Category archive: Duke Blue Devils
A chance to be one of the best players in the nation.
That's how Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell described what the future might hold for A'dia Mathies not long before her sophomore season began. Almost two seasons later, her exact place on such an inexact list remains up for debate, but she is the go-to player on the first Kentucky team to win an SEC regular-season title in her lifetime. It's a pretty good label in its own right.
Mathies didn't turn in a spectacular line in Sunday's 76-40 win at Mississippi State, a victory that clinched Kentucky's first regular-season title since 1982, but the Wildcats didn't need individual brilliance to get by the Bulldogs. With what is essentially an 11-player rotation, the Wildcats rarely turn one player loose on the box score, relying on that depth and collective defensive effort to force nearly 23 turnovers per game. But from her freshman season, when she scored 32 points in her first NCAA tournament game, and added 21 more in a subsequent win against top-seeded Nebraska, Mathies hinted at a knack for knocking out soliloquies, even in a supporting role alongside Victoria Dunlap.
There have been 14 instances of a Kentucky player scoring at least 20 points in a game this season; Mathies is responsible for 10 of them. Sure, a handful of those came against the likes of Northeastern and Southern Miss, but Mathies also put up 20-plus points in victories against Arkansas, Duke, Louisville and South Carolina. She also turned in a performance that ranks near the top of any list of the best singe-game efforts of the season with 34 of her team's 61 points in a one-point victory against Tennessee. Mathies' shooting percentage remains almost unchanged from an inconsistent sophomore effort, but in more than doubling her 3-point output and dramatically improving her long-range accuracy, she has become a much more efficient scorer. She's not a perfect player, nor is a Kentucky team that recently lost three in a row a perfect champion. But only Baylor need worry about perfection right now. For everyone else, it's about being better than those in the other uniform.
It took three decades for Kentucky to get a chance to celebrate a second conference championship. It shouldn't take much more than 24 months for the Wildcats to welcome a second SEC player of the year to program lore.
Making a case for March: Duke. While we're celebrating regular-season conference titles, full credit to Duke for a March-like performance in beating Miami and North Carolina in roughly the span of 72 hours to clinch the ACC regular-season title.
The math seems to add up to Duke earning a No. 2 seed, no matter the weekend results and no matter what happens in the ACC tournament, but the Blue Devils are trying to keep the calculators working right up to the final hour. More importantly, they showed both a toughness and an offensive efficiency in the two victories that they'll need regardless of seeding. As was the case in a loss against Maryland, rebounding remains an issue without injured starter Richa Jackson -- Miami piled up 19 offensive rebounds and North Carolina totaled 15 against a team that entered the weekend allowing just 12.3 offensive rebounds per game. But the champions, bedeviled so often by offensive inconsistency in recent postseasons, shot 49 percent against the Hurricanes and 52 percent against the Tar Heels, with point guard Chelsea Gray putting an exclamation point on things by setting the single-season assists record.
Novosel hit all 12 of her free throw attempts against the Bulls. One of the best at getting into seams around the basket and either finishing or drawing a foul (rivaled by few this side of teammate Skylar Diggins in that regard), she's averaging 4.6 free throw attempts per game this season. That isn't bad by almost any standard, but it is down from 5.9 attempts per game a season ago. She's scoring at almost the same overall rate as a season ago, and her team is winning at an even greater rate than it did last season, so Novosel and the Fighting Irish are still doing just fine. But the more whistles you hear, the more likely it is she's driving opponents to distraction.
Best team weekend performance: Princeton. What did Princeton do to merit this? Did you see any other teams clinching berths in the NCAA tournament over the weekend? Or doing so for the third season in a row, for that matter? The Tigers spent the weekend doing what they have done with impressively numbing regularity in Ivy League play in recent seasons, beating Harvard by 30 points and Dartmouth 37 points to wrap up another conference title. That they did it with three games still to play in a league that doesn't hold a tournament is just Princeton's style. A strong contender for the weekend's top individual honors, Niveen Rasheed put up 24 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and four assists against Dartmouth, but she split the vote with teammate Lauren Edwards, who scored 29 points in the same game, including 7-of-10 from the 3-point line.
Lending a helping hand: Casey Garrison, Missouri State. Injuries took a toll on several potential mid-major powers this season, most notably those that took the likes of Northern Iowa's Jacqui Kalin and Toledo's Naama Shafir off the court. But the small matter of an injury to her shooting hand isn't stopping Garrison from fueling Missouri State's run in the Missouri Valley Conference. As the Springfield News Leader recounts, Garrison (who already donned a mask this season to play through a broken nose) simply started shooting with her left hand when she sprained the thumb on her more familiar shooting hand. Her first game as a southpaw? She scored 20 points. A lefty off the court, shooting with that hand was apparently nonetheless a relatively new experience. With Garrison leading the way, Missouri State owns first place in the league and 10 victories in a row, including Sunday's 80-76 win at second-place Illinois State.
The week ahead (Monday-Friday)
Notre Dame at Connecticut (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET Monday): Are we headed for a season in which neither Connecticut nor Tennessee win regular-season conference titles? Kentucky already locked up the SEC, and Notre Dame, which already clinched a share of the Big East title, can go for its first outright title with a win in Hartford. Of course, it might also be just the first of two games between the team in Hartford in the next eight days, if the conference tournament leaves them opposite each other in the final. Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel combined for 19 free throws when the Fighting Irish won an overtime thriller in South Bend earlier this season. In 15 games since, only one Connecticut opponent -- the entire team -- attempted as many as 19 free throws (Louisville's 21 attempts on Feb. 7).
Baylor at Texas A&M (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET Monday): Forget the 12th man; Texas A&M could use a sixth player. In five meetings between these two since the beginning of last season, Texas A&M's bench scored a total of 21 points (17 from Karla Gilbert). That worked out on the fourth try a season ago, and it's not like the Aggies roll bench points against everyone else. But without Danielle Adams and Sydney Colson around, it's a tough way to go about stopping the nation's No. 1 team.
St. John's at Georgetown (Monday): There are still matters of Big East tournament seeding at stake, in addition to a chance for St. John's to post the program's best league record, but this one is big for momentum alone. St. John's didn't win a true road game until Jan. 11 at Syracuse, but wins at Rutgers and, as you might have heard, Connecticut beefed up that road profile. With Da'Shena Stevens coming off a 21-point effort over the weekend, it's worth noting no St. John's player has hit more than five field goals in a game against Georgetown since the 2007-08 season.
Appalachian State at Chattanooga (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET Monday): It's a chance for Appalachian State to clinch the outright Southern Conference regular-season title, but only if it can beat third-place Chattanooga on the road. Appalachian State's Anna Freeman is one of those quintessential do-everything mid-major players, averaging 15.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 steals, 2.7 assists and 2.1 blocks per game.
Florida Gulf Coast versus East Tennessee State (ESPN3, 12 p.m. ET Wednesday): Get Championship Week started by watching a team that has the potential to do something in the main draw -- if it can take care of business in the Atlantic Sun tournament. Florida Gulf Coast faces East Tennessee State in a quarterfinal. This game comes just four days after the same teams met to end the regular season, a 71-64 win for the Eagles that was one of just four wins by single-digit margins in an unbeaten conference season.
Kansas State at Iowa State (Wednesday): There isn't much doubt Kansas State will be in the NCAA tournament, but an overtime loss at Missouri raised more eyebrows when it comes to a team that already seemed to have an inflated RPI. For a team that has shown an ability to go on the road and win, notably at Marist, South Dakota State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech, adding a win in Ames, Iowa, would be a boost. On the other side, Iowa State needs a win badly, if not desperately, to shore up its own at-large r´esumé.
Oklahoma State at Kansas (Wednesday): Both teams need victories in the struggle for NCAA tournament at-large consideration. Kansas got a badly needed result with a win at Texas Tech last week, fueled by 20 points and eight assists from Angel Goodrich. But the Jayhawks are just 3-8 in their last 11 and playing without Carolyn Davis, do they need to sweep Oklahoma State and Oklahoma?
Louisiana Tech at Fresno State (Thursday): Such is life for a mid-major like Fresno State, that all of the work of a 12-game winning streak and clinching at least a share of the WAC regular-season title can be partly negated by one tough loss. But a 62-61 loss at mid-table San Jose State does damage Fresno State's NCAA tournament at-large potential. Before they can worry about that, or even the conference tournament, the Bulldogs face the best women's basketball rivalry in the WAC. Ki-Ki Moore scored 20 when Fresno State won 61-59 in Louisiana.
Monday morning headline: Tiffany Hayes goes where no Connecticut player had gone before
Precisely where to place Tiffany Hayes in the canon of Connecticut lore has never been an easy question to answer. On at least one count, she just made it simple.
