Category archive: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Monday morning headline: Big Ten basketball is fun again.
As drama goes, the weekend in women's college basketball would merit at least a passing grade on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps the schedule didn't offer anything on the Oscar-worthy scale of Notre Dame beating Connecticut in overtime last weekend, or Kentucky edging Tennessee during the week, but thrills and spills were abundant.
On the heels of a big win at home against Maryland on Thursday, Miami earned a 60-57 victory at Florida State on Sunday when Stefanie Yderstrom hit a 3-pointer in the waning seconds to support Shenise Johnson's 24 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Yderstrom hit 7 of 13 shots from behind the arc in the two wins.
AP Photo/Al GoldisPurdue is unbeaten in Big Ten play, but Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska are right behind with 4-1 marks.
Rutgers rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit and held off Louisville in an overtime thriller, easily the biggest win of the season for a team that found itself in the top 10 with just one victory against a ranked team before Saturday's game.
Baylor needed only a half to dismantle Texas behind 32 points and 13 rebounds from Brittney Griner.
But for collective entertainment value, nothing topped the Big Ten. And that sentence has been a long time coming.
As painful as it is to write for someone who is at heart a Midwesterner, the Big Ten has been both boring and bad in recent seasons. At various times since Michigan State last represented the league in the Final Four, the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 or Colonial Athletic Association surpassed it in entertainment value -- and quite possibly in quality.
We won't really know about the quality part until March, when a league with two regional finals appearances and a 26-26 record in the past six NCAA tournaments tries to do something about those numbers. But Sunday offered hope that the race to be the best of whatever the Big Ten is will be worth watching in the weeks ahead.
Purdue, the league's stingiest defense, was at it again against Iowa. The Boilermakers (5-0) claimed sole possession of first place with a 57-53 win in which the Hawkeyes -- inconsistent but far from short on offense this season -- shot just 36 percent from the field. Only one team has reached 70 points against the Boilermakers this season (and curiously, for a team that played Duke, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, among others, it was Central Michigan).
At the other end of the pace spectrum in a game between teams in the top 25 nationally in scoring offense, Penn State evened the season series against Nebraska with a 93-73 road win in Lincoln that bunched up the standings with the Lady Lions at 3-2 and the Cornhuskers at 4-1. In two games, the teams combined for 300 points.
Right there with Nebraska in the one-loss club are Ohio State and Michigan State after the Buckeyes beat the Spartans 64-56 in East Lansing. As poorly as the Spartans played early -- and coach Suzy Merchant pulled out the word "soft" to describe her team's start -- they cut the lead to three points with a little more than five minutes to play. That's when Tayler Hill hit a momentum-crushing 3-pointer en route to 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, the kind of shot All-Americans make on the road when games start to slip away.
And not too far off the radar, quirky Michigan overcame 28 points from Minnesota freshman Rachel Banham -- who looks at times like the next coming of a familiar Big Ten face, Katie Douglas -- to earn a 61-57 win behind 20 points from Rachel Sheffer and more turnover-free basketball from Jenny Ryan.
Contrasting styles, close games and emerging stars. The weekend didn't prove the Big Ten is ready to win a title again, but it showed it's worth the price of admission.
Best individual performance, below the radar: Lauren Lenhardt, Boise State. Three days after scoring 23 points to lead Boise State to a 65-46 victory against New Mexico, the first game in the Mountain West Conference for the Broncos, Lenhardt topped that effort with 29 points in an 81-75 win at Air Force, her team's first conference road game. The Broncos won a total of three conference games last season in the Western Athletic Conference, but they lead the MWC in scoring by more than six points per game this season behind Lenhardt, a 6-foot-3 junior averaging 13.8 points per game, and senior guard Kati Isham, averaging 15.6 points per game.
Best streak: Courtney Hurt, VCU. Hurt totaled 28 points and 15 rebounds in Virginia Commonwealth's 83-80 win against William and Mary. That's six games in a row for Hurt with at least 15 rebounds and 11 of 12 games with double-digit rebounds, propelling her to the national lead at 12.7 boards per game.
Best team performance: Saint Mary's (Calif.). The Gaels staked themselves to at least a share of West Coast Conference frontrunner status with a 66-63 road win against No. 23 Gonzaga, getting 18 points from Alex Carbonel, almost eight better than her season average. The result marked the first conference loss for Gonzaga since the 2008-09 season, ending the team's 34-game conference winning streak. Saint Mary's now owns wins against both Gonzaga and BYU this season and has lost just once in its past 10 games.
