Women: South Carolina, Pac-12 trio lead the way

Pac-12 women’s basketball players and coaches want to focus on the present this season. It’s something they can try to control, since the impending breakup of the conference to chase revenue is out of their hands. And so far, the Pac-12 is taking a starring role in the 2023-24 season.

Three Pac-12 teams land in the top five, and five teams overall, in the Week 2 ESPN women’s college basketball Power Rankings. The league went 28-0 after the first week. The Pac-12 is now 47-4 at the end of the second week. Where will the conference be at the conclusion of Feast Week?

Perhaps the biggest matchup of this upcoming week pits UCLA and UConn in the Cayman Islands Classic. Stanford could meet Florida State in the at Ball Dawgs Classic in suburban Las Vegas. And Colorado, which set off all kinds of fireworks with the Buffaloes’ opening-day win over defending national champion LSU, will take on NC State in the Paradise Jam Classic in the Virgin Islands.

The Tigers, the preseason No. 1 team, have kept observers busy trying to decipher vague/cryptic social media posts from past and present LSU players in an attempt to figure out the current discord. Star Angel Reese was benched in the second half of Tuesday’s win over Kent State and didn’t play in Friday’s victory against SE Louisiana. Other than saying, “Angel is a part of this basketball team, and we hope to see her sooner than later,” coach Kim Mulkey didn’t give any details on Reese’s absence.

By comparison, things have been upbeat among Pac-12 teams. Other than Utah‘s loss at Baylor, the league’s top squads have perfect records. Stanford got a scare from Duke on Sunday, but prevailed. And while we know it’s hard to avoid some degree of wistfulness in thinking about this final Pac-12 season, the teams are approaching it as they should: staying in the moment.


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0:18

Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo flexes after and-1

Notre Dame guard Hannah Hidalgo flips in the layup plus the contact in the first quarter.

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Hidalgo was the espnW HoopGurlz No. 5-ranked player in the Class of 2023, and the top-ranked point guard. She’s showing why already this young season. The freshman is averaging 25.5 points, 6.8 steals, 5.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds through four games. With guards Olivia Miles (out indefinitely after a Feb. 26 knee injury) and Sonia Citron (out approximately two weeks after Wednesday’s knee injury) sidelined, Hidalgo’s contributions are even more important.

In victories over Northwestern and Illinois last week, Hidalgo had a combined 45 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 steals. She has 27 steals, the most by any Division I player in her first four career games over the past 25 seasons.

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Last season, Kansas State went 17-16 in the regular season and advanced to the third round of the Women’s NIT. It was a solid season considering the Wildcats were without their best player, center Ayoka Lee. Her return from a knee injury has the Wildcats optimistic they could be headed back to the NCAA tournament in March.

They added to their resume Thursday, winning 65-58 at then-No. 2 Iowa and becoming the first team to hold the Hawkeyes below 60 points in the Caitlin Clark era. Lee picked up two fouls in the first 2 minutes, 15 seconds of the game, yet kept her cool and finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Sunday, K-State handed Wisconsin its first loss of the season — 75-57 — behind 20 points from Lee.

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Admittedly, these teams have met just seven times. But it’s still notable that the only previous Davidson victory over Duke was in 1978. The Wildcats’ win Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, snapped Duke’s 25-game winning streak against unranked foes.

Davidson, which was led by senior Elle Sutphin’s 19 points, had another win against the ACC this season, beating Wake Forest on Nov. 11. It’s the first time since 1994 that Davidson has defeated two ACC teams in the same season. And the Wildcats also came close to upsetting North Carolina, falling to the Tar Heels 74-70 on Nov. 12.

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Coach of the week: Jennie Baranczyk, Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners lost 2022-23 starters Madi Williams, Taylor Robertson and Ana Llanusa to graduation and Liz Scott to a preseason injury. Yet with just point guard Nevaeh Tot as a returning starter, Oklahoma is 5-0. That includes wins this past week vs. Alabama State and at Virginia. The Sooners also have a road win over then-No. 12 Ole Miss on Nov. 9.

Payton Verhulst, a transfer from Louisville, leads the Sooners at 15.6 PPG, while two-time Big 12 Sixth Player of the Year Skylar Vann, now a starter, is at 14.8. In Baranczyk’s third season with the Sooners, they are again expected to be one of the country’s highest-scoring teams. They currently average 89.8 PPG and finished at 84.2 last season (second in Division I) and 82.6 in 2021-22 (third).


