It's been a few weeks since we last spoke and in that time I've welcomed a niece into the family and relocated to Texas. I'm now back in the fold and man, what a week it was for women's college basketball. We're down to two undefeated teams in women's college hoops:
Dawn Staley's top-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks and Courtney Banghart's upstart Princeton Tigers, looking to return to the NCAA tournament after losing out on the Ivy's bid in a late loss last season. Teams have dug their heels into conference play and the parity across the sport has never been better.
TEXAS GOES COLD, DROPS DECISION TO IOWA STATE
Karen Aston's squad did a great job of transition from the hunter to the hunted, going undefeated in non-conference play and rising as high as number three in the AP poll. After taking a lead as large as 18 -- including being up 13 at the half -- the Longhorns struggled to score the ball and were out-scored 50-35 in the second half, falling to Iowa State 59-57 on a last second bucket by Seanna Johnson.
After shooting 46% in the first half, the Longhorns were only able to generate 8 baskets and having only taken 4 free throws, points were difficult to come by. ISU shot 52% in the second frame and knocked down 5 treys in route to upsetting their visitors from Austin. Nikki Moody led the charge, finishing with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and a block. Ball control was key in the second half as ISU only turned the ball over 4 times and held UT without a basket for the final 3:30. Brynn Williamson and Johnson joined the senior in double figures with 14 and 12 points respectively. Johnson also led the team with 9 boards.
Brady Sanders continued her fantastic play, finishing with 16 points, including 4 of 6 from three. Nekia Jones had 15 points and three triples of her own but the Longhorns leading scorers Kelsey Lang and Nneka Enemkpali combined to shoot 4-21. The front court tandem also accounted for 5 of the team's 12 turnovers on the afternoon.
Texas continues Big 12 play against Oklahoma in Norman on Wednesday. Sherri Coale's squad sits tied with Baylor at 3-0.
NOTRE DAME FALLS VICTIM ON THE ROAD
The Notre Dame-Miami matchup didn't seem to be that attractive on paper but that's why we play the game. There was an eery feeling when the game began with a change in the starting lineup for Muffet McGraw's squad. Sophomore F Taya Reimer was missing and in her place was senior guard Madison Cable. More on that later. The last think Katie Meier told her team before they left the locker room was that she wouldn't be shocked if her team won the game. And boy! They responded.
Putting a choke hold on the Irish from the start, the U women's hoops squad took a 40-20 lead at the half on the strength of 14 points, 5 boards and 4 assists by Adrienne Motley. Miami also took Notre Dame out of its comfort zone, holding the Irish to 0-6 from distance and forcing 7 turnovers. 4 first half blocks also made a difference as ND was only able to generate 6 baskets on 25 attempts.
Led by Jewell Loyd and Brianna Turner, the Fighting Irish made a valiant attempt at coming back in the second half. Turner's three-point play cuz the Hurricane's lead to 55-49 but Meier's squad responded by scoring 14 of the next 20 points to stretch the lead out to 69-55. Suriya McGuire added 11 points and 8 rebounds while Jassany Williams was fantastic with 9 blocks. Loyd finished with 27, albeit on 20 shots, and Turner finished with a double-double of 17 and 10 boards. Only four other Irish were able to dent the scoring column.
Now, what was intriguing about this game is that it was made apparent that Reimer wasn't with the team for personal reasons and word came out that she had plans on transferring. After taking the time to consult with the coaching staff and her family, Reimer has decided to return to practice on Monday. It'll be interesting to see how things go from here. Reimer had reportedly received death threats and other negative feedback after the team wore "I Can't Breathe" shirts in response to the story of New Yorker Eric Garner.
BULLDOGS HIT SNAG ON THE ROAD, HANDED FIRST LOSS
Vic Shaefer has spoken very candidly recently about coaching to the zero in the loss column for his young Mississippi State team and now, he no longer has to. Melanie Balcomb's Vanderbilt Commodores punched the Bulldogs in the mouth after swinging and missing in their first three conference games. The Dores scored the game's first 6 points and never looked back. At the 11:49 mark, they had stretched the lead to 16-3.
68% shooting kept the Bulldogs at a distance even after the squad found their rhythm. 34-24 was the lead for Balcomb's squad and the second half wasn't much different. Kendra Grant drilled a three with 9:46 left to cut the lead to seven before VU stretched the lead back out to double figures. Breanna Richardson's layup cut the lead to six with 4:03 left before free throws aided the final margin.
