Category archive: Oklahoma Sooners
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.
DAYTON, Ohio -- The smiles weren't confined to Irish eyes on Saturday. Then again, there was plenty to grin about.
AP Photo/Al BehrmanBrittany Mallory put on a clinic in Notre Dame's Sweet 16 rout of Oklahoma.
Playing well enough on both ends of the court to build a double-digit lead in the first half and maintain it throughout the second half, Notre Dame cruised to a 78-53 win against Oklahoma in the day's second regional semifinal.
Senior Brittany Mallory, one of the many Fighting Irish players who couldn't contain an occasional smile as the game unfolded in almost perfect fashion for the No. 2 seed, led all scorers with 20 points. Skylar Diggins set a career high with 12 assists and Devereaux Peters finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, her second consecutive double-double.
Some quick thoughts on the action from Dayton:
Turning point: It wasn't quite a return to the Dust Bowl, but all that was missing from Oklahoma's first-half scoring drought were tumbleweeds blowing across the court. When Oklahoma's Joanna McFarland stepped to the line with a chance to complete a three-point play with a little more than 12 minutes left in the first half, the score was tied 13-13. McFarland missed the free throw and the Sooners missed just about everything else the rest of the half (with plenty of help from Notre Dame's defense). They scored just two field goals the rest of the period, and even that only with the assistance of Danielle Robinson's runner with five seconds remaining before halftime.
Key player: Devereaux Peters. When you can block a shot on the baseline, give the ball up to a guard and still beat everyone down the court to get fouled shooting a layup on the ensuing fast break, you may just have a special skill set. Or for that matter, when you're a 6-foot-2 post who can pick Robinson's pocket at the top of your team's full-court pressure, as Peters did at one point. Peters was a player for whom Oklahoma just didn't have a counter.
Key stat: 6. Mallory's 3-pointers were more than she totaled in Notre Dame's past eight games, including an 0-for-6 dry spell against Utah and Temple in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. She is the Fighting Irish's most prolific long-range shooter, and even with the recent drought, one of its most accurate at nearly 41 percent. Notre Dame is not a team that relies on the 3-pointer, but Mallory's hot hand made the team's inside game -- be it from the post players or penetration from Diggins and Natalie Novosel -- that much more difficult to defend.
Fond farewell: It wasn't a fitting ending for either player, but Ohio State senior Jantel Lavender and Oklahoma senior Danielle Robinson both exited the college game doing all they could to prolong their careers. Lavender battled Tennessee's rotating big bodies to the point of exhaustion and finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in the first game. Stymied by a good defensive effort from Notre Dame, Robinson still managed to go out with 16 points and five assists.
What's next: Notre Dame advances to Monday's regional final against Tennessee and will play for its first trip to the Final Four since winning the national championship in 2001.
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.
Four things that caught my eye
1. Morgan Hook might be the nation's most dangerous H-O-R-S-E player. Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops briefly joined color analyst Billy Tubbs on the regional television call of Sunday's game between Sherri Coale's Sooners and New Mexico, meaning they were short only Barry Switzer and possibly the spirit of the late Bud Wilkinson in putting together a heck of a panel on how to make the most of home-field or home-court advantage in Norman, Okla.
AP Photo/Kevin RivoliSyracuse coach Quentin Hillsman might get criticized for a lack of travel before the conference season starts, but Saturday's home upset of Ohio State was huge.
Then again, by the time the game was over, Sooners freshman guard Morgan Hook might have ranked as the foremost expert on the subject in attendance.
Hook scored her first 15 points on 3-pointers against a Lobos team that refused to play the role of sacrificial lamb. Hook has scored 32 of her 40 field goals this season from behind the arc -- a number that includes hitting 19 of her last 25 3-point attempts at home. But it was her field goal from point-blank range that saved the day for the Sooners and suggested she's more than a shooter.
With the Sooners down one with 10.2 seconds remaining, she got the ball back after making a sideline inbounds pass (the Lobos doubled Danielle Robinson) and needed just three dribbles to get to the opposite side of the paint and finish a long, scooping layup in traffic.
