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Weekly Recap: Upsets rock the ACC, Arizona State breaks skid vs Stanford

As the month of January inches towards its end, most teams have found their groove and shaken loose all the cobwebs associated with integrating new players, adjusting to injuries and the like. As we approach the stretch run heading into conference tournaments, the familiarity of teams starts to show. And this week was a perfect illustration.

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, let me start by sending positive vibes to Eastern Michigan University as well as Kent State for the difficulties both women's basketball programs are enduring at this time, as well as the EMU student body. On behalf of the team here at Swish Appeal, we extend our condolences to the families of EMU forward Shannise Heady and student Jordan Hopkins; as well as calm in the eye of the storm for KSU coach Danielle O'Banion and her battle with Lymphoma.

PARITY REIGNS SUPREME

If you're a stats buff and love to see things in written form, look no further than the ACC for the confirmation of the high quality basketball we're seeing this season. In a league that produced a 16-0 champion last year, 2.5 games separate the 8th team from the three-way tie for first place. Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State all have one loss in league play. Miami, Syracuse and Duke are right behind them at 5-2 and North Carolina technically sits in 3rd place alone at 4-3 even with 6 teams ahead of them in the standings.

And what makes things so interesting is that the teams are beating up on each other. Notre Dame’s loss came at Miami, Louisville’s lone L came at Florida State, and Notre Dame was able to come back and knock FSU from the rank of conference unbeaten.

Still skeptical? Well let’s take a look at the Big 12. This is the only league in America where each member has a winning overall record. Kansas State’s 1-6 record may cause you to initially think that this is a bad team. Well, they have an overall record of 11-7, which includes going 10-2 at home. Granted, the Wildcats have played an extremely soft schedule, but you ask your players to win the games in front of them and Jeff Mittie’s squad came into conference play with just one loss. Baylor and Oklahoma sit in a tie in first place at 7-0 and they don’t face off until February. It’s definitely going to be a fun ride as we approach the second month of the year.

SOUTH CAROLINA BATS DOWN A&M, MOVES TO 19-0

This week's big Monday matchup pitted top-ranked and undefeated South Carolina against the Texas A&M Aggies in Colonial Life Arena. A&M likely brought confidence into this matchup based solely on the fact that they knocked off the only team that's come close to chalking up a tally in the loss column for Dawn Staley's squad. A week after dropping the four-point decision in College Station, the Blue Devils came within a few inches of knocking USC from the ranks of the unbeaten way back in December. Early on, it looked like they stood a pretty good chance.

Though they went into the half down eight, Coach Blair was getting some solid production from the center spot, something he hasn't seen much of at all this season. Much to his chagrin, not much changed in the second half. SC kept up the pressure and stretched its lead out early and from a Tiffany Roy three-pointer at the 11:44 mark, it was all cosmetic. A'ja Wilson played the best game I've ever seen from her -- to be frank, I hadn't understood the hype until Monday-- leading the way off the bench with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Her dandy bench buddy Alaina Coates, who I think may be the second best player on the team, added her eighth double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Those eight double-doubles tie her with Ole Miss' Tia Faleru for the lead in the SEC. Aleighsa Welch added 12 points and 7 rebounds of her own while battling foul trouble and cramps. Reigning SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell finished with 16.

The Aggies were able to get four starters in double figures but 3-21 shooting for Courtney Williams was just too much to overcome, especially when you consider Courtney Walker shot 5-8 for 10 points. Williams finished with 12. Achiri Ade --who I would like to mention could play for me ANY day-- led the way with 15 points and 5 boards, point guard Jordan Jones also finished with 14, 4 and 4 but she had the script flipped on her in this game. I've seen her cleanly rip point guards and hand them their receipts on several occasions but Khadijah Sessions and future WNBA All-Star Bianca Cuevas had their way as she finished with 5 turnovers and 4 fouls.

In the end, South Carolina's discipline, size and defensive intensity won out. I noticed early on in this game that SC doesn't really take bad shots. They're patient and they do what they want: POUND THE BALL INSIDE. They dominated the paint to the tune of a 43-29 rebounding advantage to match their domination in the blocks category, swatting back 7 shots --including a highlight block on the fast break by Welch-- against just two from the Aggies. Going forward, Staley's team will have to knock down more shots from the perimeter and 16 turnovers will not cut it against a certain team coached by the Olympic head coach, but their efforts were enough to win tonight and it should be enough for them to win the SEC. But I'm definitely looking forward to February 9th, and not just because it's my birthday.