Power Rankings

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Staley talks main takeaway from South Carolina’s win

Dawn Staley recaps the defensive improvements from the Gamecocks’ win vs. Clemson while joking about MiLaysia Fulwiley’s “Harlem Globetrotters” highlight plays.

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1. South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0)
Previous ranking:
1
This week: vs. South Dakota State (Monday), vs. Mississippi Valley State (Friday)

After opening the season with victories over two ranked teams, the Gamecocks put the hurt on Clemson. They won 109-40, with 54 points coming off the bench. Raven Johnson ‘s 17 assists tied for second in school history and was the most in a game by an SEC player since 2005. South Carolina’s 323 points are the second-most through three games by a team in SEC history; last season’s LSU team is first with 343.

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2. UCLA Bruins (4-0)
Previous ranking:
3
This week: at Cayman Islands Classic: vs. UConn (Friday) and vs. Niagara (Saturday)

The Bruins got their first test Friday against Princeton, a down-to-the-wire 77-74 victory. Lauren Betts, who transferred from Stanford, has had double-doubles in three of her four games for UCLA; she had just one last season as a freshman with the Cardinal. Heading into the game against UConn, the Bruins are 0-7 in the series, with the most recent meeting a 71-61 loss in 2021.

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Kiki Iriafen goes 5-for-5 in perfect first quarter for Stanford

Kiki Iriafen cannot miss in the first quarter, making all five of her shot attempts against Duke.

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3. Stanford Cardinal (4-0)
Previous ranking:
7
This week: at Ball Dawgs Classic in Henderson, Nevada: vs. Belmont (Wednesday) and vs. Florida State/Northwestern (Friday), vs. UAlbany (Sunday)

After cruising past Cal Poly by 54 points Thursday, the Cardinal appeared on their way to a double-digit victory over Duke. But the Blue Devils rallied and sent the game into overtime. The Cardinal’s interior duo of Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen combined for 56 points and 20 rebounds, and Brink added six blocks in an 82-79 win. Expect to keep hearing a lot about those two forwards.

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4. Colorado Buffaloes (4-0)
Previous ranking:
8-0
This week: at Paradise Jam Classic in Virgin Islands: vs. Cincinnati (Thursday), vs. Kentucky (Friday), vs. NC State (Saturday)

Center Aaronette Vonleh looks to be having a breakout junior season. She didn’t get much playing time as a freshman at Arizona, then transferred to Colorado. She averaged 12.2 PPG as a starter for the Buffs last season, and is at 19.5 this season while shooting 71.7% from the field. Vonleh had 23 points in last week’s win at SMU.

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Kim Mulkey evades questions on Angel Reese’s absence

LSU coach Kim Mulkey refuses to discuss Angel Reese’s absence from her starting lineup Friday night.

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5. LSU Tigers (4-1)
Previous ranking:
5
This week: vs. Texas Southern (Monday), at Cayman Islands Classic: vs. Niagara (Friday) and vs. Virginia (Saturday)

Whatever else is going on at LSU, freshman Mikaylah Williams seems unfazed. Her 42 points on 75% shooting led the Tigers in a 109-79 win over Kent State as her college career is off to a strong start. Many eyes are on the Reese situation, but as we already knew, there is a lot of talent on this team.

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6. UConn Huskies (3-1)
Previous ranking:
6
This week: at Cayman Islands Classic: vs. UCLA (Friday) and vs. Kansas (Saturday)

The Huskies clobbered Maryland 80-48 and then won Paige Bueckers‘ homecoming game at Minnesota 62-44 last week. But the concern is another injury to guard Azzi Fudd, who missed both those games. With all she and the Huskies have been through injury-wise, the hope is she won’t be out a significant amount of time.

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0:19

Saniya Rivers increases NC State’s lead late with a nice bucket

Madison Hayes gives a nice pass to Saniya Rivers, who finishes with a nice bucket for NC State.

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7. NC State Wolfpack (4-0)
Previous ranking:
9
This week: at Paradise Jam Classic in Virgin Islands: vs. Kentucky (Thursday), vs. Cincinnati (Friday), vs. Colorado (Saturday)

The Wolfpack followed their upset of UConn with victories last week over Elon and Rhode Island. The Rams gave NC State a battle. But guards Saniya Rivers and Aziaha James led the Wolfpack’s strong finish in the last 4 minutes. The two combined are averaging just over 37 PPG.