Best team not enough people are paying attention to: St. Bonaventure. More on the Bonnies in the days to come, but a 64-52 win against St. Louis moved them to 3-0 in the Atlantic 10 for the first time in program history, and 16-2 overall. With wins against Marist, Duquesne, St. John's, Temple and West Virginia, and losses against only Delaware and Villanova (the latter without second-leading scorer Megan Van Tatenhove, because of injury), St. Bonaventure has earned more support in the polls than it's getting at the moment. Seven days ago, before a midweek win at Temple and the weekend win against St. Louis, it received just one vote in the AP poll and none in the coaches' poll -- in which St. John's and West Virginia each received votes.
The week ahead
North Carolina at Connecticut (ESPN2, 7 ET Monday): The margin of victory for Connecticut in recent seasons makes it easy to forget that the Huskies claimed the all-time series lead for the first time last season. Despite a soft schedule, North Carolina turns over the ball 19.3 times per game. That's less of a problem when foes like USC-Upstate or Savannah State turn it over 20-plus times, but it is a big problem against teams that aren't physically overmatched, as in blowout losses against Penn State and South Carolina earlier this season. There aren't many imposing post players left on Connecticut's schedule, so a matchup against Clay Shegog is an important test for Stefanie Dolson. Of course, the same is true in reverse for Shegog, who has hit just 4 of 19 shots in three career games against the Huskies.
Rutgers at St. John's (Tuesday): Rutgers kicked off a potentially season-defining three-week stretch with an overtime win against Louisville on Saturday. Games loom against Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown and Notre Dame before the Super Bowl. But St. John's had quietly been building up a head of steam of its own, including a win against Louisville on Jan. 8 and a win at Syracuse last week, before a setback against Marquette on Sunday. Neither team can afford to lose this one.
Duquesne at Temple (Wednesday): There's quite a crowd forming in the Atlantic 10 when it comes to NCAA tournament positioning. Five A-10 teams were ranked between Nos. 38-54 in last week's RPI, not including Temple at No. 66 or current league co-leaders Charlotte and La Salle. It's difficult to see the league getting more than one or perhaps two at-large bids (Charlie Creme had St. Bonaventure as the only at-large pick in his most recent Bracketology), so every game between contenders takes on the feel of something close to a playoff.
Baylor at Texas Tech (Wednesday): Baylor has lost two regular-season games since the start of last season. One defeat came in Hartford against Connecticut. The other came against Texas Tech in Lubbock on Feb. 19, 2011, a 56-45 setback in which the Lady Bears shot just 26 percent and were beaten on the boards. So far this season, only Tennessee beat Baylor on the boards in a game, and only Iowa State held the Lady Bears to anything less than 40 percent shooting. And yes, it's the last meeting in Lubbock between Griner and Lady Raiders senior Jordan Barncastle.
LSU at Tennessee (Thursday): Kentucky's trip to Georgia the same night might arguably be the bigger game in the SEC, especially after LSU's loss at Florida and Kentucky's win against South Carolina on Sunday, but Nikki Caldwell's first trip to Knoxville as an SEC coach stands out as a must-see game.
Loyola at Marist (Friday): Is this on the list because it's on ESPNU at 6 p.m. ET? Well, yes, now that you mention it. But the combination of a typically light schedule and television provides an opportunity to check in on one of the more familiar mid-major names. It's a longer list than the Red Foxes are used to, but there isn't a bad loss among setbacks against Villanova, Princeton, Boston University, Hofstra, St. Bonaventure and Kansas State. So push back the dinner reservation an hour and watch Red Foxes star Corielle Yarde.
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.
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.
How much of a difference is there between reloading and rebuilding? Judging by the events at the Devaney Center in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday afternoon, there's at least 57 points' worth of difference. A meeting of two programs facing very similar challenges entering the season offered two very different conclusions as Nebraska opened its season with a record-breaking 95-38 win against Vermont.
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaSophomore Lindsey Moore hit a career-high five 3-pointers as Nebraska nailed a school-record 17 treys to beat Vermont 95-38 Saturday.
Nebraska averaged 77.4 points last season, good for 10th in the nation as it claimed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But it lost 44.4 of those points per game in the forms of starters Kelsey Griffin, Cory Montgomery and Yvonne Turner (not to mention a few more from three other seniors). Not that Vermont likely offered much in the way of sympathy. The Catamounts didn't just lose five starters -- including program cornerstones Courtney Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos to graduation and promising freshman Kendra Seto to transfer -- but their coach as well, when Sharon Dawley took the job at Massachusetts.
So for new Vermont coach Lori Gear McBride, the task is most definitely to rebuild from the ground up. For Nebraska coach Connie Yori, the ground remains a long way down.