No Connecticut player ever scored more points in back-to-back games than Hayes. Not Kerry Bascom, Rebecca Lobo, Nykesha Sales, Diana Taurasi or Maya Moore.
The senior earned that bit of history with 68 points in the past week, setting a career high with 35 points at Syracuse on Thursday and nearly matching it with 33 points against South Florida on Saturday. The regular season is 2½ months old, yet Hayes was so prolific that 20 percent of her total points came within 48 hours.
It was a great sustained performance from a player who has as much ability to alter the national championship picture as anyone.
We know how much Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims offer. We know what to expect from Skylar Diggins and Natalie Novosel. We see Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike at their best time and again. What you see is what you get.
David Butler II/US PresswireTiffany Hayes is a guard with the ability to beat anybody off the dribble, shoot from any distance, pass, rebound and ball hawk.
It's never quite clear what we're supposed to see when it comes to Hayes, whether she absorbs unwarranted skepticism because she's held to the impossible standard of the All-Americans who preceded her in a Connecticut uniform or whether she has been the beneficiary of the team for which she plays and the talent that surrounds her.
After the South Florida win, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said there aren't 20 players in the country he would rather have than Hayes, an allusion to the Wooden Award midseason list of 20 players that included Connecticut's Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis but not Hayes. Auriemma added with whatever degree of hyperbole you choose to ascribe to it that he thought Hayes could average 35 points per game if she played for another, presumably less balanced, team.
The specifics of the past week's scoring surge aside, there's a case there to be made. Hayes is a guard who shoots 56 percent from the floor and 42 percent from the 3-point line and averages 5.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game, one who turns over the ball barely twice per game. Some of those numbers, particularly the shooting percentages, are improvements on her career averages, but the basic picture is what it has been since she arrived four seasons ago. She is a guard with the ability to do everything -- beat anybody off the dribble, shoot from any distance, pass, rebound and ball hawk.
In the aftermath of a horrific shooting night against Stanford early in the season in which Hayes hit just 3 of 15 shots, missing all eight attempts in the first half, Auriemma lauded her rebounding (she led all players in the game with 13 rebounds and with her six assists) as a sign of maturity. The performance seemed to put in deed the words she spoke before the season about inheriting all that came with being a senior and the leading returning scorer.
"My confidence was up and down all the time last year, and that definitely affected my play," Hayes said before this season about a junior campaign in which much was expected after Tina Charles' graduation. "So this year, I'm just looking to stay positive no matter what. If I'm doing something wrong, I can figure out something else out to help with the team. If I'm not making shots, I can set a good screen, I can get steals, anything like that to stay positive, keep a positive attitude no matter what."
But after a 4-of-12 shooting night with no free throw attempts in a loss against Baylor and 2-of-7 shooting with four turnovers in a loss against Notre Dame, Hayes again found herself the subject of negative energy. Hartley played well in both losses, but Connecticut needed someone else to step up on offense (as freshman Mosqueda-Lewis had against Stanford). If Hayes is one of the 20 best players in the country, the thinking goes, she bears the expectation of living up to that in the biggest games.
The actual record Hayes set in the games against Syracuse and South Florida is slightly arbitrary, if impressive nonetheless, given the company it involves. The immediate importance of it is as a reminder that a player who should finish her career in the top 10 in career scoring at Connecticut still has an opportunity to write her own legacy.
Best weekend team performance: Michigan State. Technically, the Spartans could have lost Sunday's game against Penn State and not been asked to turn in their jerseys and skip the remainder of the season. For practical purposes, it was win or fade into irrelevance. Thanks in large part to Porsche Poole, who finished with 32 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals, the Spartans took the only lead that ultimately mattered in a back-and-forth contest and held on for an 83-77 victory. The result leaves Michigan State half a game behind Michigan for fifth in the Big Ten, with a trip to Ann Arbor next on the schedule, and takes at least some of the sting out of an overtime loss at home against Illinois last week (a loss in which Poole scored 28 points, while we're on the subject of back-to-back scoring prowess).
Best weekend individual performance: Jessica Jenkins, St. Bonaventure. Playing without third-leading scorer Armelia Horton on account of illness, St. Bonaventure rolled to a 75-57 win at La Salle on Saturday to improve to 20-2 overall, 7-0 in the Atlantic 10 and 9-0 on the road this season. The Bonnies are off to the best start in program history despite playing without Horton for four games and without second-leading scorer Megan Van Tatenhove for four games. That says a lot about the team's depth. It also says something about its senior star. Jenkins scored 28 points against La Salle, hitting eight 3-pointers and playing 32 minutes without a turnover. Already the A-10's all-time leader in 3-pointers with 303, she is 14 shy of the top 20 in NCAA history.
Best individual weekend performance, off the radar: Megan Herbert, Central Arkansas. This isn't the first mention of the Central Arkansas junior, nor is it likely to be the last with performances like the one she turned in against McNeese State in a battle for first place in the Southland Conference on Saturday. Herbert played all 50 minutes in her team's double-overtime win and finished with 32 points and 15 rebounds. She's averaging 16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game for a team that is 16-4 overall and moved into a tie with McNeese State at 6-1 in the conference with the win. Oh yes, and the reigning Southland Player of the Year , the one with a career average of 11.7 rebounds per game, is still just 5 feet, 11 inches.
Second-best imitation of someone taller: Callan Taylor, Sacred Heart. Herbert might be among the best inch-for-inch players in the country (the nation's leading rebounder entering the weekend, Morehead State junior Ashar Harris is also just 5-11), but Sacred Heart's Taylor is also in the debate. The 6-foot senior totaled 18 points and 12 rebounds in her team's win against Mount St. Mary's to maintain a one-game lead in the Northeast Conference. Taylor is averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this season and has 12 double-doubles, including three in a row.
The week ahead
Connecticut at Duke (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET Monday): It can't be a must-win game if it's a nonconference contest in late January, but it's a must-show-something game for Duke if it wants to make a case that the national title race is more than four favorites.
The matchup inside between Elizabeth Williams and Stefanie Dolson will be fun to watch. The overall rebounding battle between two teams that go to the glass at every position on the court should be intense. The possession battle will be fascinating (Connecticut rolled to a 36-point win last season, but it's at least worth noting that it turned over the ball 20 times in the process, something that's easier to ignore when Maya Moore is hitting 11 of 17 shots). But if not quite as prominent as any of those factors, the 3-point line could be important to the Blue Devils. They aren't a prolific team from the arc, but Tricia Liston and Chelsea Gray are efficient long-distance shooters. The only two teams that had much success in that regard against the Huskies this season were Villanova and South Florida, which -- for different reasons (system for the Wildcats and personnel for the Bulls) -- are difficult to imitate. Baylor and Notre Dame beat Connecticut at home without getting much from the 3-point line.
Maybe Duke can do the same, but don't bet on it.
South Dakota State at Oakland (Monday): Currently alone in first place in the Summit League, South Dakota State visits third-place Oakland on Monday and hosts second-place Oral Roberts a week later. For a team that managed just 22 points in a loss earlier this season, South Dakota State has hit a vein of scoring. With Jennie Sunnarborg averaging 19.2 points per game against Summit League competition, the Jackrabbits are second in the conference in scoring at 72.8 points per game, compared with 52.8 out of conference.
Notre Dame at Rutgers (Tuesday): Notre Dame's 71-56 victory at St. John's marked the first time this season that the Fighting Irish failed to beat an unranked opponent by at least 20 points. But playing a ranked Rutgers team on the road might be the biggest hurdle remaining before a rematch against Connecticut at the end of the regular season. The Fighting Irish hold a 16-11 series edge on the Scarlet Knights, but they are just 4-9 in Piscataway, N.J. (granted, one of the four was a 75-63 win with Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Brittany Mallory in 2010). It will be shame if Khadijah Rushdan is unavailable for Rutgers after suffering a head injury in Sunday's loss at Georgetown.
Oklahoma at Kansas (Tuesday): It was always going to be a race for second in the Big 12 this season, but it wasn't necessarily obvious that this would be a key game in that race. Tied with Oklahoma and Kansas State for second at 5-3, Kansas plays its next four games against Oklahoma and Texas at home and Texas A&M and Kansas State on the road, a 13-day stretch that will reveal something about the team's staying power. The Jayhawks last beat the Sooners in the 1998-99 season, with that result followed by 14 consecutive defeats.
Texas A&M at Texas Tech (Wednesday): Seven Big 12 teams are piled up somewhere between 5-3 and 3-5 behind undefeated Baylor, and this doesn't look like a conference that's going to get eight bids to the NCAA tournament. The Lady Raiders finally snapped the five-game losing streak that followed a 14-0 start with a 75-71 victory against Texas on Saturday, and they did it without leading scorer Kierra Mallard. A 6-4 record the rest of the way would mean .500 in the conference, but Wednesday's game is one of just five at home and Mallard's availability remains uncertain.