ARIZONA STATE UPENDS CARD, BREAKS LENGTHY SKID

Charli Turner-Thorne knows how difficult it is to win at Maples considering it's her alma mater and she suited up for their current coach. So being able to win at Stanford last Monday for the first time since 1984 must have been quite sweet. Promise Amukamara led the way on both ends for the Sun Devils, scoring 17 points and grabbing 7 rebounds while defending the dynamic and talented LiLi Thompson very well. Elisha Davis and Sophie Brunner also finished in double figures with 10 apiece.

Thompson, Taylor Greenfield and Amber Orrange all scored 12 points apiece but with 10 players seeing the floor, Tara Vanderveer was only able to get 21 points total out of the other 7 players. Add in LiLi's 3-13 shooting and Kaylee Johnson being rendered ineffective inside all night (3 points, 5 boards) and this game would've been tough to win regardless of the opponent. Stanford had their chances though, mainly aided by 20 turnovers from the ASU squad. But after Thompson's freebie brought the Cardinal within 1 with 4:59 remaining, the Sun Devils went on an 8-0 run which turned out to be the game clinching stretch. The win put Turner-Thorne's team at it's best conference start (6-0) ever. The stretch didn't last much longer though....more on that below.


WOODEN AWARD DOWN TO 20

The John R. Wooden award list was cut down to twenty and while the list is respectable, it’s a little bit off to me. Enemkpali went down after the decisions were made but her place on the list prior to being hurt was justified. A few glaring misses for me are Morgan Tuck, Lili Thompson, Brianna Turner and Ruth Hamblin. These are four players that are vital to their teams’ success right now and their coaches will agree. Granted, there’s usually players that don’t make the preseason list that make a name for themselves as the season goes on but at this point, there is truly no right or wrong to the list. Usually the honorees at the end of the season are pretty solid so we’ll see how it turns out.

GAME OF THE WEEK:

DUKE FOLLOWS WILLIAMS' LEAD, KNOCKS OFF CAROLINA

Duke women’s basketball has a history of having fantastic teams and that hasn’t changed under JoAnne P. McCallie. But when you consider some of the talent that has come through Durham, it amazed me to find out that it’s been 9 years since a player scored 30 or more points in a game. Problem solved. Solution? Elizabeth Williams. Last season, Duke responded to being swept by UNC in the regular season by beating the Heels in the ACC tournament before being bounced out of the NCAA tournament early but none of that mattered on Sunday. In an ugly contest offensively – the two teams combined to shoot 34% and grabbed a combined 108 rebounds—Duke was able to dig deep and get the job done. After struggling out of the gate, UNC got it together and stretched their lead to 10 at the half behind wonderful pressure defense. Sylvia Hatchell’s squad was able to turn 11 Duke turnovers into a 13-0 advantage in fast break points.

In the end, Duke’s size won out. Elizabeth Williams dominated the game, she added 16 points and 5 boards in the second half, aiding her new career-high 33 points to match 10 boards and 4 blocks. Rebecca Greenwell continued her stellar play with 14 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Ka’Lia Johnson also set a new career-high with 13 rebounds to go along with 12 points and 4 assists. Allisha Gray led the Tar Heels with 20 points and Stephanie Mavunga and Latifah Coleman followed with 15 and 14 points respectively. Mavunga held her own in a game where she was UNC’s only true post, adding 15 rebounds, 3 blocks and 4 steals but it just wasn’t enough.

Duke has to feel vindicated after pulling out the victory but their ability to take care of the ball will likely be their demise as the season goes on. There's lot of promise for the future with the likes of Greenwell/Stevens/Cooper/Chidom all in either their first or second season, but they lose their cornerstone of the last four years in Williams. That's a gaping hole to fill. Carolina has some questions as well. They'd been fine parading Butts, who's really a guard, as a backup power forward behind Xylina McDaniel but their lack of size inside was brought to the forefront in this game.