Morgan Batey came off the bench to lead four double figure scorers for Vanderbilt, finishing with 18 points and 10 boards. Rebekah Dahlman and Heather Bowe added 17, and Rachel Bell tallied 12. 14 players saw the court for State but only three scored in double figures. Richardson finished with 16 and 11 boards. Freshman phenom and leading scorer Victoria Vivians struggled down the stretch and spent most of the second half on the bench as she finished the game with 12 points, shooting 5-16, including 1-7 from three. All-SEC center Martha Alwal chipped in ten.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
Holly Warlick has plenty of reason to be excited about the future but she's done a pretty darn good job as we speak. After dropping consecutive games on the road, the Lady Vols have won 9 consecutive games, including a 81-58 stomping of top ten Texas A&M. There's a big challenge on the horizon for UT coming in the form of Muffett McGraw's bunch on the road January 19th but first the Lady Vols will need to make sure they don't look past an improving Auburn squad.
It seems Warlick has settled on a lineup and a rotation and considering the injury woes in Kentucky and the struggles of a certain team in College Station, the SEC title likely will be directly impacted by the team in orange.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Maryland went into Minneapolis hoping to knock off a hot Minnesota squad and it proved to be quite a battle. With the Gophers back in the rankings for the first time in almost a decade, Marlene Stollings has put her team in position to complete on a nightly basis. Hopes seem to temper a bit after mainstay Rachel Banham went down with a season-ending injury but every player in uniform has stepped up their play.
Terps move to 4-0 in B1G with win at Minnesota
It was a battle for sole possession of first place early in the Big Ten season and both the visiting Terrapins and the home standing Golden Gophers played at a high level. The Terps emerged with a tense, hard fought 77-73 win.
Both teams battled with everything they had. Maryland with its guard depth and Minny with their veteran post duo. Sophomore Amanda Zahui B dominated the middle to the tune of 26 points, 15 rebounds three steals and four blocks. Senior transfer Shae Kelley added 15 points and and 5 boards of her own. Shayne Mullaney added 12 assists to the tally for the Gophers.
Maryland was able to seize control down the stretch due to the stretch of its guards, in particular senior guard Brene Moseley. She only saw 16 minutes of GameTime but her impact was incredible. 4-4 from the floor, including three big triples, and 4-4 from the free throw line for 15 points was huge. In a game where neither team lead by more than eight and with the stars shining bright, you can't help but appreciate players like Moseley filling in the gaps.
Maryland put three other players in double figures, including a dandy game from Lexie Brown. 20 points, 7 assist, 4 steals and 0, count em, ZERO turnovers while playing all forty minutes. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brianna Jones finished with 15 and 11 points respectively. Even after dropping this game, Minnesota should feel confident going forward that the NCAA tournament is a viable goal.
WNBA PROSPECT OF THE WEEK
Isabelle Harrison, C, 6'3"
Harrison has put me on notice this season. I've always been a fan of her fire and overall passion for the game but one must take notice of the improvements she's made in four years. If I'm a WNBA scout in a draft projected to be extremely week, grabbing a player with a willingness to work is objective number one.
Izzy had the ability to knock the midrange jumper down now which puts the onus on the defender to decide how they want to be scored on. Leave her too much space? She'll bury the jump shot. Close out too hard? She'll use her agility and post moves to make you look foolish.
That's a lot to take in and we haven't even talked about her biggest strength. On the defensive end Harrison is one of the most underrated shot blockers in the game. With sneaky elevation and stellar timing, she can change the flow of the game with timely swats and solid rotations.
Harrison is a player to consider for every team out there. Ideally? I'd love to see her expand her range and move comfortably to the four spot. If she's looking for someone to emulate, she doesn't have to look far: Tamika Catchings made a successful transition to the three spot and if Harrison can match that, she'll become the next generation's standard bearer in terms of successful women's basketballers from Rocky Top.
Harrison is currently averaging 11.5 points and 8.7 boards, which doesn't blow you away but the strength of the Lady Vols squad this year is balance. With 7 players averaging 7 points or more, Holly Warlick is sending talented players at the opposition in waves. Harrison's shooting percentage (43%) leave a lot to be desired but she struggled to start the season with a few nagging injuries and has picked up her play of late.