Nebraska at Purdue (Thursday): This already shaped up as a fascinating contrast between the Big Ten's third-best scoring team and its stingiest defense, but Purdue's loss against Iowa on Saturday and Ohio State's somewhat stunning loss against Minnesota on Sunday combine to make it a huge game in the championship race. It's the only meeting this season between the two teams, and the Cornhuskers could emerge tied for first with four of their final six games at home, including a season-ender against Ohio State.
Monday morning headline: Duke makes a statement.
Folks in Durham have been calling Chelsea Gray "The Closer" for some time now, and you know, it just might catch on. Gray's 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in Sunday's game against Maryland put the visiting team's comeback on the ropes. Another jumper and two final free throws from Gray finished the job against a resilient opponent.
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeChelsea Gray had 17 points and 11 assists Sunday in a 80-72 victory over Maryland, Duke's 10th straight win.
What's more impressive is that, at least on this day, Gray's late shots were 50/50 propositions.
The Blue Devils shot 50 percent from the field for the game -- 50 percent in the first half and 50 percent in the second half. They finished with 16 assists, 11 from Gray, and just nine turnovers in the 80-72 victory. They played like a championship-caliber offense against a defense they couldn't simply overpower or overwhelm. It was just the fourth time in the past four seasons a Duke team shot even 40 percent against a top-10 opponent, just the second time one shot better than 42 percent in such a game.
In five games last season against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time the ball was tipped, the Blue Devils compiled the following field goal percentages: 30.9, 26.8, 28.4, 38.7 and 25.4. They turned over the ball 77 times against 45 assists in those games. That they won three of them -- against Texas A&M and Xavier in the regular season and DePaul in the NCAA tournament -- showed what a team can do with great defense.
The end result of the season, as when their offense deserted them late in a regional final against Baylor a season earlier, showed the limits of that.
The Blue Devils still have defense, particularly with Elizabeth Williams on the floor. Maryland shot just 36.4 percent in the second half in Cameron Indoor Stadium. And no, they aren't going to get 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting from Haley Peters every night. But with another even bigger test looming at home against Connecticut next Monday, perhaps we're seeing a Duke offense that can close games on its own.
Best team weekend performance: Oregon State. Really, Oregon State? Sure, South Carolina is a deserving candidate after improving to 4-2 in the SEC with a road win at No. 22 Vanderbilt on Sunday. Ditto for Iowa State breaking a Big 12 drought with Saturday's victory against No. 20 Texas Tech. There's definitely something to be said for No. 21 Penn State holding off Iowa on Sunday, what was a tough day for a lot of people in State College, Pa., after the passing of Joe Paterno.
But in beating USC 65-61 in overtime Saturday behind 17 points from Sage Indendi, thus earning a split of its trip to Los Angeles after a 69-60 loss at UCLA, Oregon State continued a remarkable climb toward respectability from the depths of Division I.
Say what you want about the advantages offered by the Pac-12, but there's a case to be made that Oregon State was the single worst program in Division I when Scott Rueck took over prior to the 2010-11 season. Mass defections amidst an ugly end to LaVonda Wagner's reign left the Beavers with almost no top-level experience. They went 2-16 in conference play and won just three road games all season, one in the Pac-10. The win against USC was already their third in the Pac-12, splitting every weekend save the California-Stanford trip that most of the league drops. Maybe 3-5 in a league of questionable depth doesn't look like much, but it's a long way from a deep hole.
Best individual weekend performance: Courtney Osborn, Miami (Ohio). Western Michigan's least favorite player at this moment is Osborn. Second on that list is any Bowling Green player who guarded Osborn earlier in the week. One of the most prolific mid-major scorers (18.6 points per game, 23.3 in league play), Osborn produced like someone on a mission in bouncing back from a rare off night with 34 points, eight assists and two steals in Miami's 82-67 win against Western Michigan on Sunday. That came three days after Bowling Green claimed control of the MAC by holding Osborn in check in a win against Miami (the Falcons strengthened their conference claim with a weekend win against Eastern Michigan). Osborn was as efficient as a player can be in Sunday's game, hitting 11-of-15 shots, including 6-of-7 3-pointers, and either scoring or assisting on 19 of her team's 29 field goals.
Best weekend helping hand: Jericka Jenkins, Hampton. How do you keep your teammates from giving you the evil eye when you hit just 4-of-18 shots in a game? Jenkins kept everyone in a Hampton uniform happy, despite her cold shooting, by totaling a career-high 17 assists in a 92-43 win against Norfolk State. That gives Jenkins 29 assists in her past two games and moves her to second in the nation in assists per game (7.6). Throw Hampton's game at Howard on Monday night into the upcoming week's must-follow action. Howard (5-1) is just a game behind unbeaten co-leaders Hampton and Florida A&M in MEAC play.
Shocking turn of events in the Missouri Valley: Wichita State. Look around at the teams with perfect conference records after at least seven games and there are a lot of familiar faces. Duke, Notre Dame and Stanford are hardly surprises. Among mid-majors, teams like Delaware, Green Bay, Marist and Middle Tennessee aren't exactly shockers. Wichita State? Well, yeah, the Shockers are a bit of a surprise at 7-0 in the Missouri Valley. Then again, Wichita State has been trending upward ever since coach Jody Adams arrived four years ago. After a 3-5 start this season, the Shockers have won 10 in a row, including the first even in league play. Chynna Turner led the way Saturday with 24 points in a 78-68 win at Southern Illinois.
The week ahead
Tennessee at Notre Dame (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET Monday): Less than a year after knocking off Tennessee and Connecticut in back-to-back NCAA tournament games, Notre Dame will look to accomplish something almost equally rare in beating both in the same regular season (even if Baylor beat the Fighting Irish to it this season).
Rebound margin is just about the only meaningful team statistic that favors Tennessee in this game. That isn't to say the Lady Vols are deficient when it comes to the likes of turnover margin, assist-to-turnover ratio, field goal defense, field goal offense or scoring margin, but Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh could at least theoretically give them an inside presence that Kentucky and Connecticut were never really able to establish in recent competitive losses in South Bend. Remember, Skylar Diggins' late-game heroics in the Elite Eight last season fit that description in part because, with Devereaux Peters in foul trouble, Tennessee was able to stick around with 20 second-chance points in a game that saw the Lady Vols shoot just 33 percent from the floor and 21 percent from the 3-point line.
Michigan State at Purdue (Monday): The Boilermakers are the Big Ten's lone unbeaten and have allowed just five opponents to reach 60 points this season. But with road games remaining at Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, continuing to defend their home court is a must. Purdue's seniors have never beaten Michigan State, and Brittany Rayburn is just 12 of 55 from the field in those games. But with Michigan State coming off a loss against Minnesota, the same team Rayburn torched for an NCAA record-tying 12 3-pointers on Jan. 12, is the time right?
Chattanooga at Davidson/Charleston Southern at High Point (Monday): It's a double dose of conference showdowns in the state of North Carolina. Chattanooga (8-1) leads Davidson (7-2) by a game in the Southern Conference, with Appalachian State (7-1) wedged in the middle after handing Chattanooga that lone league loss over the weekend. In addition to averaging 14.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, Davidson's Sophia Aleksandravicius is one of just eight players in Division I averaging at least three blocks per game. In the Big South, High Point puts a perfect league start (6-0) on the line two days after Cheyenne Parker's 14 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocks against Coastal Carolina.
Texas Tech at Kansas (Wednesday): Texas Tech might still be ranked in at least one poll when the teams meet, but which one is the real contender? Kansas point guard Angel Goodrich had 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting to keep the final score respectable in a loss against Texas A&M over the weekend, but the nation's assists leader also had 11 turnovers. With games looming at Baylor and Texas A&M and home against Oklahoma, this might be the game that determines whether the Jayhawks go into a tailspin. The Lady Raiders are already there after four losses in a row, the weekend loss at Iowa State the first of those that came by more than eight points.
Hofstra at Delaware (Thursday): There's never a bad opportunity to watch Elena Delle Donne in action (be it on the court or in a flash mob), but pitting her against Hofstra's Shante Evans makes for a particularly compelling duel. Evans had 21 points and 13 rebounds in a weekend win against Northeastern that gave coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey her 100th career win and is averaging 18 points and 10.4 rebounds. At 6-1 in the Colonial, Hofstra is just a game behind Delaware.