TEAM OF THE WEEK:

OREGON STATE BEAVERS

Scott Rueck's squad has taken the PAC-12 by the throat and put the oonference race in its back pocket. The Beavers headed into this week's trip to the desert with two games that on paper seemed to be the complete opposite. On Friday, the gang faced off against an Arizona squad that had yet to register a win in conference play. With the normal Friday/Sunday turnaround, the Beavers headed to Tempe to take on 13th-ranked Arizona State. Arizona proved to be up for the challenge in the first half as Niya Butts’ team took a 6 point lead early on and only committed 2 turnovers. The second half was more to form as the Beavers pulled away for a 73-55 win. 9 OSU players saw double digit minutes and and all 10 players that saw action finished with at least 3 points. In Sunday’s much-anticipated matchup of unbeaten squads, OSU went into halftime against Arizona State with a 5-point lead, up 27-22.

Halftime proved to be the difference as the Beavers from Corvallis came out a totally focused squad and pulled away from a 68-57 win that wasn't even that close. The lead got as big as 17 and two late threes from Katie Hempen in the last 34 seconds closed the gap a bit. Jamie Weisner led the charge with 21 points and Ruth Hamblin, Ali Gibson and Gabby Hanson all finished with 12 points. Katie Hempen was the only ASU player to score in double digits, finishing with 23, as the Sun Devils only shot 36% on the game. The Beavers were rewarded this week as their continued to set new standards for their women’s basketball program, reaching #7 in the AP Poll.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK:

KELSEY MITCHELL, G, OHIO STATE, FRESHMAN

Kelsey Mitchell probably won’t get the national recognition she deserves. This reminds me of former Oregon, now Kentucky guard Chrishae Rowe’s freshman season in 2013-14. She was the best scorer in the nation and made a nightly impact on the scouting report but wasn’t even in the conversation for national frosh of the year awards because her team wasn’t winning at a high level. They finished the season at 16-16 and 6-12 in the PAC12. Ohio State currently sits at 13-7 (5-3 B1G) which has them in a three-way tie for fourth place with Minnesota and Rutgers and they have a chance to build on this. If they plan to, Mitchell will play a huge role. And she DEFINITELY came through this past week.

Coming off a home loss to Minnesota, a game in which she hit a school-record 9 three pointers, Mitchell played 38 minutes and hit 5 more threes en route to 21 points as the Buckeyes were able to ring up a 69-60 win. Apparently, she wasn’t too happy with her performance as she came out on Sunday and scratched the stat sheet for 37 points and 7 rebounds as the Buckeyes were able to knock off Purdue in OT 79-71 in West Lafayette; that same Purdue squad had just upset a talented Minnesota squad and seemed to be on the path to figuring things out.

WNBA PROSPECT OF THE WEEK:

AMBER ORRANGE, G, STANFORD

Coming into the season after ending the Ogwumike era on the Farm, Tara VanDerveer wasn’t sure what she was going to do for offense. She went to several coaches that have had success with installing quality offenses and finally settled on taking advantage of the great guard corps she has. LiLi Thompson, Karlie Samuelson, and Briana Roberson are all talents in their own right but Orrange is the head of the snake. Still quiet and reserved, Orrange has allowed her game to speak for itself. And she let out a primal yell in the team’s first challenge of the season.

After blowing past Boston College in their season opener and Vanguard and UC Davis in exhibition games, the Cardinal welcomed 2-time defending national champion and top-ranked UConn to town. The teams went toe-to-toe for long stretches of the game but when her team needed her most, Amber answered the phone. She nailed a game-tying three pointer with 1.4 seconds left in regulation only to follow that by knocking down the go-ahead jumper with 1:38 left in OT as the 47-game winning streak for UConn came to an end. Orrange isn’t a knock-down shooter or an off-the-charts athlete but she gets the job done and you can trust her to run your team. She had 4 turnovers in the UConn game but she played 42 minutes. Then when you look at her season stats, she hasn’t finished a game with more than that four and has only hit 3 in two games since then.

What’s most impressive about Orrange is that she’s continued to improve her game in the problem spots that she brought to Palo Alto. After only taking 10 threes as a freshman, she’s shooting a career-high 46% from three this season and is on pace to shatter her career high for steals in a season. Orrange can step on the floor and run your team in a pinch but her potential for the future is evident. If she continues to work and improve on her game, the sky is the limit for the reserved guard from Houston.