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Around the NCAAW Weekly: No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 UCLA remain undefeated

With wins at the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase, the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks and No. 2 UCLA Bruins further established themselves as the class of college basketball, with matching 9-0 records.

Purdue v UCLA
Sophomore guard Kiki Rice, head coach Cori Close and the No. 2 UCLA Bruins are an undefeated 9-0.
Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images

The women’s college basketball season continues to chug along, filled with noteworthy games and superb performances. On Thursday, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark achieved the signature milestone of the season, surpassing 3,000 points as the No. 4 Hawkeyes defeated Iowa State. Our Zachary Draves has the details from the history-making evening.

Here’s what else happened from Monday, Dec. 4 through Sunday, Dec. 10:

No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 UCLA preserve perfect records

The Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase was the highlight of the past of week of hoops action, as six ranked teams took the court for the triple header at Mohegan Sun Arena.

In the first contest, No. 2 UCLA held off No. 20 Florida State 95-78 behind a 22-point and 18-rebound double-double from sophomore center Lauren Betts. As our Edwin Garcia surmised, FSU lacked the size necessary to contain the 6-foot-7 Betts. However, the guard tandem of senior Sara Bejedi and sophomore Ta’Niya Latson did all they could to keep the Seminoles in striking distance of the upset; Bejedi finished with 19 points and Latson had a game-high 26. UCLA now is an undefeated 9-0, while FSU drops to 7-3.

In the afternoon’s second contest, Alissa Pili nearly powered No. 11 Utah to the upset, with the senior forward scoring a career-high 37 points in just 28 minutes. However, the 3-ball, a key weapon for the Utes, was not falling in Mohegan Sun, with a 5-for-20 performance from behind the arc preventing Utah from taking down No. 1 South Carolina. Senior guard Te-Hina Paopao also guaranteed that the Gamecocks would leave Uncasville still unscathed at 9-0 with the 78-69 win. Once again, Paopao was composed and clutch, hitting three 3s, scoring 15 points and playing a team-high 35 minutes.

The third game of the triple header saw the local favorites earn a needed victory, with No. 17 UConn defeating No. 24 North Carolina, 76-64. The third quarter proved pivotal, with the 6-3 Huskies outscoring the 6-4 Tarheels 29-13. However, UConn once again was highly dependent on the individual brilliance of redshirt junior guard Paige Bueckers, who led all players with 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting. Considering Bueckers has the talent required to consistently captain her team to victory, it’s not a bad thing. But, should a program ostensibly overflowing with highly-ranked recruits be so reliant on a singular star?

Crucial losses for teams on the fringes of the top 25

Several teams hovering on the fringes of the top 25 suffered crucial losses, seemingly ensuring they are relegated outside the rankings.

Washington 60, No. 21 Washington State 55

A brutal first quarter doomed No. 21 Washington State against in-state rival Washington on Sunday afternoon. The Cougars were a frigid 1-for-15 from the field in the first, resulting in them putting only two points on the scoreboard. Things improved from there from the home team, but a hot shooting afternoon from behind the arc helped the Huskies hold on and earn the upset, 60-55.

Both sophomore guard Hannah Stines and senior forward Lauren Schwartz drained three triples and score more than 20 points for Washington. In contrast, Washington State senior guard Charlisse Leger-Walker struggled to find her shot, finishing with 11 points on 25 percent shooting. Only fifth-year center Bella Murekatete, who had a team-best 19 points, could get anything going for the Cougars.

Clemson 80, Duke 64

Duke’s season has reflected the ups and downs of a team with seven freshman and sophomores, many of whom are playing significant minutes. The young Blue Devils have the talent to challenge the likes of Stanford and South Carolina. But they also lack the experience required to grind out wins against Davidson or at Clemson, resulting in Duke sporting a 6-4 record.

3-point shooting, which helped the Blue Devils hang with the Gamecocks, was an advantage for the Tigers on Thursday evening, who shot better than 61 percent from 3 and got the comfortable 80-64 home win. Credit also goes to the Clemson for their superior execution. Senior forward Amari Robinson was the best player on the floor, leading Clemson with 22 points—including a perfect 3-for-3 from 3—and seven boards. The win was 6-4 Clemson’s first over a Power 5 opponent this season.

