Updated: January 6, 2014, 12:36 AM ET

Four takeaways from the weekend

By Graham Hays | espnW.com

West VirginiaBob Stowell/BIG EAST Conference/Collegiate Images/Getty ImagesAsya Bussie had 13 points, seven boards and five blocks as WVU won its 13th straight game.
Four thoughts gleaned from the first full weekend of conference play:

1. West Virginia's defense derailed perfection: Even with a chance to watch it a second time, it's still difficult to figure out how West Virginia came away with a 71-67 victory against previously undefeated No. 11 Oklahoma State. Coach Mike Carey talked in a television halftime interview of his frustration at allowing Oklahoma State 10 offensive rebounds in the first half. The Cowgirls had 12 in the second half. Carey talked about needing to do better than six assists and seven turnovers in the first half. The Mountaineers had four assists and nine turnovers in the second half. The coach talked (he didn't skimp with his answer) about getting Asya Bussie more involved. All right, that worked at least a little. She had 11 points in the second half and at least partly countered the effects of a terrific game from Oklahoma State center LaShawn Jones (18 points, 10 rebounds).

But for all that it didn't do, West Virginia still overcame a 12-point deficit with 6:18 to play. So what did West Virginia do? Start with stymying Tiffany Bias. Oklahoma State's point guard was brilliant in a win against Texas earlier in the week, but she hit just 3-of-18 shots against the Mountaineers. Time and again Oklahoma State tried to run pick-and-roll action for Bias from the left wing, but whether switching on the screens with interchangeable defenders or going under the screens and daring Bias to beat them with an improved but still inconsistent jumper, the Mountaineers kept the ball in her hands and took away her distribution.

Aleighsa Welch
AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainSeven Gamecocks are from South Carolina, including the team's backbone, junior Aleighsa Welch.

Traditionally a physical defensive team, West Virginia seemed a likely candidate to suffer from the emphasis on freedom of movement this season. But so far, the Mountaineers are averaging 19.1 fouls per game, down from 20.5 per game a season ago, and their opponents are averaging 19.6 free throw attempts, down from 23.4. They endured a few more whistles and a few more free throws than those averages Saturday but not enough to force them out of their defense. West Virginia's offensive numbers this season might be somewhat schedule-aided, but the defense is for real.

2. South Carolina starts big in SEC: LSU made the big splash in the SEC with a road win at Tennessee on Thursday. Florida did the same with a victory at Kentucky on Sunday. But there are also ripples that could affect the conference championship race from No. 13 South Carolina's wins at Arkansas on Thursday and against Vanderbilt on Sunday.

South Carolina had an interior presence a season ago, when it ranked second in rebound margin in conference play. But it was a stretch to call size an asset when most of that board work came from a pair of 6-footers, Aleighsa Welch and then-senior Ashley Brunner, and there wasn't much offense, inside or outside. What a difference a year makes. Welch is still there piling up offensive rebounds with an impressive all-court game, but Sunday was a chance to show off the size in a 76-66 win against the Commodores. Freshman Alaina Coates had 24 points and 10 rebounds and Elem Ibiam added 11 points and eight rebounds, both 6-foot-4 players posting up at the same time on occasion.

Granted, if South Carolina couldn't take advantage of its size against a Vanderbilt team playing without any, it never would. But the tandem of Coates and Ibiam, not as the focus of the offense but as complements to Tiffany Mitchell, Welch and Khadijah Sessions, when she returns from injury, makes this a team with a higher ceiling than a season ago (not to mention the defensive end, where the Gamecocks have almost matched last season's block total).

3. Big East? Big deal: Reports of Creighton's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, a typically tough nonconference schedule, and some uncharacteristically poor 3-point shooting, took a toll on the Bluejays early this season. But behind 38 points from McKenzie Fujan, Creighton beat Big East preseason favorite DePaul on Saturday to improve to 3-0 in its new conference. (It's worth pointing out that if you throw in the 24 points she scored against Syracuse in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament, Fujan, typically overshadowed by teammates Sarah Nelson and Marissa Janning, averaged 22 points in her past four games against Big East teams.)

McKenzie Fujan
AP Photo/Garett Ray FisbeckMcKenzie Fujan scored 38 points to help lead Creighton past DePaul.