Oklahoma looks like the dictionary definition of a young team that's going to be better in March than it is right now, particularly if Whitney Hand returns from a long injury layoff as anything close to her old self. But between Hook and Aaryn Ellenberg, who struggled Sunday but more than proved her potential in last week's loss against Ohio State, the present isn't too bad alongside Robinson.
And just as last year's escape at Marist early in the season marked a step in that team's evolution and in Nyeshia Stevenson's development as a go-to option, Sunday might prove the same for Hook and the Sooners.
2. Tennessee has more options than an Army-Navy football game. Chelsea at Tottenham was an enjoyable Sunday morning appetizer for the main course of Tennessee at Texas, so perhaps I just had depth on the brain after Chelsea afforded itself the luxury of bringing on Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard as subs. But even as Pat Summitt shortened her bench on the road at Texas, playing four players for 30-plus minutes and giving double-digit minutes to just six players in all, two fewer than in any previous game this season, Tennessee's depth stood out -- even if only in the form of potential energy.
It wasn't that Summitt couldn't go deeper; it's that she had the luxury not to, having found a lineup that the Longhorns couldn't stop and having kept those players fresh in previous games. Consider one of the answers on the postgame quote sheet from Texas coach Gail Goestenkors after her team's 92-77 loss.
"We didn't know what kind of lineup they would start," Goestenkors said. "They have changed their lineups a little bit recently. When [Kelley] Cain's in there they are so big and strong, and when [Shekinna] Stricklen is out on the perimeter, they are one of the toughest, tallest teams to guard. Lately they have been going a little bit smaller, with Kamiko [Williams] in there and [Meighan] Simmons. They have one of the quickest backcourts in the country, so they aren't as big."
And so after Angie Bjorklund got all of her 20 points in the first half, Williams and Simmons took over in the second, with Stricklen and Johnson doing all that was needed inside against the small Longhorns.
To a large degree, we know what Connecticut is. It's just nobody has figured out how to stop that for the past two-plus seasons. And while Baylor and Stanford have taken the occasional loss (albeit mostly at the hands of Connecticut), the same is essentially true of those two teams, the next tests on Tennessee's schedule. The Lady Bears and Cardinal are going to get better at being who they are between now and March, but the basic essence of what they are isn't going to change -- doesn't need to change. What's intriguing about Tennessee is it's not entirely clear what the Lady Vols are -- or that they need to be the same thing every time out. Maybe the Georgetown loss suggests the Lady Vols are still working through it themselves, but when you've got perhaps the deepest roster out there, you've got a lot of looks to throw at opponents.
3. Syracuse showed its doubters something. Syracuse still needs to schedule some road games to be played before Auld Lang Syne is retired each year, but folks like me need recipes for crow with all the leftovers from the Orange knocking off Ohio State on Saturday. Soft early schedule notwithstanding, Syracuse showed off a tough interior in owning the glass against an Ohio State team with Jantel Lavender collecting 14 offensive rebounds despite shooting a more-than-respectable 43.8 percent from the floor and holding an overall 43-33 rebounding edge. And in a battle of New York-area point guards that precedes the coming weekend's showdown at Madison Square Garden between Ohio State's Samantha Prahalis and Connecticut's Bria Hartley, Syracuse senior Erica Morrow got the best of Prahalis with 27 points and just two turnovers in 39 minutes.
Syracuse gets another chance to make a statement when it faces Baylor on a neutral court in the Bahamas on Dec. 21, but the Orange and coach Quentin Hillsman deserve their due. It's easy to play the bully against the likes of Cornell, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Delaware State. It's not easy against Ohio State, and it deserves a tip of the cap.
4. April Sykes is still here. Rutgers sophomore Monique Oliver had the starring role in Rutgers' biggest win of the young season, totaling 21 points and 17 rebounds against Georgetown on Dec. 9, but that game and Sunday's loss at Boston College offered a glimpse at an April Sykes long rumored but rarely seen. Sykes scored 17 points against Georgetown and 32 points against Boston College, and finished the two games a combined 11-of-21 on 3-point attempts. Those two efforts alone total more than a quarter of the points she scored all last season, and she's just 32 points shy of matching her single-season high. It's not the big game next Sunday, but Rutgers matching up with Texas A&M as the opening act for Connecticut and Ohio State looks more and more intriguing.