Baylor at Oklahoma (Thursday): If there is a loss coming for Baylor, where could it be? It seems unlikely to come in Waco -- well, it seems unlikely to come anywhere, but even more unlikely at home. And other than a Feb. 27 trip to Texas A&M, this trip to Norman could be the biggest stumbling block. The Lady Bears squeaked out an 82-81 win in this game a season ago when Danielle Robinson's potential winner rimmed out, that despite Baylor hitting 13-of-27 shots from the 3-point line. It would be easier to think this one could be close if the Sooners still had Robinson, but they are the Big 12's most accurate and prolific 3-point shooting team.
Georgia at Vanderbilt (Thursday): Vandy presumably won't be ranked by the time the teams meet in Nashville, but with wins against Oklahoma and Florida State about all the Commodores have on the "for" side of the ledger at the moment, it's time to worry more about at-large credentials than poll credentials. Vanderbilt is averaging 10.7 assists and 21.5 turnovers per game in SEC play, compared to 19.2 assists and 15.1 turnover per game beforehand.
Monday morning headline: Statements or suggestions?
Statement wins. They're not just for college football anymore! Thankfully, since the only subjective judgment used in basketball's postseason is between No. 64 and No. 65, not No. 2 and No. 3, style points from Sunday's games are nothing more than conversation fodder. But four games between ranked teams make for a lot of fodder.
Ranking the statements made:
1. Purdue beating Texas A&M: More on the Boilermakers in a minute.
2. Ohio State beating Oklahoma: A year is a long time to wait for a mulligan, but that's what Ohio State earned with a big win at Oklahoma. The Buckeyes beat the Sooners a year ago to improve to 7-0 and promptly lost four of their next five games, and six of their next nine, locking in the script for a team that was never as consistent or as good as you got the feeling it should have been with Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis. The schedule through the end of the month is much kinder this time around, and after adding a victory in Norman to home wins against Temple, Florida State and LSU, it's once again tempting to believe this team has some long-range potential. Averaging a shade more than 21 points per game for the season, Tayler Hill averaged 24.5 points in those four signature wins. She also shot 48.2 percent in those games.
AP Photo/James CrispSamantha Drake shoots over Louisville's Asia Taylor in the Wildcats' 74-54 victory Sunday.
3. Kentucky beating Louisville: A'dia Mathies got the best of Shoni Schimmel in a battle of Bluegrass State guards (albeit one a transplant), and Kentucky's 74-54 win just about evened the score in the series after last season's 78-52 drubbing at the hands of Louisville. This one matters most because Kentucky's schedule was lighter than a helium balloon floating in the International Space Station coming into Sunday, making it tough to know what to think of life after Victoria Dunlap (and before Connecticut transfer Samarie Walker becomes eligible following the fall semester). The problem is Sunday seemed to prove Kentucky can turn people over and play hard for Matthew Mitchell, two things we already knew. If the Wildcats repeat the 3-point shooting (10-for-19) at Duke on Thursday, then we've got a statement.
4. Tennessee beating Texas: Don't get angry, Lady Vols Nation. You're only fourth because your team's elite credentials mean beating Texas is more taking care of business than making a statement. The rebounding (49-38) is what we expect. The 3-point shooting (11-for-21) can't be counted on every game, but it's nice to know it's there. The impressive part? Just nine turnovers. Against its three toughest opponents this season, Tennessee now has just 33 turnovers (including 13 against Miami and 11 against Baylor). Tennessee didn't play Miami a season ago, but if you substitute Louisville in its place, the Lady Vols had 58 turnovers in three similar games.
Best team weekend performance: Purdue. A season ago, Purdue lost a tough home game against Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It then lost its next two games at Notre Dame and Texas A&M. There's no shame in those defeats, but losing by 21 points in South Bend and a cringe-inducing 45 points in College Station pushed the Boilermakers completely out of the national conversation the rest of the way. Well, Purdue had ample reason to look at Thursday's loss at Duke as one that got away, a 40-39 lead with 11:58 to play vanishing in a game-ending 25-13 run by the Blue Devils. Purdue couldn't buy a shot, couldn't get a rebound and couldn't stop turning over the ball when it mattered.
So what did Sharon Versyp's team do three days later against the defending national champion? Turn a nine-point deficit with 15:39 to play into a 60-51 win. Purdue matched Texas A&M on the boards, getting 12 rebounds from Sam Ostarello, in addition to four steals and two blocks. Brittany Rayburn and Courtney Moses hit 5 of 10 shots from behind the arc and matched seven turnovers against a tough defense with seven assists.
It's a statement win all on its own. It's an even better one given what preceded it.
Best individual weekend performance: Chucky Jeffery, Colorado. The number of unbeaten teams is already dwindling toward single digits, with few real surprises amid names like Baylor, Connecticut, Delaware and Green Bay. One name that does jump out is Colorado, it of the 18-16 record last season. Playing a schedule that nobody will confuse with those favored by teams like Rutgers or Tennessee helps, and Sunday's 68-59 victory against Idaho might not rank high on the statement scale, but unbeaten is unbeaten. Jeffery ensured the Buffaloes still fit the category with 30 points and 10 rebounds against the Vandals. For the season, she's averaging 18.3 points. 9.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 44 percent from the 3-point line, so, you know, expect to see her name here again at some point.
Best individual off-the-radar weekend performance: JaQuayla Berry, North Carolina A&T. It's never too early to start conference play. All right, it's ridiculously early to start conference play, but the MEAC is one of several leagues doing it anyway. Berry gets the nod here for filling up the stat sheet with 28 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals in a game that mattered, North Carolina A&T's 84-74 win against North Carolina Central. Berry was third in the nation in steals per game last season.
Best mid-major team: Green Bay. The next mid-major top 10 isn't until next week, but consider this an unofficial change at the top. Gonzaga dropped a 58-51 decision against USC at home Sunday, while Green Bay completed a weekend that began with a win Friday against in-state rival Marquette and ended with a 74-67 victory over Northern Iowa on Sunday. Senior post Julie Wojta was at it again, with a double-double against Marquette and a career-best 26 points against Northern Iowa, but keep an eye on redshirt freshman Megan Lukan. Phoenix coaches last season compared Lukan to Celeste Hoewisch at the same point in her career (both redshirted their first season in Green Bay). Lukan had 12 points and three steals against Marquette and 13 points against Northern Iowa. Lukan is a keeper.
Setting up the week ahead (Monday-Friday)
Rutgers at Miami (Monday): Not a single Rutgers player averaged 30 minutes per game through the team's first eight contests, which is saying something for a program that recently seemed capable of using players for 30 minutes a half. It's early, and there have been a couple of bench-friendly wins against teams like Lehigh and La Salle, but will depth actually be an asset for the Scarlet Knights? Speaking of spreading the wealth, Miami's Morgan Stroman led the Hurricanes with 20 points in last week's win at Michigan State, the first time a player other than Shenise Johnson or Riquna Williams led them in scoring since Dec. 18, 2010 (Stroman against UC Riverside).
Texas A&M at Connecticut (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET Tuesday): There's something about the Women's College Cup, college soccer's version of the Final Four, that doesn't sit well with the Aggies. Long the Big 12's flagship soccer team, Texas A&M has a strong claim to being the best program never to reach the signature event. And now for the second year in a row, Gary Blair's basketball team dropped its first game of the season over College Cup weekend. OK, maybe I've been around too much soccer this weekend. The Aggies bounced back from a loss at Duke last season with a big victory against Purdue in their next game. Now coming off a loss at Purdue, they need Sydney Carter and Adrienne Pratcher (combined 3-for-21 versus Purdue) to at least play Bria Hartley and Caroline Doty to a standstill to have a chance in Hartford in the Jimmy V Classic.
Duke at Kentucky (Thursday): Duke's Chelsea Gray is in the middle of any conversation about the weekend's best performance after going for 14 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds and six steals (and just one turnover) in a 92-43 rout of Pittsburgh on Sunday. Now the challenge is to see how she and Chloe Wells hold up against the pressure Kentucky applies. This has all the makings of a game in which both teams approach 30 turnovers, but if Wells and Gray take care of the ball and get looks inside for Elizabeth Williams and at the 3-point line for Tricia Liston, look out. For the season, the Blue Devils are still running a positive assist-turnover ratio.
Monday morning headline: New star, familiar fate for Duke
The headline this morning is Baylor's Brittney Griner taking over a game on a court where few opponents ever do so, turning in a second half against Tennessee that will echo from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.
But Mechelle Voepel was on hand to chronicle Baylor's victory in Knoxville, so top billing here goes to the weekend's other game between national championship hopefuls. Other than further confirmation that Natalie Novosel is clutch, this time hitting the winner at the buzzer, Notre Dame's 56-54 win against Duke in the Bahamas showed off a new star for the Blue Devils and a familiar struggle to score at the end of big games in which the team's defense did plenty.