Creighton is unleashing its inner Creighton. The Bluejays launched 43 3-pointers in a win at Georgetown this past week and toned it down only slightly with 25 against DePaul. They are hitting those shots at a 36 percent clip in the (very) early going, about the same as a season ago but a night-and-day improvement over earlier this season.

More surprising is that fellow Big East newcomer Butler is one basket away from a 3-0 start. The Bulldogs lost their conference opener at home against Marquette last weekend by two, but they earned road victories at Providence and Seton Hall this week behind big performances from a Big East veteran, Cincinnati transfer Daress McClung.

4. Amy Kame keeps San Diego unbeaten: Had espnW's mid-major rankings come out this past week, Saint Mary's would have been No. 1 after an overtime thriller against Gonzaga. A week later, the Gaels are 1-2 in the WCC after losses at San Diego and BYU. Now it's the former who at least temporarily claims bragging rights (the next rankings come out Jan. 15) after San Diego improved to 15-0 with that win and Saturday's victory against Pacific (even if careless ball control frittered away a 20-point lead against Pacific and eventually sent the game to overtime).

The Toreros are one of five remaining unbeaten teams, and Amy Kame is a name to know. The senior guard had 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists against Saint Mary's, and 28 points, 11 rebounds and four steals against Pacific. She's high-risk, high-reward, and the former might cost San Diego at some point, but the latter is fun from a player who wants the ball when the team needs a big shot.

Now the tougher part. San Diego's best wins this season came at home. This week brings a trip to Gonzaga.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

Jarosz returns for Red Foxes

Tori JaroszCourtesy of Marist University

A second chance to make a first impression hasn't been the problem for Tori Jarosz. The stumbling block is staying on the court for a second impression.

Seconds after Jarosz took the court for Marist during a New Year's Eve game against Canisius, the ball was in her hands in the post. She turned toward open space on the baseline side and shot.

She missed. Her momentum took her too low and the shot deflected off the backboard. It was a move with a lot of nervous energy behind it. Nearly four years' worth, really.

"There was this year, and there was last year," Jarosz said of nerves in her season debut. "I feel like I've been a freshman for four years now, so there is always that nervous energy. But you know what, I didn't get hurt this game, so I can only get better from here.

"I'm just going to continue to keep working hard every day and just be better next time."

Next time turned out to be Friday, when Marist defeated Manhattan 70-46. Jarosz played 13 minutes and contributed 11 points and three rebounds.

It marked just the second time in four years that she played in back-to-back games.

There are plenty of stories of players persevering through repeated injuries -- Iowa's Theairra Taylor and Louisville's Tia Gibbs two notable examples of players making the most of additional eligibility. But good luck finding a player who experienced more frustration -- or played less -- through her first three and a half years than Jarosz. After a freshman season at Vanderbilt in which she played just 15 minutes in six appearances, she transferred to Marist and sat out the 2011-12 season as required by rule. A season later, she scored 14 points in Marist's opener. It turned out to be her only game last season; a wrist injury sustained during her 18 minutes on the court sidelined her the rest of the way.

After three years, the ledger read seven appearances and 33 minutes on the court.

Which is what she was working to change when she suffered a ruptured Achilles this past summer. She began her fourth season in street clothes. Again.

So you can understand the nerves, or why her blocked shot in the closing seconds of the first half mattered for reasons beyond the two points it saved.

"I was nervous for her," senior Leanne Ockenden said. "I could tell she was excited -- the whole team was just so excited to see her out there working. She's been working so hard this week in practice. Getting that block, yeah, our whole team got excited for her because we know what she can do and every little thing she does will help this team."

Marist coach Brian Giorgis was perturbed at the undue pressure when Jarosz received preseason all-conference recognition before she ever played a game a season ago, but she is an undeniably intriguing figure. Even for a program as successful as the Red Foxes, 6-foot-3 post players with athleticism and a mid-range touch are something of a winning lottery ticket in the MAAC. With its collection of shooters and veterans, Marist doesn't need Jarosz to be its best player. But if she shakes off the rust between now and the postseason, that's a scary thought for potential opponents.

"I knew that when I came back, I've been through so much adversity that I realize I need to give it everything I've got," Jarosz said. "I can't be scared to get hurt or fall or anything because anything can happen at a moment's notice."


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