The Huskers hit a school-record 17 3-pointers on Saturday, besting the old record by five. Point guard Lindsey Moore, who hit 24 3-pointers on 28.9 percent shooting during an otherwise stellar freshman season in 2009-10, knocked down five in the opener. Junior Kaitlyn Burke, who played in just six games before taking a redshirt last season, hit all four of her 3-point attempts. And freshman Jordan Hooper, showing no shyness in her collegiate debut, hit three of her seven attempts from behind the line. Nebraska isn't going to do that every game, but it says something that the Huskers have the personnel to do it in even one game.
Moore, Burke and Dominique Kelley (a rare cold hand from outside against Vermont who still scored 13 points) make for a nice backcourt foundation. A highly decorated prep forward in the state, Hooper is an athletic presence at forward whose potential, at least, is not altogether unlike a certain former All-American -- only with more range. And in 6-foot-3 Catheryn Redmon and 6-4 Jessica Periago, there is size and skill inside.
Even if Saturday was an outlier, that doesn't seem like the core of a rebuilding effort.
There is a sense that Nebraska's No. 23 preseason ranking is a remnant of last season's success, a final tribute to what the team was, rather than what it is. And maybe if Nebraska wasn't the reigning conference champion, this particular collection of talent might not draw the early attention of voters. But at least on first glance, it's a group that has the potential to earn its own plaudits down the road.
Of course, a good first day doesn't guarantee much over the course of a season. Two years ago, Nebraska opened its campaign with a 96-47 win against Weber State, a game in which the Huskers knocked down a program record 12 3-pointers. Without Griffin, who missed the entire season because of injuries, they finished the season with a first-round WNIT loss and a 15-16 record.
Four things that caught my eye
AP Photo/Michael ConroyAmy Jaeschke has been one of the Big Ten's best posts for a while, and dropped 28 points on LSU on Sunday.
Northwestern could be ready to make a move. All Joe McKeown needed was a little time. Of course, inheriting a 6-5 center with All-American skills didn't hurt. The Wildcats got the season started in a big way with a 71-62 win against LSU (on the heels of a 66-37 win against Dartmouth in the actual opener). Senior center Amy Jaeschke had 28 points and four blocks against the Tigers, while junior forward Brittany Orban did some of the dirty work with 18 points and 17 rebounds. With a skilled point guard running things in Beth Marshall, Northwestern has potential to make some noise.
Illinois State made a statement. Former Redbirds coach Robin Pingeton got her tenure at Missouri off on the right foot with a win against Memphis, but took the first loss of a major rebuilding effort against Eastern Illinois on Sunday. The news was better for her old team. Minus its old coach and three starters from last season's WNIT semifinals team, Illinois State knocked off Illinois on the Big Ten team's court to open the Stephanie Glance era. The Redbirds did it despite attempting just five 3-pointers, getting to the free throw line 30 times and beating the Illini on the boards. Next up for the Redbirds? Eastern Illinois. Well, that shouldn't lead to any comparisons or anything.
Oklahoma has some big question marks in the post, and that's not a bad thing. Always willing to go on the road and take on a challenge, Oklahoma struggled for the first 30 minutes of its opener at Milwaukee but rode Danielle Robinson's near triple-double (20 points, 11 assists, 8 steals) to a comfortable win. The win had its rough spots, including a modest 31-28 rebounding edge against the undersized Horizon League team, but while the Sooners look like a perimeter-oriented squad, they showed potential inside with sophomore Joanna McFarland and junior-college transfer Jelena Cerina, among others on a crowded bench.
Justine Raterman is really good. Ohio State All-American Jantel Lavender put up 37 points against Temple (and 26 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists against Eastern Michigan), Connecticut's Tiffany Hayes went for 32 against Holy Cross and Meighan Simmons put up 22 in her Tennessee debut. There were plenty of great individual performances over the weekend, but few were better than Justine Raterman's run against Penn State. Dayton dropped a 112-107 double-overtime decision, but Raterman went for 32 points and nine rebounds in 44 minutes -- a marathon effort under any circumstance and positively amazing given Dayton's rotation. That Flyers coach Jim Jabir wanted and/or needed her on the court that much tells you plenty about the game she had and the player she is.
The week ahead
Monday: No. 5 Duke hosting USC ranks as the highlight. The Women of Troy opened the season with a 79-73 win against Gonzaga in which Michael Cooper's team shot 63 percent in the second half. But against Duke's pressure, USC needs to improve on 25 turnovers in its opener. Other highlights include No. 14 Florida State visiting Auburn after Seminoles freshman Natasha Howard debuted with 20 points and seven rebounds against Alabama State and No. 6 Xavier visiting Michigan. Outside the rankings, Toledo's Naama Shafir (20 points, 6 assists versus St. Francis) gets a big WNIT stage at Purdue.