The week ahead
Monday: The Windy City derby between DePaul (11-1) and Northwestern (8-1) merits the spotlight for reasons beyond a light schedule. DePaul's Keisha Hampton became the program's 25th player to reach 1,000 points during Saturday's win against Northern Illinois, and the junior has scored 20 percent of those points during this season's first 12 games. Forced by injuries to play 38 minutes a game last season, DePaul point guard Sam Quigley's assist-to-turnover ratio has gone from 1.34 last season to 2.15 in much more manageable minutes this season. For Northwestern, which beat DePaul last season for the first time in more than a decade, senior center Amy Jaeschke is coming off a 37-point, 17-rebound effort against Central Michigan on Saturday.
New Mexico State's trip to Michigan marks the day's only other game between teams with winning records. The Wolverines' four losses this season came against Xavier, Marquette, Texas A&M and Iowa State (with only the Xavier game in Ann Arbor), hardly an embarrassing state of affairs. And particularly in wins against Wake Forest and Kansas, they seem to be playing Kevin Borseth's brand of basketball.
Tuesday: Whatever rotation Tennessee uses when it travels down the road from Austin to Waco and a matchup against Baylor, everyone who gets on the court better bring something to the table. Of course, where Brittney Griner is concerned, it will help the Lady Vols if Kelley Cain is one of those players on the court. Cain left Sunday's game with what was described on the broadcast as a right hip contusion. Baylor hasn't played since beating Minnesota on Dec. 5, but Griner is working on a string of four consecutive games with at least 20 points. Perhaps just as impressively, she had a total of five turnovers in those games. Griner doesn't get enough credit for taking care of the ball better than most posts. There might be times when she's still too cautious in making an offensive move, or when she shoots going away from the basket, but she doesn't give away possessions.
Saint Mary's (Calif.) at Arkansas-Little Rock isn't quite the game it could have been before Thanksgiving, but it's still an inter-region mid-major clash. And it still features a pair of intriguing leads in Little Rock's Chastity Reed and Saint Mary's Louella Tomlinson. Reed didn't travel to her team's weekend loss at Memphis, its third defeat in a row, for what the Memphis Commercial Appeal described as disciplinary reasons.
Wednesday: Wisconsin and Washington State aren't making reservations for Indianapolis, but they're the first and last BCS conference schools on Wyoming's schedule, starting with the Badgers traveling to Laramie for Wednesday's game (the Cougars visit on Saturday). So while it would be fun to see Wyoming's dynamic duo of Hillary Carlson and Aubrey Vandiver (33.3 points and 17.8 rebounds per game between them) play some higher-profile games, this will have to do.
What says Big East like an Ohio River rivalry between Louisville and Cincinnati? Just wait until TCU joins the mix. But geography aside, Wednesday's conference game is the third tough test in a row for the Bearcats, who started the season with five consecutive wins before losses at Dayton and at home against Xavier. It's also an intriguing individual matchup of breakout backcourt stars between Louisville freshman Shoni Schimmel and Cincinnati senior Shareese Ulis, who put up 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting in the 69-61 loss against Xavier a week ago.
Thursday: Stanford has a key stretch looming with a road trip to Tennessee this coming weekend and home games against Xavier and Connecticut after Christmas, but the Cardinal aren't taking it easy in advance of all of that, instead heading to Chicago to face DePaul on Thursday. They didn't look rusty Sunday against Fresno State after a long layoff for finals, including 10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench from Sarah Boothe. Because if there's one thing Stanford didn't have enough of on a roster with more double-double potential than In-N-Out, it's size.
