Category archive: North Carolina Tar Heels
Monday morning headline: Nebraska makes itself at home in Big Ten. Coaches love to caution after early wins that conference play is a long road, but the Big Ten's newest team isn't likely to need the reminder.
Nebraska's first three nonconference road trips of the season took it to Flagstaff, Ariz., Tallahassee, Fla., and Atlanta, all of which are roughly the same distance from Lincoln as State College, Pa., where the Cornhuskers opened their first season of Big Ten competition Friday night with a 71-63 win against No. 17 Penn State.
Welcome to the Big Ten. Don't forget to pack an extra magazine or two for those flights.
The curious geography of conference realignment aside, the win lends credence to the notion that the arrival of the Cornhuskers could further shake up a race that has more often than not come down to some combination of Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue in recent seasons. And in an entirely non-coincidental development, it's possible that the Big Ten's best player by the end of the season will turn out to have been absent from the preseason all-conference teams selected by coaches and media.
Jordan Hooper still has plenty of competition for Big Ten individual bragging rights from the likes of Ohio State's Tayler Hill and Samantha Prahalis, Penn State's Alex Bentley and Iowa's Jaime Printy, if not also from teammate Lindsey Moore. But Hooper made an opening statement that ought to resonate for some time. The Nebraska sophomore totaled 31 points and 12 rebounds against the Lady Lions. The only other player to collect at least 30 points and 10 rebounds against Penn State this season was Elena Delle Donne, good company to keep.
With an emerging star in Hooper (21.2 points, 9.2 rebounds per game on the season) and one of the nation's best point guards in Moore (16.2 points per game, 5.8 assists per game, 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and 41.5 percent shooting from the 3-point line, compared to 34 percent last season and 29 percent as a freshman), the Cornhuskers have the top-line talent to go to places like State College, Columbus, Iowa City and East Lansing and win.
But it doesn't stop there for a team that, as someone pointed out to me earlier this season, is getting one last push from former All-American Kelsey Griffin. One of two freshmen to start the game against the Lady Lions, Emily Cady totaled 10 rebounds and two blocks. And at various times, Cady, Hailie Sample and Brandi Jeffery have all shown the ability to contribute in big ways. The connection to Griffin? This is the class that signed after watching her lead Nebraska to a 32-2 record and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Best individual weekend performance: Sugar Rodgers, Georgetown. Granted, the stakes weren't as high as when Rodgers scored 24 points to help Georgetown rout Miami a week earlier, but she didn't show any holiday rust against Vermont and Dartmouth in the latter's Blue Sky Classic. Rodgers scored 34 points in 32 minutes in an opening victory against Vermont, and then went out the next day and made that look workmanlike by comparison, scoring a career-high 39 points in 26 minutes against host Dartmouth. That's 97 points in the final 10 days of 2011, and she didn't even play the University of Washington football team.
Best team weekend performance: Middle Tennessee. This is playing fast and loose with the notion of the weekend, since Middle Tennessee's victory Saturday against South Alabama wasn't the stuff of legend, but stretching it to an extended holiday timeline hauls in a big upset win against Kentucky last Wednesday. Despite playing heavy minutes against a Wildcats defense with no shortage of fresh bodies, Icelyn Elie and Ebony Rowe combined to hit 16-of-21 shots from the floor and 12-of-14 shots from the free-throw line. Kortni Jones finished with 10 turnovers but committed just three in 20 minutes in the second half, as the Blue Raiders withstood Kentucky's inevitable charge. When you play the kind of schedule Rick Insell does, you're going to take some lumps (a 6-5 record to start the season) if you don't have an Alysha Clark or Chrissy Givens, former MTSU superstars. You're also going to be prepared for games like the one against Kentucky.
Mid-major watch: West Coast Conference surprise. So perhaps BYU, sixth in last week's mid-major rankings, isn't the team No. 24 Gonzaga needs to worry about in the West Coast Conference. Or at the very least, perhaps it isn't the only team to worry about. BYU's WCC debut ended with a thud in a 54-48 loss at Saint Mary's. The Gaels shot 29 percent and turned over the ball 20 times, but they bludgeoned the Cougars 43-31 on the glass, including 17 offensive rebounds, and got to the free-throw line 28 times. Saint Mary's used 30 points and 12 rebounds from Maryland transfer Jackie Nared and Jasmine Smith, the key components of a résumé that includes victories against Virginia Tech, Oregon and Oregon State (Smith scored 35 at Oregon on Dec. 21, two days after Nared scored 26 at Oregon State).
The week ahead (Monday-Friday)
Miami at North Carolina (Monday): If both teams enter with something to prove, does it negate the possibility of either proving anything? Final Four teams don't lose the way Miami lost at Georgetown before Christmas, failing to break 50 points in a 71-46 drubbing, leaving a team with two road wins, one of which was against Alaska-Anchorage, with questions to answer as it hits the road in ACC play. The Hurricanes scored their biggest road victory last season in Chapel Hill, but they might not want to duplicate a formula that saw Riquna Williams take 31 shots while Shenise Johnson took just nine (admittedly in 27 foul-plagued minutes).
DePaul at Georgetown (Tuesday): It's a matchup of two of the Big East's top three scorers, and Keisha Hampton isn't even in that mix (at least she's back on the court). As mentioned above, Rodgers enters the second conference game for both teams on a tear, but she isn't the only one. DePaul's Anna Martin scored 30 points against Northern Illinois on Dec. 31 to ensure Doug Bruno earned career win No. 500 before the calendar turned to 2012. Martin has scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games and is third in the conference at 19 points per game.
West Virginia at Connecticut (Wednesday): Connecticut doesn't fall for trap games, but there isn't anything appealing about facing West Virginia three days before a big game against Notre Dame in South Bend. The Huskies are 23-1 in the all-time series against the Mountaineers, but Mike Carey's teams have given them some fights in recent seasons, including last season's 57-51 Connecticut win in Morgantown. West Virginia turns over the ball too much for its own good in this kind of game, but the Mountaineers also play Carey's typically suffocating, physical defense.
Michigan at Michigan State (Wednesday): Speaking of series domination, Michigan State has treated its supposed in-state rival like one of the state's MAC directional schools in recent seasons. And by recent, I mean since the turn of the century. The Wolverines haven't won in East Lansing since 2001 and are 1-17 overall in the past 18 meetings. But Kevin Borseth's team enters this game with a 12-2 record after crushing Illinois 70-50 in its Big Ten opener. Michigan's Jenny Ryan has 18 assists and one turnover in her last 107 minutes on the court.
Iowa State at Oklahoma (Wednesday): Another midweek game that is far more intriguing than the lack of rankings might suggest. The Sooners have won five in a row since falling to .500 with three consecutive losses against Vanderbilt, Ohio State and Fresno State, with a different leading scorer in each of the past four victories. Iowa State's opponents in the Cyclone Challenge last week, Buffalo and New Hampshire, aren't Big 12 quality, but it's still worth noting that Chelsea Poppens piled up 33 points and 29 rebounds in the team's two easy wins.
Georgia at Tennessee (Thursday): Without being dismissive of a 12-2 team, there isn't anything Georgia does demonstrably better than Tennessee. The Bulldogs force more turnovers, but they also did much of that damage against the kind of teams they should turn over 25-plus times per game. The Lady Vols have the rebounding and shooting (although they are 3-of-21 on 3-pointers in the past three halves of basketball) to win even if they get a little sloppy with the ball. But if the Bulldogs can't force those miscues, it's tough to envision any path to victory.
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.