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Around the NCAAW: Could JuJu Watkins, Hannah Hidalgo become the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer?

Even as we wait for Caitlin Clark to become the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, is it time to begin thinking about who might threaten her mark? Freshman scoring phenoms JuJu Watkins and Hannah Hidalgo look like strong candidates.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Southern California at UCLA
After her 51-point performance, is it time to start considering how many points USC’s JuJu Watkins could score in her career?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

More upsets, more scoring outbursts and more broken records. It was another action-packed week of women’s college hoops. Here’s what happened from Monday, Jan. 29 to Sunday, Feb. 4.

We’re No. 2?

But not for long...

For a significant chunk of this season, the second spot in the top 25 has seemed cursed. Soon after a team has earned that customarily-coveted “No. 2” by their name, they suffer a loss that causes them to stumble in the standings. Back in November, UConn and Iowa both lost from the second perch in the standings. In January, UCLA, Iowa (again) and then UCLA (again) were unable to maintain No. 2.

On Wednesday, Kansas State joined the group, with the soon-to-be-formerly No. 2 Wildcats falling by three points to Oklahoma, 66-63. It was K-State’s fourth game without star senior center Ayoka Lee, who is sidelined due to ankle surgery. The loss also snapped Kansas State’s 14-game winning streak.

The Wildcats certainly felt Lee’s absence. On Jan. 10, a fourth-quarter burst from Lee powered the Wildcats past the Sooners, 74-57, as she scored 12 of her 19 points in the final frame. On Wednesday, the Sooners won the pivotal fourth period, making just enough free throws to fend off the Wildcats. Senior forward Skylar Vann led Oklahoma with 21 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore forward Gisela Sanchez had 18 points and nine boards for Kansas State, while junior guard Serena Sundell contributed a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. On Sunday, No. 12 Texas dealt K-State a second-straight loss, 61-54. Freshman forward Madison Booker led the Longhorns with 20 points, while the Texas defense held the Wildcats to a season-low scoring output.

No. 4 Stanford ceded their opportunity to rise to ill-fated No. 2. With games against No. 15 USC and No. 7 UCLA, a sweep of the LA squads could have lifted the Cardinal to second in the standings. Instead, JuJu Watkins happened, with the freshman phenom’s 51 points thwarting Stanford’s potential ascendance, as the Trojans took down the Cardinal, 67-58. Stanford’s strong win over UCLA on Sunday likely will not save them from a standings slide.

No. 3 Iowa, after crushing Northwestern on Wednesday and surviving an upset bid by Maryland on Saturday night, or No. 5 NC State, victorious against No. 24 North Carolina on Thursday and scheduled to meet No. 16 Louisville on Monday night, are the candidates to trepidatiously take over No. 2.

Eyes on Clark, but watch out for Watkins, Hidalgo

In Iowa’s Wednesday win over Northwestern, Caitlin Clark scored 35 points, passing former Ohio State Buckeye Kelsey Mitchell’s 3,402 career points to become the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer. After scoring 38 points in Saturday’s win at Maryland, Clark sits at 3,462 career points, putting her 66 points from passing former Washington Husky Kelsey Plum’s 3,527 points for the NCAA’s scoring record.

But, is it too early to consider the candidates who one day might usurp Clark?

After her 51-point Friday night explosion, USC freshman JuJu Watkins further cemented herself as a threat to eviscerate the record breaks. Although two players who scored more than 100 points as high schoolers—Cheryl Miller and Lisa Leslie—once suited up for the Women of Troy, Watkins’ 51 points is the most in school history. Only Plum has scored more in a Pac-12 game, dropping 57 on Utah in 2017.

The 51-piece also gave her 490 points through 18 career games. On Sunday, Watkins scored 29 points in USC’s win at Cal, giving her 519 points in 19 games. Eight regular-season games remain for the Trojans, followed by at least one game in the Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament.