Duke limited Notre Dame to 33 percent shooting from the floor, including just five assists on 18 field goals. And when Blue Devils freshman Elizabeth Williams scored to give her team a 53-51 lead with 2:44 to play, the prospects for a win looked good. After all, Williams was on her way to 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks, not quite the 32 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks Griner totaled against the Fighting Irish a week ago, but ample confirmation, if any was needed, that Williams is the real deal. But the Blue Devils didn't score another field goal, a fitting conclusion for a second half in which they shot 19 percent from the floor.
Duke has the talent to compete for a championship. It has the defense to compete for a championship. The trust factor that teams like Notre Dame have earned on offense? Not yet.
Best individual weekend performance: Chassidy Fussell, Texas. The Longhorns played their final game of the weekend in Hawaii after this entry was filed, but the first two efforts are enough to land Fussell in this spot. The sophomore opened the weekend with a career-best 30 points in a 79-53 rout of Virginia that knocked the Cavaliers from the ranks of the unbeaten. Her line wasn't quite as gaudy in Saturday's game against California, but she made the last of her 15 points count, scoring with 1:11 to play to give the Longhorns their first and only lead in a 61-60 win. One sign of growth for Fussell? Despite a cold start from the 3-point line this season (21.4 percent entering Sunday), she's shooting better overall from the field (46.5 percent to 40.1 percent as a freshman).
Best team weekend performance: Nebraska. Make it two wins in two attempts against ranked opponents for the Cornhuskers. Beating USC by 18 points in Lincoln a week before Thanksgiving was impressive, but Sunday's win on the road against No. 24 Florida State was arguably even better. In part that's because it came in Tallahassee, but also because it occurred without a big day from sophomore star Jordan Hooper, who put up 22 points and 13 rebounds against the Women of Troy but shot just 3 of 15 from the floor against the Seminoles (Hooper did get 21 points and eight rebounds in Friday's win against Florida A&M in the tournament hosted by Florida State). Still unbeaten, Nebraska gets a shot at Georgia Tech in Atlanta this week.
Beyond the headlines: Michigan starts strong. Nebraska wasn't the only Big Ten team (nope, still doesn't sound right) to make a case that it could be ranked heading into a big road game against an ACC opponent. Michigan is 7-0 for the first time since 1999 after winning the Paradise Jam by beating Prairie View A&M, Washington State and Marquette. It survived a scare in the first game before blowing out the Cougars by 30 points and the Golden Eagles by 20 points. Junior Jenny Ryan isn't scoring a lot of points, but with 32 assists, 13 turnovers, 42 rebounds and 25 steals in seven games, she's playing the kind of basketball that defines coach Kevin Borseth's style. The schedule so far has been heavy on teams from BCS conferences, albeit not those conference's strongest programs, but the Wolverines now need to show something as they move up in weight class to face Maryland this week and Iowa State this weekend.
Way beyond the headlines: Green Mountains turnaround. Don't start printing banners just yet, but Vermont deserves this much attention. The last most people heard of the Catamounts, Courtney Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos were confounding opponents and spellcheckers alike, beating Wisconsin in the first round of the 2010 NCAA tournament and holding their own against Notre Dame in the second round. The interim wasn't pretty. Coach Sharon Dawley left for Massachusetts and new coach Lori Gear McBride, left with a cupboard that was young if not empty, suffered through a 5-25 debut season that included a 95-38 opening loss at Nebraska and 15 consecutive losses before her first win.
Well, with Saturday's win against Texas Southern, the Catamounts are already 6-1 in Gear McBride's second campaign. The Canadian pipeline that runs through Burlington is still flowing with post Lauren Buschmann and guard Kristine Lalonde (although the latter missed both games on the Thanksgiving trip to Texas). Seton Hall transfer Shanai Heber leads the team in assists.
Bet you didn't know they're the Sugar Bears: Central Arkansas had a tough weekend in Texas, going 1-2 in the Texas Tech Classic, but full credit to junior Megan Herbert for reaching a milestone. Listed at just 5 feet, 11 inches, Herbert had 21 points and 13 rebounds in Friday's win against Louisiana-Monroe for her 50th double-double in 68 career games.
Setting the week to come (Monday-Friday)
North Carolina at Penn State (Wednesday): Penn State bounced back well after getting Delle Donned against Delaware, beating Iowa State and host Nevada over the holiday weekend, but a home game against the Tar Heels is their best chance to make a statement before conference play. Alex Bentley (1.21 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, down from 1.71 last season) will need to take care of the ball to avoid feeding the Tar Heels' transition game.
Florida State at Ohio State (Wednesday): Ohio State's Samantha Prahalis has a lot to prove this season without Jantel Lavender around, but credit where credit is due. Prahalis came up big in Sunday's win against a ranked LSU team, leading the Buckeyes with 28 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. With games Wednesday against Florida State and Sunday at Oklahoma, the stage is hers.
Delaware at Princeton (Thursday): You can have the ACC-Big Ten clashes; the best game of the week takes place in Princeton's Jadwin Gym. Delaware's Elena Delle Donne continues to be the best one-woman show this side of Brittney Griner, following up her 40-point effort in a win against Penn State with more typical (for her) lines of 22 points and nine rebounds in a victory against Villanova and 26 points and 18 rebounds against previously unbeaten St. Bonaventure. Meanwhile, unbeaten Princeton is beating some decent teams by double-digit margins, including Saint Joseph's, Villanova and Marist. Niveen Rasheed (17.7 points per game) isn't Delle Donne, but she's darn good.
Hartford at Marist (Thursday): This one is worth the price of admission just to watch Jennifer Rizzotti and Brian Giorgis coach, but it's also a meaningful test for a Hartford team off to a 5-1 start after beating TCU and Central Florida in the latter team's Thanksgiving tournament.
Miami at Michigan State (Thursday): Credit to Spartans coach Suzy Merchant for her willingness to even play road games at places like Florida Gulf Coast, but after losing that one and a neutral-site game against Villanova, this is Michigan State's best chance to regain some national footing. Likewise, for a Hurricanes team without any nonconference road wins of note in recent seasons, it's a chance to prove something in a tough road stop.
Duke at North Carolina (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 7 p.m. ET): The Blue Devils have won just once in their past six trips to Chapel Hill, so home-court advantage isn't without meaning. In terms of trends that have more to do with the players currently on hand, we might know how things are going to go by the second television break. In North Carolina's three losses, its opponents averaged 52.3 percent in the first half. Only Georgia Tech didn't eclipse 50 percent en route to victory, and it got to the free throw line 20 times before halftime. As for Duke, the less said the better about its first half at Connecticut last week. The Blue Devils attempted just five 3-pointers in Thursday's 82-58 victory against Miami, their fewest all season and the first time in single digits.
Tennessee at Kentucky: It's a road game for Tennessee against perhaps its closest challenger, and it's a game in which Pat Summitt's team is likely to still be without Angie Bjkorklund. In other words, SEC supremacy might not be on the line for Kentucky, but as a representative of the 11 teams chasing Tennessee, SEC self-respect is at stake. Kentucky wins games by dominating the turnover battle and surviving on the boards. That's not a great matchup against a team that can survive a few turnovers, in part by winning the rebounding battle. Kentucky is 10th in the SEC against the 3-pointer. Can the Lady Vols' Taber Spani, coming off back-to-back 18-point performances and a 10-of-17 effort on 3-pointers in the past four games, stay hot?
DePaul at Syracuse: As Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma noted after Saturday's game, DePaul came into Storrs playing like a team that thought it could win in a place the home team rarely loses. The resulting effort, especially during a first half in which the Huskies didn't get separation until late, added to a résumé already suggesting the Blue Demons can fight Notre Dame for second in the Big East and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. But the second part of the equation comes with a game such as Tuesday's at Syracuse -- a challenging game in a tough place to play, but a game that an elite team should win.
Connecticut at West Virginia: This game isn't as enticing as it might have been a few weeks ago, but a wounded West Virginia team (in Madina Ali's case, a literal description, as she plays through a stress fracture in her leg) could be a dangerous opponent at home. Whether a cause or effect of West Virginia's woes in losing three of four, including Saturday's setback against Pitt, the Mountaineers are losing their edge on the glass. They're still running a substantial surplus on the season, but a one-rebound edge against Providence is the only time in the last four games they weren't beaten soundly in that category. On the other side, Stefanie Dolson isn't Tina Charles at this point, and nobody is asking her to be, but the Huskies' freshman is emerging as a go-to post scorer.
