last week, and not just because the Cougars missed peak fall foliage. After it needed a late rally to pull out a 58-57 victory at Dartmouth early in the week, BYU lost at Boston College on Thursday -- in a game against a team in its first season with a new coach and coming off a seven-win campaign a season ago -- and at Harvard on Friday.
The Cougars also lost two games before Thanksgiving last year, but in that case, a six-point loss at home against Duke and even a road loss at Kansas State suggested better days were ahead. These losses, when they couldn't shoot against Dartmouth, couldn't stop Harvard and didn't rebound well throughout, are more worrisome.
LSU at Georgetown (Monday): The Hampton loss wasn't a complete anomaly. LSU needed to work late into the game to secure a 72-70 win against Wichita State last weekend. One problem? They're working too hard to score. LSU managed assists on only 10 of 24 field goals against the Shockers and 5 of 17 field goals against the Lady Pirates. Georgetown came back to earth after its win at Delaware, but its pressure could eat up LSU at this rate.
Rutgers at Temple (Wednesday): It's not Griner against Ogwumike, but Temple's Victoria Macaulay against Rutgers' Monique Oliver is a good battle of bigs. Macaulay totaled 27 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a weekend win against Northeastern and has been to the line 25 times in three games. Oliver had 20 points and 10 rebounds in a midweek win against George Washington and will be well-rested after a week without a game.
Washington at Wisconsin (Wednesday): It's unlikely either team will be a major factor in conference races, but this game is an opportunity to check in on high-profile coaches in their second seasons on the job. Kevin McGuff's Washington team lost at Long Beach State over the weekend, but redshirt senior Kristi Kingma and sophomore Jazmine Davis are scorers worth watching. Wisconsin just got back from a trip to Washington, losing at Gonzaga and beating Washington State by scoring the game's final eight points, and Bobbie Kelsey could use this home win.
Florida Gulf Coast vs. DePaul (Thursday): The Eagles weren't a part of the preseason mid-major top 10 after losing several key seniors to graduation and then losing sophomore Whitney Knight to a season-ending injury, but games against DePaul, South Carolina and Hampton in the U.S. Virgin Islands offer an opportunity to make some noise.
Marist vs. Purdue (Thursday): Marist also plays Connecticut during its stay in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but if it's going to get a signature win out of a brutal schedule that also includes trips to Oklahoma and Kentucky, the Thanksgiving game against Purdue is the best bet. The Red Foxes picked up a good victory against Princeton on Saturday, but they will need to pick up the outside shooting to have a chance against a Purdue team happy to have Drey Mingo back.
Notre Dame at UCLA (Friday): Coming off last week's 86-80 win at Oklahoma and a good opening victory against San Diego State, UCLA is nearing must-watch territory. The Bruins crushed the Sooners on the boards, making the paint a key battleground against smallish Notre Dame. The last time posts Natalie Achonwa and Alyssia Brewer shared a court was a regional final in Dayton two seasons ago when Brewer was still with Tennessee.
Nebraska at Southern California (Friday): The Women of Troy will take a break from their WCC schedule, losing to Gonzaga and beating Pepperdine, to play the Huskers. It should be a good test for both Nebraska's Hooper and USC's Cassie Harberts, who put up 24 points and 10 rebounds in the weekend win against the Waves and has more shots than any two of her teammates through two games.
St. Bonaventure vs. Georgia (Friday): The Bonnies are 3-0, but narrow margins against Niagara and Colgate suggest this is not last season's juggernaut -- not yet, at least. What they still do is play defense, so the interesting thing to watch in this game played in Albuquerque, N.M., will be whether Georgia controls tempo. Despite three weak opponents in four starts, the Lady Bulldogs are averaging 61.8 field goal attempts per game, same as last season.