Tuesday: The showdown in Hartford isn't the only game of note on the schedule, even if it's the only one likely to make "SportsCenter." In addition to Connecticut-Baylor, No. 13 Georgetown hosts Maryland with Beltway-ish bragging rights on the line. The Terrapins played 13 players against Monmouth on Saturday, so Brenda Frese's presumably shortened rotation will bear watching. Arkansas-Little Rock travels to Texas A&M, giving Chastity Reed a chance to prove she's the best player on the court against a big-time opponent.
Wednesday: Ohio State's visit to Baton Rouge looks like the best of the bunch, even after the Tigers dropped their opener. This will be the second tough road game of the season's first six days for the Buckeyes, after Friday's win at Temple. Maybe it won't be "first to 100 wins" when Miami visits Nebraska, but it should be a good offensive show and a real test of just where the Huskers are right now. Someone is going to be 3-0 after NC State and Alabama meet in Tuscaloosa, reason enough to keep an eye on it.
Thursday: Brand recognition alone makes No. 15 UCLA at No. 12 Notre Dame an interesting matchup, but it's a chance for the Bruins to score a move to 3-0 after quality wins at San Diego State and at home against UC Santa Barbara. Assuming Notre Dame gets by Morehead State on Monday, it's a first opportunity for the Fighting Irish to show their stuff against a top foe. With apologies to Monmouth, Seton Hall, NJIT and the rest, Garden State bragging rights are on the line when Princeton visits Rutgers. Princeton committed 28 turnovers in a 60-50 loss at home last season, so Tigers guards Lauren Polansky and Addie Micir are on the hot seat.
They won't play the Canadian anthem at Freedom Hall in Louisville before Monday's second-round game between No. 4 seed Kentucky and fifth-seeded Michigan State, but with Ontario native Kalisha Keane lined up alongside her Spartans teammates, it wouldn't be without receptive ears.
Just as they could play it before Dayton's Kendel Ross takes the court against Tennessee. Or when Vermont starters Courtnay Pilypaitis, May Kotsopoulos, Kendra Seto and three of their teammates play Notre Dame. Or as they could have when Keane's sister, Tamika, faced Notre Dame in the first round. (With Canadian Natalie Achonwa among the headliners of the Irish's recruiting class, South Bend might want the practice.)
Tim G. Zechar/Icon SMIDayton's Kendel Ross is one of many proud Canadians making their presence felt in the NCAA tournament.
Or when Gonzaga's Janelle Bekkering and Nebraska's Harleen Sidhu and Kaitlin Burke play their respective second-round games.
Look around the rosters in the NCAA, and it starts to feel like a Canadian invasion that you don't need the late John Candy to sell. They're here, and they aren't trying to blend in.
"I definitely feel Canadian," Ross said earlier this season with an appropriately Canadian mix of chagrinned pride. "I don't let people forget it either. I have the Canadian hat, scarf, mitts on. I'm very proud of where I'm from."
And as most of the above players have already demonstrated, they can take over the tournament as well.
Dayton's second-leading scorer this season, Ross not only helped the Flyers reach the NCAA tournament for the first time but helped them in their memorable comeback win against TCU in the first round with team highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds. Pilypaitis and Kotsopoulos combined for 39 points, 12 rebounds and six assists to finally get underdogs in the win column in No. 10 Vermont's mild seed-line upset of No. 7 Wisconsin.
And while Keane didn't have her best day against Bowling Green in the first round, Michigan State's leading scorer could be a key figure against Kentucky in the second round.
"I think those Canadian kids just have a sense of maturity about them, too, and just such a high basketball IQ, too," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "They just get it. They play in such a way, and they play so many games up there compared to what we can do in the States. Most of our [high school] kids are like 20-2 at the end of their season and [the Canadians] are like 45-15. They just play so many more games than we do, and I think that, over time, gives them that sense of experience and wealth of knowledge."
They also stick together, particularly those from the relative provincial basketball hotbeds of Ontario and British Columbia. In the days leading up to Sunday's game against the Catamounts, Pilypaitis reached out to Keane via the Web for a scouting report on the Big Ten's Badgers.
Of course, even Canadians have their shameful secrets.
"I can't skate; I still can't to this day," Ross admitted. "I took it for five years, and I can't do it. For some reason. I'm not coordinated or balanced enough to do it. So I was thrown into a basketball league, and that's just kind of the direction I took."
The direction turned out to be south across the border.