Toledo 69, Michigan 46

In their two losses this season, 8-2 Michigan has failed to reach 50 points, registering only 49 when they fell to Ole Miss in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game and just 46 in Wednesday’s loss to Toledo. Against the Rockets, the Wolverines not only were sunk by subpar shooting, but also a lack of offensive vitality, totaling a season-low five assists. To compete with the best of the Big Ten, Michigan must find a way to generate more offensive juice. They did so on Sunday, cruising to an 84-48 win at Illinois.

Toledo, now 5-2, took control of the game with an authoritative 23-7 second quarter, spurred by the first regular season sell-out crowd in program history. Fifth-year guard Quinesha Lockett turned in her fourth-straight game of at least 20 points, dropping an even 20 along with four assists, to captain Toledo to the 69-46 win.

Middle Tennessee State 73, Tennessee 62

Similar to last year, it’s been a choppy start of the season for Tennessee, with the Lady Vols seemingly being punished for a tougher-than-average schedule. Tennessee’s early slate featured few cupcakes, and Middle Tennessee State certainly was not one of them.

Even if the Lady Vols had had the services of star fifth-year forward Rickea Jackson, who remains out of the lineup due to a lower-leg injury, and junior forward Jillian Hollingshead, who was in concussion protocol, the Blue Raiders were capable of winning the game, which was held in the von Braun Center in Huntsville, AL. Junior forward Karolin Striplin did her best to save the Lady Vols from a third-straight loss, shooting 4-for-8 from behind the arc on her way to a career-high 29 points. However, no other Lady Vol scored in double figures. Tennessee is 5-5 on the season.

In contrast, four of MTSU’s five starters scored in double digits, led by junior guard Jalynn Gregory, who shot an even more impressive 5-for-9 from 3 and finished with 22 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Senior guard Savannah Wheeler added a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds to help the 8-3 Blue Raiders seal the 73-62 win.

West Virginia 83, No. 25 Penn State 65

On the same day they snuck into the top 25, Penn State dropped their second game of the season. Before falling by almost 20 points to West Virginia, Penn State only had lost by a single point to now-No. 6 USC. Turnovers were the problem for Penn State, with the Nittany Lions coughing up the ball 26 times. That a tough test from No. 12 Ohio State was waiting on Sunday—when Penn State pushed the game to overtime before coming up short—makes the loss even more torturous. The Nittany Lions are now 7-3.

West Virginia, recipients of one vote in last week’s AP Poll, may steal that top 25 spot. Under first-year head coach Mark Kellogg, the Mountaineers ran their record to 9-0 after a win over Delaware State on Sunday. Junior guard JJ Quinerly had 22 points against Penn State. For the season, she’s leading the Mountaineers with 17.6 points per game. Sophomore guard Jordan Harrison also turned in a strong performance with 14 points, nine assists and six steals.

Under-the-radar teams worth keeping an eye on

While most eyes are on the teams shuffling in and out of the top 10, here are three teams that deserve some love for their early-season, overachieving efforts:

Georgetown (8-1)

Considering the emotional blow the team was dealt before the season began, with new head coach Tasha Butts losing her battle with breast cancer, it’s wonderful to see the Hoyas finding their best basketball. Georgetown has won six games in a row to extend their record to 8-1 to begin the season, the program’s best start since joining the Big East in 1983.

Senior guard Kelsey Ransom is the engine of the Hoyas’ excellence. When she’s on the floor, Georgetown has the best defense in the Big East, with a stingy rating of 65.1. She also leads the nation with 1.3 defensive win shares. Ransom gets it done on offense as well, scoring a team-high 15.6 points per game on career-best shooting percentages.

TCU (9-0)

It’s been a stellar to start to the season for the still-undefeated Horned Frogs. After winning only eight games last season, TCU already has won nine games, evidence of the swift transformation ushered in by new head coach Mark Campbell. In last week’s AP poll, the Horned Frogs received seven votes.