Oklahoma at Texas A&M: For what it's worth, Oklahoma beat Tennessee in its first game after Carlee Roethlisberger's brother last played in a Super Bowl (it also happened to be the game in which Courtney Paris' double-double streak ended). Of more pressing concern for the Sooners might be a second half against Iowa State on Saturday in which Sherri Coale's team nearly squandered a 14-point halftime lead before pulling out a 65-62 victory at home. Danielle Robinson was simply sensational in scoring 33 points when these teams met a little more than two weeks ago in a Texas A&M win, but she did have six turnovers. That's important only because a player who had a 1.78 assist-to-turnover ratio in nonconference play is down to 1.06 in the Big 12.
Xavier at Richmond: The Musketeers must be glad to be done with Dayton, at least until the Atlantic 10 tournament. Xavier is beating the rest of the A-10 by an average of 26.8 points per game, but Saturday's overtime victory at Dayton marked the second time Kevin McGuff's team was pushed to the limit by its in-state rival. Richmond gave Xavier a game in the Atlantic 10 tournament last season, getting 21 points on 10-of-21 shooting from Brittani Shells. Richmond's star hit just 6 of 29 shots in the two games preceding that in the series. Any scenario that involves the Spiders gaining at-large NCAA consideration, and there aren't many, hinges on winning this one.
Michigan State at Penn State: No team in the nation had a better stretch of seven days to open the new month than Penn State. The Lady Lions followed up a home victory against Ohio State last Sunday with road wins at Michigan on Thursday and at Iowa on Sunday. All of a sudden, Thursday's game could be the turning point in the regular-season race in the Big Ten. Penn State freshman Maggie Lucas just keeps knocking down shots, but credit also to Alex Bentley. The sophomore put up 21 points and seven assists against Ohio State and 25 points and five assists against Iowa.
Maryland at Miami: Monday's Tobacco Row game is the ACC headliner, but does it involve the league's best team? Maryland continues making at least a case for that label. Last Thursday's victory at Georgia Tech was the first significant road win in conference play for the Terrapins, and they get another chance at Miami. On the other side, the Hurricanes need some outside cover. When they beat Georgetown early in the season (despite being outrebounded 55-33), Stefanie Yderstrom hit three 3-pointers and players other than stars Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams hit five. In eight ACC games, with last week's loss at Duke the latest example, players other than Johnson and Williams have hit just 16 3-pointers.
Creighton at Northern Iowa: With its 67-59 victory at Missouri State on Sunday, Northern Iowa improved to 2-1 on the road against its three closest challengers in the Missouri Valley. But far from finding breathing room, the Panthers only guaranteed themselves a continued hold on first place through Thursday, when second-place Creighton visits. Jacqui Kalin scored 29 points in the victory at Missouri State and scored a game-high 19 points when Northern Iowa beat Creighton in Omaha on Jan. 13. This is a matchup of two good passing teams -- they rank first and second in the league in assists, even though no player on either team averages more than 3.2 assists per game.
Montana State at Northern Colorado: An encumbered view at the top of the Big Sky standings will be up for grabs when the Bobcats visit the Bears. Montana State claimed sole possession of first place over the weekend by virtue of a pair of victories and Northern Colorado's loss at Portland State and already owns a win in the first meeting between these two teams on Jan. 8. The regular-season champion hosts the conference tournament in the Big Sky, so there's more than pride at stake for two programs with limited postseason histories.
Oral Roberts at Oakland: With a 76-74 win against IPFW on Saturday, Oral Roberts completed a season sweep of the third-place Mastodons and improved to 10-0 in the Summit League. That leaves Oakland as the biggest obstacle in the way of a conference title. Yet when the teams met in Tulsa on New Year's Eve, Oral Roberts won by 22 points. Kevi Luper is a prolific shoot-first scoring guard who put up 29 in the last meeting, but Jordan Pyle (25 points, 8 rebounds) and Jaci Bigham (18 points, 11 assists) led the way against IPFW. Oakland, which beat Illinois and lost to Penn State in overtime earlier this season, scored 100 points against Centenary on Saturday without a single player attempting more than eight field goals.
Georgetown at Louisville: The Cardinals secured one important victory Saturday against Rutgers; Tuesday brings an opportunity to add a second of supreme postseason importance. Jeff Walz's team wasn't in Charlie Creme's Jan. 18 Bracketology, but the subsequent win against the Scarlet Knights moved the Cardinals to 5-3 in the Big East. And while there are no guarantees in the league, Louisville has three winnable road games remaining at Villanova, South Florida and Providence, as well as a home game against Seton Hall. It's difficult to imagine a team with 10 Big East victories missing the NCAA tournament, and Tuesday's game could end up being No. 10 when all is said and done.
North Carolina at Florida State: The Tar Heels got well after last week's loss against Maryland with predictable victories at home against Virginia and Virginia Tech. The two games produced six double-digit rebound performances for the Tar Heels. That's worth noting because, well, it's a lot of rebounds, but also because Florida State hammered North Carolina on the boards in an 83-72 win in Chapel Hill last season with Jacinta Monroe. For its part, Florida State was outrebounded by both Boston College and NC State last week, despite winning both games. It was a curious week for Alexa Deluzio, who entered with 34 fouls in her team's first 20 games and then picked up nine against the Eagles and Wolfpack.
Oklahoma at Baylor: If you want evidence as to why Sherri Coale might just be the best coach in college basketball, look at Oklahoma's recent victories against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. In both cases, Coale maneuvered her team to victory despite seeing the Sooners beaten on the boards and struggling to contain opposing offenses. If you want evidence as to why it's still not clear exactly what Oklahoma is this season, well, look at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State beating the Sooners on the boards and shooting 46.8 percent from the field. The Sooners won two of three games against Baylor last season, and hit just seven 3-pointers in 125 minutes in doing it. With Whitney Hand healthy and Aaryn Ellenberg and Morgan Hook around, will they be able to spread Baylor's suffocating defense?
Wyoming at BYU: TCU's penchant for puzzling losses (Air Force joining New Mexico on that list) opens the door for a first-place showdown between two teams that already lost to the Horned Frogs. The Cowgirls still don't have a road win against a team with a winning record, but they're statistically dominant, leading in scoring margin and field goal differential in conference play. Four days should be ample recovery time, but four Wyoming players played at least 38 minutes in Saturday's victory against San Diego State. BYU guard Mindy Bonham is coming off a productive week, totaling 14 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds in a win at San Diego State and 18 points and 10 assists in a home victory against New Mexico.
Auburn at Kentucky: Nell Fortner's team left itself a lot of work to do after understandable early losses against the likes of Florida State and Duke mushroomed into a funk that included neutral-site losses against South Florida and Sacred Heart, but things seem to quietly be coming together. Sunday's victory against South Carolina made it 6-2 in the SEC for an Auburn squad whose field goal offense and field goal defense are both improving in conference play. And with Kentucky riding a six-game winning streak in advance of Tennessee's visit on Feb. 7, might the Wildcats fall into the proverbial trap game? Kentucky loves to harass guards, so the matchup against Morgan Toles (2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio) should be fun to track.
Penn State at Michigan: Both teams beat preseason conference favorite Ohio State within the past week. The problem for Michigan is that it followed up that performance with a loss at cellar-dwelling Minnesota on Sunday. Penn State beat the Buckeyes by following a familiar script: shoot the ball well enough to offset a propensity for turnovers. Freshman sensation Maggie Lucas hit 6 of 8 3-pointers for Penn State against Ohio State. The Lady Lions are running a turnover deficit in conference play after accumulating a significant surplus early in the season, but as long as they shoot 45.9 percent from the 3-point line, they can get away with it.
California at Arizona: It's too early for an elimination game, but this sure feels like something close as both teams begin the second half of Pac-10 play. The Bears play the league's bottom four teams at home down the stretch, and their five toughest games on the road. The Wildcats face the opposite scenario, making this a hinge game for each side. When these two teams met in the Bay Area, Cal nearly doubled up Arizona on the boards in an 80-60 victory. The Wildcats might be the worst rebounding team not currently running in the red in rebound margin. In addition to that game against Cal, they were outrebounded against USC and UCLA over the weekend by 14 and 24, respectively.
Princeton at Harvard: Few teams were more dominant relative to their conference competition last season than Princeton. Friday night will reveal whether a repeat is in order. The Tigers improved to 3-0 in Ivy play with a victory at Yale on Saturday. All three wins came by double digits and all came without star forward Niveen Rasheed, out for the season with a knee injury. Without Rasheed, Addie Micir and Lauren Edwards have taken the scoring lead, and with the exception of the Yale victory, Princeton has relied more heavily on 3-pointers. Harvard point guard (and phenomenally named) Brogan Berry has 14 assists and just two turnovers during Harvard's 3-0 Ivy start.
