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Around the NCAAW: South Carolina, Notre Dame earn primetime statement wins on the road

While a pair of clutch 3s from Bree Hall helped South Carolina escape against LSU and remain undefeated, Hannah Hidalgo was electric as Notre Dame upset UConn. Those two primetime contests highlighted another wild week in women’s college hoops.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Notre Dame at Connecticut
Hannah Hidalgo’s fire and season-high 34 points led Notre Dame to the upset at UConn.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It was another action-packed week across women’s college basketball. Catch up on the excellence, upsets and all-round efforts from Monday, Jan. 22 to Sunday, Jan. 28.

Primetime showdowns do not disappoint as Gamecocks, Irish prevail

Two primetime games. Two thrillers.

Thursday evening’s matchup between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 9 LSU and Saturday night’s contest between No. 15 Notre Dame and No. 8 UConn did not disappoint, showcasing the excitement, skill and electricity of women’s college basketball as the two visiting teams—South Carolina and Notre Dame—escaped with victories. Here’s the key takeaways:

South Carolina 76, LSU 70

All 10 of the game’s starters scored in double figures. But it was six points from South Carolina junior guard Bree Hall that mattered most. Hall drained a triple with just under three minutes remaining. After a 3 from LSU grad guard Hailey Van Lith tied the game a 70-70, Hall responded with another trey, giving the Gamecocks a lead they would not relinquish. A layup and free throw from sophomore guard Raven Johnson sealed the game for South Carolina, 76-70.

What it means for South Carolina

The Gamecocks are going to find a way to win. Not the largest deficit they’ve faced all season nor a raucous road crowd caused the nation’s best team to cower. In the final period, head coach Dawn Staley’s trusted perimeter trio of Hall, Johnson and senior guard Te-Hina Paopao steered the Gamecocks through adversity and to victory. The steadiness of those three, combined with the fearlessness of sophomore forward Chloe Kitts and freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley, the athletic presence of sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins and the unfazed efforts of senior center Kamilla Cardoso inspire confidence in the ability of South Carolina to weather any more stormy waters they may encounter during SEC play or in the NCAA Tournament. On Sunday, South Carolina did not suffer a let down, shaking off a pesky Vanderbilt team, 91-74, behind 23 points from Cardoso, which tied her season high.

What it means for LSU

The defending national champions will not let go of their title without a fight. Although they may not be a No. 1 seed, LSU looks like the squad no team will want to see in their bracket in March. Despite the result, the Lady Tigers showed that they can turn it up when the lights are brightest, especially when their talent alchemizes as it did on Thursday night. Freshman wing Mikaylah Williams and junior win Aneesah Morrow provided the tough shotmaking, Van Lith and sophomore guard Flau’jae Johnson chipped in momentum-generating plays and junior forward Angel Reese was relentless. If Reese hadn’t fouled out, LSU might have earned the statement win of the season. If they can continue to play to their potential, expect the Lady Tigers to get another shot at the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament final. First, they’ll meet Mississippi State in Starkville on Monday night.

Notre Dame 82, UConn 67

Hannah Hidalgo wasted no time in establishing herself as the latest Notre Dame player to become a UConn villain. The freshman guard unleashed a season-high 34 points in Gampel Pavilion to take down the Huskies, 82-67. Of Hidalgo, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said, “It took a lot of guts for her to come in here and do what she did. She’s damn good, right? Yeah.”

What it means for Notre Dame

After Saturday night’s game, it was confirmed that junior guard Olivia Miles, the expected engine of the Irish, will not play this season, sidelined as she continues to recover from knee surgery. If Miles could have returned and quickly found her All-American form, Notre Dame might have been destined for a deep March run. Instead, the Irish will remain dependent on the heroics of Hidalgo. While she’s up for it, Notre Dame needs more consistency from the supporting cast to finish atop the ACC, much less to advance to the latter rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

It took Hidalgo, junior guard Sonia Citron and senior forward Maddy Westbeld playing all 40 minutes and scoring all but 10 of the Irish’s points to hold off the Huskies. It’s a precarious formula, evinced by Thursday’s home loss to Syracuse. So while it was an absolutely awesome win for the Irish, it will not be surprising if the rest of their season features a few more disappointing losses mixed in with inspiring wins.

