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Weekly Recap: UConn Backs Up Banners, Florida State Continues Hot Streak

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The showdown of the year has come and gone and the outcome wasn't much different than many of us expected. This game, unlike many recent big games UConn has been involved in probably will have a larger impact later than sooner. ALSO: Tennessee continues to set standards in SEC. Florida State continues impressive stretch.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On more occasions than one, I've mentioned the parity level of women's basketball being at an all-time high. New kids on the block like Oregon State and Princeton find themselves in the conversation weekly. Meanwhile, old faithful programs like UConn and Tennessee continue to be measuring sticks for programs around the country. The middle used to be filled with mediocre teams that tended to follow a specific pattern: beat the teams you're supposed to beat while succumbing to those at the next level, with a shocker either way sprinkled in. That narrative is still relevant in the scheme of things but it's definitely been a season to behold. Monday proved no different.

UCONN MAKES STATEMENT, HANDS GAMECOCKS FIRST LOSS

Heading into Monday's game, there were only two possible outcomes in my mind. South Carolina would shock the world and pull out a tough, hard-fought victory over the UConn Huskies. OR.... UConn would continue to demolish teams that built up season-long storylines for Geno to talk about in the confines of his locker room. Unfortunately for some, it happened to be the latter.

Three things are going to happen when you face this year's UConn team:

  1. Breanna Stewart isolations
  2. Morgan Tuck/Moriah Jefferson attacking off the bounce
  3. Concerted efforts to find Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in transition
And there's really nothing you can do about it. South Carolina is an extremely talented team and they hang their hats on the defensive end of the floor. What happened on Monday? 7 made field goals apiece for each of the players listed above as they accounted for 78 of the 87 points UConn put on the board. And there wasn't anything amazing about it. Geno may have some of the best schemes and gameplans in the world in his back pocket but we may never know because he's built a career on keeping it simple. He puts his players in positions to be successful, he motivates them to work harder than every other team, and pushes them to be the best every day.

This isn't about X's and O's. Dawn Staley is an up-and-coming talent and will one day stand at the apex of the women's college basketball world. This isn't about talent. The #1 recruit in the country comes off the bench for an SC squad that came into this game undefeated. This is solely about the best motivator and the best teacher in the country flexing his muscles. I used to think I suffered from "UConn fatigue" but what I realized on Monday is that I want to be in Geno's shoes one day. And in the grind towards being able to do that, I would greatly benefit from seeing his peers force him to take it up a notch. To be even better than the greatness he already personifies. To see Geno sweat towards the end of a game and truly find out what he would have to do if he had to rely on Saniya Chongs or Kiah Stokes of the world. Boy! That would be nice.

There's a reason that the losses Geno has endured have come from a very elite list. VanDerveer. McGraw. Summit. Stringer. Sounds like a roster at the basketball hall of fame; and that's because it is. Well, Staley is there as a player and is destined to double up on the nods. But Monday was the first of many building blocks for her program. A true measuring stick for a season that provides endless opportunity. Staley left Temple to try and build her own culture at a program that was happy just to break even in the SEC and she's succeeded. Columbia is a destination now. USC shows a confidence and toughness early in this game that not many teams have. In a game that has a 25-point final spread, they at least have something they can build upon.

23 was the final point tally for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to lead the way for the Huskies. Three more joined her in double figures as Stewart had 22, 8 boards and 5 blocks. 17 and 16 were the totals for Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson as they dominated the game at different times for UConn. 17 points was the leader for the Gamecocks as Aleighsa Welch and Tiffany Mitchell proved they belong amongst the elite. A'ja Wilson struggled on the big scene but still produced relatively well, finishing with 10 and 6 off the bench. Welch played a spectacular game, finishing with a double-double, adding 11 boards.

TENNESSEE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: BUSINESS AS USUAL

There's a commotion involving an SEC team at the top of women's basketball and it doesn't involve the team that calls Thompson-Boling area home. And they likely wouldn't have it any other way. As Dawn Staley's crew grabs the headlines and the attention of America as the top-ranked team in the nation, Holly Warlick is busy hammering away. Trying to rebuild a program and re-establish a level of expectation that seems to have left the room in Pat Summit's gym bag. The Lady Vols have emerged from the early SEC schedule unscathed, including a stretch of three straight ranked teams-- dropping Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi State in succession.

What might be most interesting about this is who's not playing. On the sideline sit the number one overall recruit from 2013 in Mercedes Russell. Beside her? The number 3 recruit from the same class in North Carolina transfer Diamond DeShields. Further down? The number 8 player in that class in Jannah Tucker, who has yet to really make a dent this season after a rough stretch the last few years. That not enough? Warlick is adding two of the top guards in the country next year in Tea Cooper and MeMe Jackson.

I still think there's a ceiling for this team that, at best, ends in the Elite Eight but one cannot deny what Warlick has accomplished in not allowing this team to settle for a struggle while transitioning. There's a chance to state otherwise for the Lady Vols as we approach the end of the season. In their final five games, Warlick and crew will welcome ranked team Kentucky to town before going to South Carolina and Georgia. It'll be interesting to see how things turn out in this solid conference battle.