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8. Iowa Hawkeyes (4-1)
Previous ranking:
2
This week: at Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida: vs. Purdue Fort Wayne (Friday), vs. Delaware/Florida Gulf Coast (Saturday), vs. TBD (Sunday)

The Hawkeyes looked out of sync in their 63-58 loss to Kansas State last Thursday. Their offensive skid lasted all of one game, as they bounced back to beat Drake 113-90 on Sunday. Caitlin Clark, who was 9-of-32 from the field vs. the Wildcats, looked like her usual self against the Bulldogs: 35 points on 14 of 22 shooting and 10 assists, plus a career-high seven steals.

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1:37

Baylor pulls away late for win over Harvard

Baylor pulls away late for win over Harvard

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9. Baylor Bears (3-0)
Previous ranking:
11
This week: vs. McNeese (Friday), vs. Alcorn State (Sunday)

The Bears move into the top 10 thanks to a 84-77 victory over Utah on Tuesday. They followed that with a 10-point win Sunday over Harvard. Aijha Blackwell‘s 16 points against the Crimson were the most she has scored since getting 23 last November against Incarnate Word. Blackwell played just six additional games after that last season because of injury.

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10. Utah Utes (4-1)
Previous ranking:
4
This week: vs. Merrimack (Friday)

Utah has scored at least 100 points in its victories this season but was limited to 77 in a loss to Baylor. The Utes bounced back from that defeat to win the Great Alaska Shootout with victories over Alaska Anchorage and Eastern Kentucky. Alissa Pili, the reigning Pac-12 player of the year, is shooting 73.2% from the field.

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11. Virginia Tech Hokies (2-1)
Previous ranking:
10
This week: vs. UNC Greensboro (Monday), at Cayman Islands Classic: vs. Kansas (Friday) and vs. Tulane (Saturday)

The Hokies followed a loss to Iowa on Nov. 9 with a blowout 105-36 romp against Houston Christian last Thursday. Georgia Amoore had a single-game school-record 16 assists and the 69-point margin of victory was the largest in program history. Virginia Tech’s upcoming matchup with Kansas should be more challenging.

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12. Texas Longhorns (4-0)
Previous ranking:
12
This week: at Paradise Jam Classic in Virgin Islands: vs. Arizona State (Thursday), vs. High Point (Friday), vs. South Florida (Saturday)

With four victories against overmatched foes, Texas seems hardest for now to truly evaluate in the Power Rankings. We could get a better sense of the Longhorns based on their Paradise Jam performance, but Dec. 3 against UConn is Texas’ most anticipated game before conference play starts.

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13. USC Trojans (3-0)
Previous ranking:
14
This week: at Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Championship in Bahamas: vs. Seton Hall (Monday), vs. Penn State (Wednesday)

The JuJu Watkins show continued, as the freshman scored 35 points against Le Moyne in a victory last Monday. She is averaging 28.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. USC junior Rayah Marshall is shooting 70% from the field.

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14. Florida State Seminoles (4-0)
Previous ranking:
15
This week: at Ball Dawgs Classic in Henderson, Nevada: vs. Northwestern (Wednesday), vs. Belmont/Stanford (Friday)

Sophomore guard Ta’Niya Latson scored a career-best 35 points — 17 in a massive fourth quarter — for a 79-75 victory over in-state rival Florida on Friday. That was followed by a blowout win over South Alabama on Sunday, which also was notable for Latson as she got a career-high 11 rebounds.

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15. Kansas State Wildcats (4-0)
Previous ranking:
NR
This week: at Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida: vs. Western Kentucky (Friday), vs. North Carolina/Vermont (Saturday), vs. TBD (Sunday)

How much did K-State’s defense stymie Iowa on Thursday? The Hawkeyes had 22 field goals in the game, compared to a school-record 45 Sunday against Drake. On Sunday, the Wildcats held Wisconsin to just 20 field goals in a 75-57 win. Interestingly, there’s a chance Iowa and K-State could meet again in the Gulf Coast Showcase final.

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16. Ohio State Buckeyes (2-1)
Previous ranking:
16
This week: at Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Championship in Bahamas: vs. East Carolina (Monday) and vs. Oklahoma State (Wednesday), vs. Cornell (Sunday)

The Buckeyes beat Boston College 88-66 Thursday as the Ohio State starters shot nearly 70% from the field. Cotie McMahon, the Big Ten freshman of the year last season, has bounced back from an opening loss to USC when she was limited to seven points. She has scored 22 and 24 in her last two games.

Fell out: Maryland

This post was originally published on ESPN

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