However, Watkins is not the nation’s most prolific freshman scorer; that honor belongs to Hannah Hidalgo. Through 21 games, the Notre Dame freshman has 521 points. Her highest-scoring effort of the season came on Thursday, dropping 35 points in a big win over Georgia Tech. Before that, she did major damage against UConn, scoring 34 points in the Irish’s upset victory. On Sunday, she finished with a ho-hum 22 points as Notre Dame dominated Pitt. Notre Dame, like USC, has eight more regular-season games, with ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament games to follow.

As a freshman, Clark played 30 games and finished with 799 points. Hopefully, Watkins and Hidalgo, like Clark, enjoy good health throughout their collegiate career. Clark’s durability should not be discounted when celebrating her excellence. Of course, Watkins and Hidalgo also could choose to cut short their time in college, opting for the challenge of the WNBA after three seasons.

Whatever the future holds, let’s enjoy all the buckets (and buckets and buckets) from Clark, Watkins and Hidalgo.

Wooden Award Midseason Top 20

On Tuesday, the top 20 candidates for the Wooden Award, which honors women’s college basketball’s most outstanding player, were released. Headlining the list are previous winners in the aforementioned Clark, last season’s winner, and Paige Bueckers, who won as a freshman in 2021. Watkins and Hidalgo are two of the three freshman that remain in contention for this season’s award.

  • Virginia Tech senior guard Georgia Amoore
  • UCLA sophomore center Lauren Betts
  • Texas freshman forward Madison Booker
  • Stanford senior forward Cameron Brink
  • UConn redshirt junior guard Paige Bueckers
  • South Carolina senior center Kamilla Cardoso
  • Iowa senior guard Caitlin Clark
  • UConn senior forward Aaliyah Edwards
  • Notre Dame freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo
  • Indiana grad forward Mackenzie Holmes
  • Virginia Tech grad center Elizabeth Kitley
  • Florida State sophomore guard Ta’Niya Latson
  • Kansas State senior center Ayoka Lee
  • LSU junior guard Aneesah Morrow
  • South Carolina senior guard Te-Hina Paopao
  • Utah senior forward Alissa Pili
  • LSU junior forward Angel Reese
  • Ohio State grad guard Jacy Sheldon
  • Colorado grad guard Jaylyn Sherrod
  • USC freshman guard JuJu Watkins

Later this month, the list will be narrowed to 15, before a 10-player All-American Team, along with the Wooden Award winner, will be named in late spring.

Best of the rest

Yes, Watkins’ 51 points deserve all the big headlines. But, her astounding scoring effort should not totally overshadow other strong performances from the past week:

  • No. 7 UCLA also enjoyed a fantastic performance on Friday night, as grad guard Charisma Osborne shot 70 percent from the field and 100 percent from the line as she scored a season-high 32 points in the Bruins’ comfortable win at Cal, 78-58. She also became the third-highest scorer in UCLA women’s basketball history in the contest.
  • A pair of Wooden Award candidates turned in top-notch performances this week. On Thursday night, Virginia Tech grad center Elizabeth Kitley finished with a monster double-double of 33 points and 18 rebounds in the No. 17 Hokies’ win over in-state rival Virginia, 76-63. Although her 3-ball was not falling, senior guard Georgia Amoore had the ball popping, tossing 14 assists to go with her 20 points. On Sunday, the duo was at it again, with their double-doubles—15 points and 15 rebounds for Kitley and 21 points and 11 assists for Amoore—helping the Hokies survive an overtime scare from No. 24 North Carolina, 70-61. For more on Amoore, who had the game-clinching 3 in OT on Sunday, check out Eric Nemchock’s WNBA Draft profile of the electric Aussie guard.
  • Alabama senior guard Sarah Ashlee Barker has taken her under-the-radar strong season to another level of late. After scoring a career-high 34 points in a win over Kentucky last Sunday, she had 25 points in the Tide’s 86-70 victory at Arkansas on Thursday. Barker also battled on the boards in both games, grabbing 10 and 11 rebounds, respectively, to give herself back-to-back double-doubles. She’s also tallied three-straight games with at least three steals.
  • Arkansas State junior guard Izzy Higginbottom has been on a heater, scoring more than 30 points in three-straight games. On Jan. 27, she scored 34 points in the Red Wolves’ overtime loss to Troy, 91-84. On Wednesday, her 35 points helped Arkansas State get the 73-61 win over South Alabama. Then, on Saturday, she finished with 33 points in a 76-63 victory over Old Dominion. Higginbottom is an expert at earning (and hitting) free throws, going 41-for-42 from the line over the past three games. Her impact also was not limited to scoring, as she had at least five assists and at least two steals in the three contests.
  • California Baptist got a fourth-straight win, defeating Seattle 86-77 on Saturday behind a 33-point and 10-rebound double-double from fifth-year guard Chloe Webb. She was 8-for-10 from 2-point range and 11-for-13 from the line, while also swiping a trio of steals. The Lancers are a solid 17-2 overall and 9-1 in the WAC, good for second place in the conference.
  • A career-high 35 points from senior forward Summah Evans propelled Mercer to a season-high 87 points in a runaway win over Samford, 87-59, on Saturday. Evans went 5-for-8 from 3, while also grabbing six boards and chipping in a couple of assists and blocks.
  • Northern Kentucky junior guard Khamari Mitchell-Steen cooked on Wednesday night, with 29 points, four rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks as her team defeated Detroit Mercy, 73-54.
  • Big-time performances from junior guard Ja’Naiya Quinerly has helped No. 23 West Virginia settle into third place in the Big 12 standings. She scored a season-high 31 points, grabbed six boards, snagged five steals and tossed three assists in a win over Iowa State on Jan. 27, 84-78. She followed that up with 26 points as the Mountaineers cruised against UCF, 84-43, on Tuesday. On Saturday, Quinerly and the Mountaineers defeated BYU, 76-69, for their sixth-straight dub.
  • Although Alcorn State fell short against Bethune-Cookman, 66-58, junior center Destiny Brown had herself a game on Monday night, with 24 points, 14 boards, four assists, four steals and three blocks.

LSU celebrates the great Sue Gunter

At halftime of Sunday afternoon’s game between No. 9 LSU and Florida, the court of Pete Maravich Assembly Center officially was named for Sue Gunter, the long-time and much-beloved head coach of the Lady Tigers. During her 21 seasons in Baton Rouge, Gunter led LSU to two SEC Tournament titles, 14 NCAA Tournaments, eight Sweet Sixteens, four Elite Eights and one Final Four. The Lady Tigers, appropriately, honored Gunter with an authoritative win, 106-66.

A look ahead

Next Sunday brings the next signature matchup of the season, with No. 11 UConn visiting No. 1 South Carolina. Of note, the top-ranked Gamecocks will be without senior center Kamilla Cardoso for the showdown with the Huskies, as she will be with the Brazilian national team for their Olympic qualifying tournament.

Between now and then, enjoy quite a few intriguing games.

Monday, Feb. 5

No. 16 Louisville vs. No. 5 NC State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN 2)

Thursday, Feb. 8

No. 14 Notre Dame vs. No. 16 Louisville (6 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 17 Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 NC State (8 p.m. ET, ACC Network)

Friday, Feb. 9

No. 18 Oregon State vs. No. 20 Utah (9 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Feb. 10

No. 23 West Virginia vs. No. 13 Baylor (3 p.m. ET, Big 12 Network/ESPN+)

Sunday, Feb. 11

No. 16 Louisville vs. No. 21 Syracuse (11 a.m. ET, CW Network)

No. 11 UConn vs. No. 1 South Carolina (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET)

No. 18 Oregon State vs. No. 6 Colorado (2 p.m. ET)