Put Arizona State's Charli Turner Thorne on the list of coaches willing to go where so many others fear to tread -- tough mid-major gyms. Arizona State's visit to South Dakota State starts a nice weekend of basketball for fans in Brookings, where the hometown Jackrabbits also host Iowa on Saturday. Reserve Steph Paluch (17 assists, 14 turnovers) is the only South Dakota State player with more assists than turnovers, something reflected in a loss at Northern Iowa on Saturday in which the Summit League team had 26 turnovers and nine assists.
Friday: Tulane already knocked off LSU and gets a shot at sweeping the state's big names when Louisiana Tech comes calling Friday. The Green Wave will be coming off more than a week and a half without a game, an annual break that has generally been pretty kind to them (winning the first game back in four of the past five seasons, including at South Florida last season).
Speaking of Tulane and Louisiana Tech, those are the two teams to beat Mississippi State this season, a fact the Lady Bulldogs will find it difficult to keep true on the road against Xavier (not to mention Wednesday's game at Southern Miss).
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.
No. 7 CaliforniaComing off a second consecutive appearance in a super regional, despite having to win back-to-back regionals on another team's field, Cal's momentum appears headed solidly in one direction. Not least because in addition to losing just two starters from last season's team, the Bears add Washington transfer Jace Williams, who managed a .914 OPS as a freshman for the Huskies in 2008, and a freshman class highlighted by the EA Sports All-America battery of Jolene Henderson and Lindsey Ziegenhirt.
California AthleticsIn 19 conference games last season, Reid hit .377, seventh in the league, and stole 13 bases.
And you don't have to look very far in Berkeley to see that even in the country's best conference, newcomers can prosper without much of an apprenticeship.
The Pac-10 season can knock the wind out of just about any freshman. Like the SEC in football or the ACC in women's soccer, there are no easy games but ample opportunities for tailspins. So it's not without note that the conference grind is also where Cal freshman Jamia Reid caught her second wind during a successful debut for the Bears.
In 19 conference games last season, Reid hit .377, seventh in the league, and stole 13 bases, tied for the lead with Washington's Ashley Charters. The former came on the heels of a .352 batting average in her 37 nonconference games. Granted, the Pac-10 might not have featured its usual assortment of aces last season, and 19 games is a tiny sample size. But Reid still stood out, even in the company of other freshmen who wasted little time putting themselves among the elite.
In addition to Reid, five other freshman in the Pac-10 hit at least .300 for the entire season: Ashley Hansen (.400), Stanford; Kimi Pohlman (.360), Washington; Lini Koria (.352), Arizona; Katelyn Boyd (.308), Arizona State; Andrea Harrison (.303), UCLA. Of that quintet, only Pohlman's average improved during conference play, from .359 to .361.
No. 8 OklahomaAmber Flores spent her first three seasons at Oklahoma proving she's one of the nation's best players no matter where she plays -- second base, shortstop, outfield, wherever she's needed. Last season, her on-base percentage (.594) ranked second in the nation, trailing only Katie Cochran; Flores was seventh nationally in slugging percentage (both were career highs but right in line with her previous production).
It doesn't take very long to come to appreciate the slugger.
"She's just such a competitor," Oklahoma freshman Keilani Ricketts said of her first impressions. "And you can tell how much she loves the game; she just makes it look so easy."
Already a patient hitter, Flores will have that virtue tested without Samantha Ricketts behind her in the order (opponents intentionally walked Flores just four times last season). But just about the only thing the All-American doesn't do is pitch, and that is where Ricketts can provide some cover.
It's not entirely fair to lay Oklahoma's postseason disappointments at the feet of the pitching staff. In 2008, D.J. Mathis threw three NCAA tournament shutouts, and Mathis wasn't on the hook for the stunning 1-0, 11-inning loss against North Dakota State that threw open last year's regional in Norman, Okla. (she pitched 8.1 shutout innings in that game).
But it's also true that since Kami Keiter graduated after the 2005 season, no pitcher for the Sooners has put herself in the mix for the program's top five in career ERA. There have been some good pitchers recently; there haven't been great pitchers. That's a high bar to set, but it's what happens when you add a national championship to the trophy case.
With a four-person staff, including the much-sought freshman duo of Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne, the resources at least appear to be in place for a change.
Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.