What it means for UConn

Not unlike Notre Dame, a lack of depth is an issue for injury-plagued UConn. Four of the Huskies starters played at least 37 minutes on Saturday night. It’s almost guaranteed that the fifth—senior guard Nika Mühl—would have as well if not for foul trouble. It was when Mühl fouled out early in the fourth quarter that the game began to get away from the Huskies. The emergence of freshmen guards KK Arnold and Ashlynn Shade has given Auriemma a starting five he trusts, but the head coach’s confidence in fellow freshmen Qadence Samuels and Ice Brady has wavered in close games. The pair played a combined 25 minutes on Saturday, a total that would have been much less if Mühl had not been limited.

Still, UConn might have overcome all of that if Paige Bueckers had not had her most inefficient shooting game of the season. The redshirt junior guard was an uncharacteristic 5-for-17 from the field as she finished with 17 points. However, expect the performance to be nothing more than a blip for Bueckers; she’s stamped as a big-game player who will deliver for the Huskies when it matters most. But in future contests against top teams, will Bueckers’ brilliance be enough?

Beavers busting out as LA squads stumble in Pac-12

Although South Carolina and Notre Dame earned wins in the week’s highest-profile games, what No. 25 Oregon State accomplished should not be overlooked. In the tough-as-nails Pac-12, the Beavers beat No. 3 Colorado 68-62 on Friday before blowing out No. 16 Utah 91-66 on Sunday.

The Beavers fended off the Buffaloes behind matching 16-point performances from freshman guard Donovyn Hunter and junior guard Talia von Oelhoffen. On Sunday, Hunter powered Oregon State with a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists, both of which are season bests. Sophomore forward Raegan Beers led the Beavers with 20 points. Oregon State also forced Utah star Alissa Pili into an inefficient afternoon, with the senior forward finishing with 28 points on 28 shots.

After beginning the season 12-0, the Beavers sputtered to start the new year, going 3-3 through the first three weeks of January. However, this weekend’s pair of wins puts Oregon State at 6-3 in the conference, ahead of No. 2 UCLA and No. 11 USC in the hotly-contested Pac-12 title.

It was a disappointing Sunday in LA, as both the Bruins and Trojans were outdone by the teams from the state of Washington, with Cougars winning 85-82 in Pauley Pavilion and the Huskies getting the victory in the Galen Center, 62-59. Washington State held off UCLA despite senior guard Charlisse Leger-Walker suffering a knee injury. Fifth-year senior center Bella Murekatete led the Cougars with 20 points, while 20 points from grad guard Charisma Osborne and 25 from sophomore guard Kiki Rice were not enough for UCLA. The Bruins are now 5-3 in conference play, while the Cougars are 4-4.

Across town, freshman star JuJu Watkins struggled her way to 19 points on 27 shots. However, USC senior guard Kayla Padilla was 6-for-9 from 3, scoring 20 points to keep the Trojans in striking distance. But Washington survived, spurred by 21 points from fifth-year senior forward Lauren Schwartz and a double-double of 12 points and 10 points from junior forward Dalayah Daniels. The loss sends the Trojans to 4-4 in the Pac-12, with the Huskies rising to 3-5.

With weekend wins over Arizona State and Arizona, No. 6 Stanford remains tops in the Pac-12 at 8-1. Colorado rebounded from their loss to Oregon State to defeat Oregon, claiming second place in the conference at 7-2.

Superstar showcases

There was no shortage of fabulous performances in women’s college basketball over the past week. Here are a few of the most memorable:

  • Buffalo senior guard Chellia Watson turned into back-to-back monster scoring games. On Wednesday, she had 36 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in a 82-72 win over Bowling Green. On Saturday, she exploded for 47 points, although Buffalo came up short against Toledo, 67-63. It was the highest-scoring game in Buffalo basketball history, an impressive feat considering Syracuse super-scorer Dyashia Fair played three seasons for the Bulls. Watson also reached 1,000 career points.
  • Kymora Johnson and the Cavaliers captured another upset over a ranked ACC opponent on Sunday. The Virginia freshman guard was 4-for-5 from 3 and finished with 25 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals in the runaway victory over No. 20 North Carolina, 81-66.
  • Stanford’s twin towers of junior forward Kiki Iriafen and senior forward Cameron Brink powered the Cardinal past Arizona State, 80-50, with a pair of double-doubles on Friday night. Iriafen led the way 27 points and 14 boards, while Brink totaled 20 points and 16 boards. On Sunday against Arizona, they about did it again. Brink had a 25-point and 19-rebound double-double as Iriafen finished with 21 points and nine boards in the 96-64 Cardinal win.
  • On Sunday, Florida State sophomore guard Ta’Niya Latson turned it on in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of her 33 points in the final frame to led the Seminoles to the comeback win at Georgia Tech, 78-67. Laston also contributed six boards, five assists and three steals. After dropping three-straight conference contests, the ‘Noles desperately needed the dub; they’re mired in the middle of the ACC standings at 6-4.
  • A 27-point and 11-rebound double-double from Indiana grad big Mackenzie Holmes helped the No. 14 Hoosiers cruise past Northwestern on Sunday, 100-59. Holmes also was a perfect 9-for-9 from the line. At 8-1 in the Big Ten, Indiana is tied atop the conference with No. 5 Iowa and No. 12 Ohio State.
  • Troy fifth-year forward Tai’Sheka Porchia had an exclamation-worthy effort in front of an arena-record crowd on Saturday, uncorking 35 points and 17 rebounds in the overtime win over Arkansas State, 91-84. Junior guard Makayia Hallmon also was clutch for the Trojans, hitting three 3s in the overtime period.
  • Wofford junior guard Rachel Rose continued her do-it-all season. On Thursday, she dropped 32 points, aided by a perfect 14-for-14 performance from the free throw, on Mercer, helping the Terriers hold on for a one-point win, 65-64. On Saturday, she finished with a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds, in addition to six assists and six steals, as Wofford took care of Samford, 59-41.
  • Junior guard Emani Jefferson stuffed the stat sheet for Florida Gulf Coast in a win over Lipscomb, 75-54. The 5-foot-6 Jefferson had a career-high 27 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. Five of her boards were of the offensive variety. Jefferson also notched 1,000 points for her career.
  • Milwaukee edged Wright State, 93-87, in an overtime Horizon League thriller on Friday night, with superb performances on both sides. For the victorious Panthers of Milwaukee, junior guard Jada Donaldson went 4-for-6 from 3 and 8-for-8 from the line on her way to an efficient 20 points. Fifth-year senior guard Alexis Hutchinson led the Raiders with 34 points, adding seven boards, six steals and three assists.
  • Middle Tennessee State junior center Anatasiia Boldyreva finished with an efficient double-double of 27 points and 15 rebounds in the Blue Raiders’ Wednesday win over Jacksonville State, 66-45. But, her starriest stat was her eight blocks!
  • After dropping a conference contest to Howard on Jan. 20, Norfolk State responded by throttling non-conference opponent Mary Washington, 99-43, on Monday. The dynamic duo of senior guard Diamond Johnson and junior forward Kierra Wheeler led the way. Wheeler posted yet another double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Johnson scored a season-high 29 points.

TCU is turning lemons into lemonade

On Tuesday, injury-ravaged TCU announced that the team had added three more walk-ons, allowing the Horned Frogs to resume play after forfeiting two games last week. TCU volleyball star Sarah Sylvester already had joined the team. That evening, the makeshift squad pulled off the seemingly improbable, coming back to defeat UCF 66-60.

The Horned Frogs fought hard at Texas Tech on Saturday before coming up short against the Red Raiders, 71-65.

A look ahead

As the calendar turns to February, conference play keeps heating up. Here are the matchups most worth looking forward to:

Thursday, Feb. 1

No. 22 Syracuse vs. No. 18 Louisville (7 p.m. ET, ACC Network Extra)

No. 20 North Carolina vs. No. 7 NC State (8 p.m. ET, ACC Network)

No. 10 Texas vs. No. 13 Baylor (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Friday, Feb. 2

No. 11 USC vs. No. 6 Stanford (10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)

Sunday, Feb. 4

No. 14 Indiana vs. No. 12 Ohio State (12 p.m. ET)

No. 19 Virginia Tech vs. No. 20 North Carolina (12 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 4 Kansas State vs. No. 10 Texas (2 p.m. ET)

No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 6 Stanford (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2)