Iowa at Ohio State: The schedules are favorable for both of these Big Ten preseason favorites after this week, which also includes Iowa hosting Michigan State on Thursday, but that will be small comfort for Monday's loser. Iowa is both a dangerous and prolific 3-point shooting team, but it is not an efficient 3-point shooting team, hitting just 29.2 percent of its shots behind the arc. That makes it all the more important for the Hawkeyes to value possession and give shooters maximum opportunities -- in four losses, Iowa averaged 16.5 turnovers, compared to 14.3 in 15 wins. Considering all four games were in play late, those possessions mattered. In the wake of Sarah Schulze's unfortunate knee injury for Ohio State, Ashley Adams becomes one of the most intriguing names in the conference after the 6-foot-5 freshman put up 13 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and four assists in Thursday's win at Illinois.
Miami at Florida State: The polls differ on which team should be favored, but Miami seems to have the most to gain in this ACC clash. The Hurricanes can validate a 4-0 conference start lacking in marquee wins by earning their biggest road result of the season (granted, it would top a short list). Both teams live at the free-throw line, even if they sometimes look like strangers in a strange land at the charity stripe (both shoot 67 percent from the line). Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson weren't the problem in Miami's only loss this season at Nebraska; it was the rest of the team shooting 10 of 29 from the floor. So who steps up alongside the Miami stars?
West Virginia at Georgetown: It promises to be a telling week for West Virginia, which also travels to DePaul on Saturday, as Mike Carey's team looks to win on the road against ranked competition. This will be the fourth game in 11 days for the Mountaineers, but easy wins against Marshall on Jan. 19 and South Florida on Jan. 22 allowed Carey to rest key players, including Madina Ali, playing with a stress fracture in her right leg.
Connecticut at Rutgers: With due respect to Pittsburgh, which trailed by just six points at halftime of its game at Connecticut last week, this shapes up as a better game by which to gauge the Huskies without Samarie Walker, if only because it's in Piscataway and the Huskies and Scarlet Knights don't always play nice by the banks of the Raritan River. Two seasons ago, the game at Rutgers featured 32 fouls. Three seasons ago, the last time the Huskies lost a Big East regular-season game, two Huskies finished with four fouls and two more had three fouls. Without Walker, Geno Auriemma is going to have to get creative if his team -- and particularly freshman post Stefanie Dolson -- runs into foul trouble.
Texas A&M at Oklahoma: Texas A&M took 11 more shots than Iowa State in Saturday's 60-51 win, the first for the Aggies in Ames and the first home loss for the Cyclones in their past 20 games. That shouldn't be a surprise; entering play on Saturday, Gary Blair's team averaged 16.2 more field goal attempts per game than its opponents, easily the best such mark among teams in the top 20. Danielle Adams had been shooting just 41.7 percent from the floor in conference play before hitting 10 of 19 shots against the Cyclones.
Charlotte at Richmond: In doesn't get any easier for Richmond, which experienced A-10 life to the fullest last week with a big victory at Duquesne and a tough loss at home against Dayton, its first in conference play. The Spiders held the Flyers to three assists and forced 22 turnovers on Saturday but couldn't overcome the visitors collecting 51 rebounds and going to the free-throw line 31 times. That doesn't bode well against a Charlotte team that, despite being beaten soundly on the boards in Saturday's loss against Xavier, is tied for the conference lead in rebounding margin and leads the league in free-throw attempts. Neither team can afford to let Temple pull too far ahead in what might still be a race for second behind Xavier.
Green Bay at Butler: Is it the game of the year in the Horizon? Both teams will be perfect at 7-0 in league play entering the night. Last season's game in Indianapolis was a three-point contest inside the final minute before the Phoenix held on for the season sweep. The senior trio of Brittany Bowen, Chloe Hamilton and Alyssa Pittman leads the Bulldogs, while sophomore Lydia Bauer and junior Hannah Quilling are emerging as ever more consistent complementary options for the Phoenix with backcourt starter Adrian Ritchie still sidelined by a sprained MCL. Quilling totaled five points, six rebounds, three steals and 11 assists, and Bauer scored a career-high 20 points in Green Bay's 85-39 demolition of Wisconsin-Milwaukee over the weekend.
"Lydia is as good a shooter as anybody in our league," Green Bay coach Mat Bollant said after the Milwaukee win. "It's exciting to see her taking steps. She was out for a long time with the shoulder injury, so it's taken her a little while to get back in great shape and to get her legs underneath her."
Gonzaga at Saint Mary's: It's another mid-major with a national profile going on the road to face its primary conference challenger. Blowout victories against Santa Clara and San Francisco over the weekend allowed Gonzaga to make ample use of its bench, and Meghan Winters seized the opportunity by hitting 6-of-13 3-point attempts. But it's Saint Mary's most likely to make use of the long-distance shot in this game, with Kate Gaze, Jasmine Smith and Suzie Davis all shooting better than 40 percent. The game also pits the conference's two top shot blockers, although national leader Louella Tomlinson has more than a bit of a cushion on Kayla Standish.
Arizona at USC: The Wildcats are 4-3 in the league at the moment, but as their place on the outside in Charlie Creme's most recent Bracketology suggests, they could use a road win -- preferably against a team other than the Pacific Northwest quartet at the bottom of the conference standings. The Women of Troy simply aren't shooting well enough to consistently beat quality competition, but Briana Gilbreath knocked down 14-of-30 shots against California and Stanford over the weekend, albeit both times in losses.
Wake Forest at Maryland: There aren't any truly compelling matchups to close the work week, but after Maryland needed overtime to escape with a victory at Virginia on Friday and then cruised past North Carolina by 23 points on Sunday, it might at least be interesting to see if the Terrapins come out focused for a weekend that also includes a low-profile game against Longwood. Maryland didn't have the same leading scorer in back-to-back games until freshman standout Alyssa Thomas made it two in a row at Virginia and then three in a row against North Carolina.
Connecticut at North Carolina (ESPN2/ESPN3.com, 7 p.m. ET): The Huskies picked apart the Tar Heels the past two seasons, showing what happens when a team that relies on size, speed and forcing mistakes meets a team with equal size and speed that doesn't get flustered.
The Tar Heels still aren't going to run away from the Huskies, and Geno Auriemma's young team has shown it isn't easily flustered, but the size could be a factor with Tina Charles out of the mix -- assuming the ACC side holds onto the ball long enough to get it into the post or get shots up to allow for offensive rebounding opportunities. One positive for North Carolina is that these Tar Heels value possession far better than recent vintages. Led by point guard Cetera DeGraffenreid, who has just 24 turnovers in 466 minutes, North Carolina is averaging only 16 turnovers per game. No Tar Heels team has averaged fewer than 19 turnovers per game since the 2005-06 season. The bad news is that as the competition level has increased, so have the Tar Heels' turnovers in the past three games -- 18 against Georgia Tech in a loss, 20 against Boston College in a win and 22 in Friday's win against NC State. That's music to Connecticut's transition-minded ears.
North Carolina A&T at Hampton: It's a showdown for first place in the MEAC, although North Carolina A&T's loss at Howard on Saturday means it's not a meeting of conference unbeatens. WIth a road win at James Madison and a win at home against Florida already to its credit, Hampton has shown it can play at a high level. The Pirates have also won all four of their MEAC games by at least 16 points, including the last three by more than 20 points. As a team, they don't value the ball particularly well (260 turnovers in 16 games), but point guard Jericka Jenkins ranks among national leaders with a 3.12 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Georgetown at Notre Dame: Sugar Rodgers scored at least 19 points in each of Georgetown's first three Big East games and at least 24 points in each of the team's past three games against Clemson, Syracuse and Marquette, but those streaks came to crashing halts Saturday in the Hoyas' 49-45 win at Providence. Rodgers hit 1-of-8 shots in 27 minutes, just the second time in her career she has finished with a single field goal. For its part, Notre Dame showed no ill effects from a tough loss against Connecticut, routing Louisville by 20 points and Pitt by 32 points last week. The Fighting Irish have been outrebounded just three times this season, so it's difficult to imagine Georgetown duplicating that feat it accomplished in beating the Irish last season.
Texas at Texas A&M: Was Sunday's memorable game against Oklahoma that included a lost lead, a frantic comeback and an eventual overtime loss a step in the right direction, another disappointment, or both for Texas? We can debate that; the Longhorns have to turn around and play another rival in Texas A&M. The bad news is the Longhorns are 0-3 in the Big 12 this season, 7-16 against Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas A&M under Gail Goestenkors and shot 30 percent with 23 turnovers against the Sooners. The good news is despite all of that, they didn't quit and got big shot after big shot from Chassidy Fussell down the stretch to force overtime.