SEMINOLES CRASHING BOARDS, ACC PARTY AT SAME TIME

Florida State, on paper, doesn't really have room to feel slighted. One of their best player's wasn't supposed to take the court until next year. They lost a program cornerstone to the WNBA and replaced her with a junior college All-American and their backcourt is littered with transfers. All things considered, 5th place preseason is probably just about right for a team that had a lot more questions than answers to start the season.

Fast forward to February and you're looking at the number 7 team in the nation. Sue Semrau has this team clicking in every facet even prior to Leticia Romero's release and now, a fully healthy team has taken it to the next level. Semrau has more talent than she's ever had. She's got a McDonald's All-American freshman coming off the bench, taking minutes from a McDonald's All-American sophomore who has yet to put it together. Shakena Richardson left Rutgers in search of more minutes and now is battling with players of her level or better to break double digit minutes.

Even with all things considered, the backboards are where FSU is winning games. 24 games? 24 outrebounded opponents. The Seminoles are grabbing 13 more boards than their opponents each game, ranking 4th in the country. Take it a step further and the reason there's so many boards to grab is because they're only allowing 57.1 points per game. Add in four double figure scorers (five if you count Romero's 9.7 points.) and you've got the equation to your 22-2 record.

TEAM OF THE WEEK:

UCONN HUSKIES

After months and months of endless chatter of the 1 v 2 matchup in Storrs, Geno's squad took a valiant effort from Dawn Staley's crew and effortlessly pulled away. Don't let the score fool you, Staley had her crew ready. Usually, the pressure of the moment has gotten to teams and by the second media timeout, UConn has blown things open. At the under-16 timeout, the game was knotted at 18-apiece. UConn just methodically pieced together another masterpiece.

I mentioned above how Geno keeps it simple. Case in point: Tiffany Mitchell scored 8 quick points early on. He doesn't go zone. He doesn't go to a gimmick box-and-1. He challenges his players, including Saniya Chong who's been in the doghouse for her defense this season, to get in a stance and face guard the reigning SEC player of the year. And they did just that. In the only game that actually stood the chance of being a game for the Huskies, they blew the lid off the place and rewarded the students and fans that braved heavy snow and low temps to fill the stands.

GAME OF THE WEEK

GONZAGA DEFEATS SAN FRANCISCO 91-84

Cal beat Arizona State to shake up the standings out West. UConn dominated out East. All the while? Lisa Fortier has Gonzaga at a place it's quite familiar being. The top. 12-0 is the mark for the Bulldogs atop the West Coast Conference and they had to battle to make it that way.

USF came into the game at 5-7 in conference play but put a scare in Fortier's team in the first matchup before falling by 8 at home. Being on the road seemed to motivate Jennifer Azzi's squad and they put up a valiant fight. After four extra sessions, the victor emerged in home uniforms, thanks to 20 points from Keani Albanez. Elle Tinkle, the honorable committee of one's pick for most improved player in the country added 17 and 10 rebounds. Sunny Greinacher had 19 and Emma Stach added 11 off the bench.

USF was led by Taylor Proctor's 19. Michaela Rakova added 17 and 8 rebounds off the bench. 12 apiece for Paige Spietz and Taj Winston. Zhane Dikes added 10, 5, and 5 before fouling out to round out the players in double figures for the Dons.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK:

Lexi Eaton, G BYU

Lexi Eaton has gotten a chance to play in the spotlight after leading the BYU women's run to the Elite Eight last season alongside 6'7" Jennifer Hamson. The second act has been just as good. Scoring 20.7 points and shooting 44% from distance is no small task, but Eaton showed us she had another level this week.

In what turned out to be victory number 300 for her head coach, Eaton took over the game against Pepperdine and finished with career-highs of 37 points and 14 rebounds in a 77-58 victory. As if this weren't enough, she tallied 24 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists in a 74-59 over Loyola Marymount.

The stage may not be as big, nor the ceiling as high but Lexi Eaton has made it clear that she likes the big lights and continues to produce like it. BYU is a team that knows what it's like to win big games after returning 3 of the 5 players to start at least 28 games a season ago. March could be special for Jeff Judkins squad again and if so, it'll be Eaton 'eating' this time around.

WNBA PROSPECT OF THE WEEK:

Brittany Hrynko G Depaul

This has been one of my favorite players to watch play and grow the last four seasons. She came into Chicago a gunner who had never met a shot she didn't think she could make and there were some growing pains. Struggles against the top teams. Finishing an otherwise strong freshman season with more turnovers than assists or made field goals. It even got as bad as ten turnovers in one game vs Louisville that freshman year. But turn it around, she did.

In 25 games this season, Hrynko has more than 50 more assists than turnovers. Add-in 36% shooting from deep and a team-leading 70 steals, Drake's most recent crush seems to have finally grasped what Doug Bruno was looking to instill in her. And there's likely a professional career to follow now. Hrynko brings all the flash and confidence of a point guard from Philly (see Dion Waiters) but in a body that also digs in defensively and takes what the defense gives her now. She's still a bit small for the WNBA but the opportunity is there. Considering the recent success of players like Jameirra Faulkner and Riquna Williams, Hrynko should go into camp and just do what she does better than anyone else.