The arrival of a number of new players also has spurred TCU’s rapid rise into the ranks of the relevant. Sedona Prince, back on the court for the first time since the 2021-22 season, is fulfilling the potential imagined for her when HoopGurlz ranked her as the eighth-best recruit in the nation in the class of 2018. Career-best scoring and rebounding production—21.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game—has her on the verge of averaging a double-double. She also swatted a NCAA single-game record 11 blocks in TCU’s win over Abilene Christian.

Arriving at TCU after three seasons at Arizona, junior guard Madison Conner has emerged as one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation. She’s first nationally in 3-pointers made and attempted, going 51-for-112 from behind the arc. Jaden Owens jumped from Waco to Forth Worth, with the fifth-year guard putting together the best playmaking season of her collegiate career, averaging seven assists per game. Agnes Emma-Nnopu, who spent three seasons seeing limited action at Stanford before transferring to TCU, also has contributed to the Horned Frogs’ hot start, doing a bit of everything as she has averaged 9.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 “stocks” (steals+blocks) per game.

TCU’s success highlights the positives of the transfer portal-era of college sports, where a program heading in the wrong direction quickly can execute a 180-degree turnaround that restores interest and optimism.

No. 19 Marquette (9-0)

Marquette nearly lost their spot on this list on Sunday afternoon, barely surviving an upset bid by Illinois State, 64-62. Nevertheless, the Golden Eagles have compiled a strong resume, with three of their nine wins coming over Power 5 opponents. Marquette also faces two more notable test before the end of 2023, hosting No. 22 Creighton on Wednesday before meeting the long-tenured titans of the Big East—No. 17 UConn—in Storrs on New Year’s Eve afternoon.

A solid starting five advantages the high-scoring Golden Eagles against any opponent. Sophomore guard Mackenzie Hare has been absolutely on fire from deep, hitting a nation-best 59.3 percent from 3 on 6.8 attempts per game as she leads Marquette with 16.5 points per game. Fifth-year guard Jordan King and fifth-year forward Liza Karlen add 15.3 and 15.1 points per game, respectively. It was Karlen who keyed the Golden Eagles in Sunday’s critical fourth quarter with a personal 9-0 run. Although her raw stats don’t pop off the page, senior guard Rose Nkumu is efficiently essential to the Marquette offense; her 83.3 true shooting percentage leads the nation, while the Golden Eagles score a Big East-best 138.8 points per game when she is on the floor. Fifth-year wing Frannie Hottinger fills the gaps, leading the team with 7.6 boards per game.

Superlative individual performances

Let’s shine a light on some of the outstanding performances from players across the women’s college basketball landscape:

  • Fifth-year guard McKenna Hofschild, who leads the nation in assists per game, continues to pack the box score and pace 8-0 Colorado State, propelling her squad past Montana with 36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
  • Penn senior forward Jordan Obi scored a career-high 30 points, while also grabbing 11 boards, giving her the double-double and her team the win over Merrimack.
  • Junior guard Ella Stemmer helped Lehigh extend their record to 8-1, draining six of 12 3-point attempts as she scored 33 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished three assists as her team crushed La Salle.
  • Senior guard Ja-Naiah Perkins-Jackson put together a career day—netting seven 3s and scoring 31 points—as she and Delaware State cruised against Wilmington.
  • South Carolina Upstate senior forward Isabell West totaled 29 points, six boards, four steals and two blocks as her team sealed the win over Western Carolina.
  • Nebraska fifth-year guard Jaz Shelley earned a triple-double in a victory over UNC-Wilmington, with 19 points, 11 assists and 10 boards. It was her second-career triple-double, making her the first player in school history to record two triple-doubles.
  • Fifth-year guard Danae McNeal has been on a tear for East Carolina this season; her latest effort was a 34-point performance, boosted by four steals, in a domination of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

A look ahead

With final exams in full swing at most schools, the week ahead features only two top-25 matchups. However, one battle of undefeateds also intrigues.

Wednesday, Dec. 13

No. 22 Creighton vs. No. 19 Marquette (8 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Dec. 16

No. 18 Louisville vs. No. 17 UConn (12 p.m. ET)

Miami vs. No. 10 Baylor (5 p.m. ET, Big 12/ESPN+)