Texas Tech at Oklahoma: The other half of one of the past weekend's most exciting games heads home to play the only one-loss unranked team in a BCS conference. That's the price the Lady Raiders play for a soft schedule and three modest victories to open Big 12 play, but win in Norman and everything changes. Chynna Brown has been a key to the team's early conference success, averaging 14.3 points and 29 minutes in Big 12 play, compared to 5.4 points and 14.9 minutes out of conference (although she really began to heat up after the Christmas break).
Danielle Robinson, Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg combined to take 62 of Oklahoma's 77 shots against Texas and took 70 percent of the team's shots in Hand's first four games back. By way of comparison, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh account for 62 percent of the Miami Heat's field goal attempts.
Saint Joseph's at Temple: After a strong start this season, Saint Joseph's dropped back-to-back home games against Xavier and Charlotte last week to fall to 1-2 in the Atlantic 10. Rebounding is unlikely to become a statistic the Hawks dominate, but double-digit deficits like the ones against the Musketeers and 49ers are tough to overcome. For Temple, unbeaten in its first three A-10 games, Kristen McCarthy sizzles. She opened with 22 points and nine rebounds in a win at Charlotte and is shooting 51 percent, including 43 percent from the 3-point line, in A-10 play.
BYU at TCU: It's a clash of unbeatens atop the Mountain West standings in Fort Worth. Stuck in neutral at 6-6 after a home loss against Georgia just before Christmas, TCU is now 12-6 overall and 4-0 in conference play, including a big 68-47 road win at Wyoming last Wednesday. Helena Sverrisdottir had just six more assists than turnovers in 14 games out of conference but is already nine ahead in four MWC games. BYU's only true road win this season came against BYU-Hawaii, Utah Valley and Air Force, leaving plenty for the Cougars to prove in Texas.
UCLA at Stanford: In UCLA's only loss, LSU got to the free-throw line 22 times and beat the Bruins on the boards in Westwood. In 15 wins, the Bruins averaged 21.5 free-throw attempts to 14.8 for their opponents, and 38.5 rebounds to 30.1 for their opponents, including edges in both categories in wins against Notre Dame and Temple. For all its ample size and toughness, Stanford gets to the free-throw line surprisingly infrequently -- it's one of just two top-10 teams, along with Michigan State, that has more 3-point attempts than free-throw attempts.
Michigan at Northwestern: It might not have looked like a big game when the schedules came out, but there is potentially a lot riding on Thursday's contest in Evanston. Michigan is 3-1 against ranked teams in the past month and could conceivably move into a tie atop the Big Ten with a win. Northwestern got its first win against Ohio State since 1999 last week but is 1-2 on the road in conference play after Sunday's loss at Purdue. The program's NCAA tournament hopes (it hasn't been since 1997) might ride on defending their home turf.
Georgia Tech at Duke: For Georgia Tech, the best ACC start in program history hinges on Monday's game at Wake Forest, but Friday's game at Cameron Indoor Stadium will tell a lot about whether this is a Yellow Jackets team with any chance to produce the best ending in program history. Georgia Tech hasn't come within 10 points of Duke since the 2006-07 season and hasn't beaten Duke since the 1993-94 season. Brilliant but not always economical in her shooting, Jasmine Thomas hit 14-of-23 shots in a pair of wins last season.
Florida Gulf Coast at USC Upstate: An otherwise light schedule just means more of the spotlight is available for an Atlantic Sun showdown between teams focused on regular-season glory. Florida Gulf Coast knocked off NCAA tournament regular East Tennessee State on Saturday in conference play and looks to secure another big road win here. USC Upstate dropped to 4-1 in conference play with a loss against Stetson on Saturday but has the league's leading scorer and rebounder in Chelsea McMillan (16.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg). Kelsey Jacobson needed just 10 shots to lead Florida Gulf Coast with 21 points Saturday, hitting five of 10 3-pointers and all six of her free throws.
West Virginia at Marquette: With apologies to St. Bonaventure, a good team with a distinctive style, this is the biggest true road test to date for No. 7 West Virginia. Before games against Seton Hall and Cincinnati last week, coach Mike Carey said the team was still adjusting to having Sarah Miles back. And while the Mountaineers didn't need anything close to perfection to rout both foes, 40 turnovers, including seven from Miles, suggests the adjustment continues. For Marquette, having the Angel Robinson who helped spark Saturday's double-overtime upset at Georgetown (18 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three turnovers) will be critical. She's just 8-of-34 from the field with 10 turnovers in three career games against the Mountaineers.
Illinois State at Missouri State: With Creighton off to a 3-0 start in Missouri Valley play and looking strong, neither of these teams wants to be saddled so early with a second league loss. Sophomore forward Christina Shorter, last season's MVC Freshman of the Year, led the Bears in each of their first two conference wins, scoring a total of 40 points in those games. But she attempted just seven shots to go with four fouls in 22 minutes in an 80-69 loss at Northern Iowa last week.
TCU at Wyoming: The Cowgirls effectively put all their eggs in the conference basket by playing a weak early schedule, but the strategy seems to be working thus far. Wyoming's Aubrey Vandiver put up 24 points in Saturday's win at New Mexico, and a win in Albuquerque is worth something, no matter what kind of season the Lobos are having. TCU has four wins in a row since a heartbreaking last-second loss against Georgia, including a 49-47 road win at San Diego State on Wednesday. Helena Sverrisdottir became TCU's all-time assists leader in Saturday's win over UNLV, totaling 24 points, seven rebounds and seven steals to go with her six assists.
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State: Has reality set in for No. 25 Oklahoma State, which opened Big 12 play Sunday with a 63-45 loss at Kansas State? The Cowgirls head to Baylor after Wednesday's game against the Aggies, so it's going to take some work to avoid an 0-3 league start after cracking the Top 25 with a 12-1 start to the season. No. 5 Texas A&M, on the other hand, hasn't won by fewer than 25 points since a loss at Duke early in December. During that seven-game stretch, point guard Sydney Colson has 52 assists against just 12 turnovers.
Louisville at Notre Dame: Louisville plays at No. 12 Notre Dame on Wednesday and at No. 2 Connecticut on Saturday, a road trip that could only be less appealing if it came with a layover in Vladivostok. But the game in South Bend is big, both as a test of where the Cardinals fit in the Big East table after a 3-0 league start and whether Notre Dame builds off or wallows in Saturday's heartbreaker against Connecticut. Monique Reid has been on fire of late for the Cardinals, scoring 20 or more in three consecutive games, including 24 points in a win over St. John's on Tuesday and 29 points against Pitt on Sunday.
Iowa at Michigan State: It's the second week of January, and only three Big Ten teams own winning records in conference play, so 3-0 versus 2-2 qualifies as a big deal, especially when it's No. 13 Michigan State and No. 22 Iowa in possession of those records. The Spartans obliterated Wisconsin and Michigan on the boards in wins last week and lead the Big Ten in rebounding margin, but the Hawkeyes are second in the category. In two games against Iowa last season, Michigan State totaled just nine second-chance points and was outrebounded by 17. The Hawkeyes won both games.
Oregon at USC: The Ducks bounced back from a rough opening weekend of conference play with wins at home against Washington and Washington State, but Paul Westhead's team wasn't exactly dominant on the stat sheet in either victory. If Oregon is going to be any sort of factor in the league, it needs to win on the road outside the Pacific Northwest -- and USC is at least a better bet for that than Stanford or UCLA. On the flip side, if USC's Briana Gilbreath, Ashley Corral and Jacki Gemelos can't get their shot back on track against a defense allowing 48.5 percent shooting in four Pac-10 games, the Women of Troy might have reason to worry.
Tennessee at Florida: Is this a potential game or a potential rout? It depends on which Florida you believe is the real deal. The Gators are 8-0 at home, including noteworthy victories against Charlotte, Old Dominion and Arkansas. They're just 1-5 in true road games, although the one came in Sunday's win at South Carolina, in which the Gators shot 56.5 percent. One thing that should worry Florida fans is that their team has more turnovers than the opponent in all three SEC games thus far. If No. 6 Tennessee has a weakness, it might be its propensity for turnovers (see: Georgetown). But 20 turnovers won't hurt the Lady Vols if they force 30.
Duke at Florida State: No. 3 Duke had plenty of headline performances last week, including Chelsea Gray's fortunate "shot" to beat Kentucky, and a pair of big scoring nights from Jasmine Thomas against the Wildcats and Maryland. But don't overlook Tricia Liston's seemingly small supporting role. Liston hit three of seven 3-point attempts in the wins, one more than the total long-distance contributions of every other Duke player not named Jasmine Thomas. While the 3-point line was largely a barren wasteland for the Blue Devils last season, it's now home to a number of role players -- including Liston, Gray, Shay Selby and Kathleen Scheer -- who can play the role of X factor on a given day.