It was a week in women’s college basketball of things that had never happened before or hadn’t in a very long time. And those results have us wondering about the 2021-22 preseason favorites in the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC.
On Thursday, Missouri beat top-ranked South Carolina, the first time the Tigers had ever defeated a No. 1 team. On Sunday, No. 8 Indiana beat sixth-ranked Maryland for the first time in Hoosiers history, after previously going 0-11 against the Terps. Also on Sunday, No. 10 Baylor fell at Kansas State, the Bears’ first loss to the Wildcats in 18 years, breaking a streak of 36 consecutive victories in the series.
Maryland, Baylor and South Carolina were ESPN’s unanimous picks to win their conferences. Now, just a week into the league season — albeit with several games postponed due to COVID-19 protocol — do the upsets change anything? It’s too early to say, but the fact that the question has come up is noteworthy.
South Carolina bounced back Sunday with an 80-68 victory over Mississippi State. Mizzou was able to stretch the Gamecocks’ defense by hitting seven 3-pointers, and it avoided turnovers. Mississippi State shot just 2-of-17 from 3-point range, although it won the turnover battle 18-10.
South Carolina is still the national favorite, along with being the SEC favorite. But the loss to Missouri showed there are ways to try to keep the Gamecocks away from their strengths.
And a matchup that everyone was already looking forward to — new-look LSU under coach Kim Mulkey vs. South Carolina — is even more intriguing now that the Tigers are 2-0 in SEC play and the Gamecocks 1-1. They meet Thursday (7 p.m. ET, SEC Network) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Indiana — like Missouri — had to go to overtime for its big win but got it thanks to a strong defensive effort. The Hoosiers held the Terps to 36.2% shooting from the field, including 23.1% from 3-point range. Indiana did it with its starters playing virtually the entire game: Ali Patberg and Grace Berger were in for all 45 minutes, Nicole Cardano-Hillary for 43 minutes, Aleksa Gulbe for 42 and Mackenzie Holmes for 41.
“Since we’ve been here, we’ve tried to really hang our hats on the defensive side of the ball,” said coach Teri Moren, in her eighth season at Indiana. “We’ve been stingy. We have tough kids. They’re gritty. They’re smart. They always understand the game plan, especially tendencies and things we’re trying to take away.”
Maryland and Indiana brought back most of their players from last season, so experience is a strength of both. But the Terps have historical dominance, even in their relatively short time in the Big Ten. They have won or shared the league’s regular-season title in six of the seven seasons since coming over from the ACC.
The Terps need to be able to count on their 3-point shooting and their rebounding throughout league play if they want to finish atop the Big Ten title again. Their next big test is against Michigan on Jan. 16.
Indiana pulls away in overtime with baskets from Mackenzie Holmes and Grace Berger for the program’s first win vs. Maryland.
Kansas State hadn’t beaten Baylor since Jan. 27, 2004. Baylor had not lost a Big 12 opener since the 2015-16 season — when the Bears fell at Oklahoma State — but then didn’t lose again until the Elite Eight.
That 2004 Baylor loss at K-State came to a Wildcats team that had four players who all saw time in the WNBA, led by Nicole Ohlde, who won a championship with Phoenix in 2009. The current Wildcats might have a future WNBA player in center Ayoka Lee, who had 32 points and 10 rebounds versus the Bears.
Baylor post players NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo had a combined 16 points and 11 rebounds, as the Bears ended up relying more on their perimeter offense than they probably wanted to. If there’s a common denominator in Baylor’s three losses — the others were to Maryland and Michigan — it’s at the foul line, where the Terps, Wolverines and Wildcats were a combined 55-of-66 to the Bears’ 31-of-42.
Baylor, of course, is under new leadership this season with coach Nicki Collen, and some bumps in the road were inevitable. Baylor has won or tied for the regular-season Big 12 title the past 11 years in a row. The Bears have been outright champions in 10 of those seasons and shared with West Virginia in the other (2014).
They have a matchup with Texas on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN); the Longhorns have won just once (2017) in the series since 2011. Baylor’s Big 12 favorite status might really be shaken if the Longhorns prevail.
No. 19 LSU’s Kim Mulkey says No. 23 Texas A&M’s aggressive defense made it tough but that the Tigers’ seniors found a way to secure a 75-66 win.
Player of the Week: Ayoka Lee, Kansas State Wildcats
Our first repeat winner this season, Lee was previously honored on Nov. 15. She has been an unstoppable force for the Wildcats, who got their biggest win in a while on Sunday in beating No. 10 Baylor. Lee was 11-of-16 from the field and 10-of-13 from the foul line for 32 points. She has five games this season of 30 points or more and is averaging 24.4 points.
Lee had 10 rebounds against the Bears and is averaging 11.0 rebounds, along with 3.8 blocked shots. Lee had 28 of her points in the second half.
“She just delivered in every area,” K-State coach Jeff Mittie said. “This is a huge win against a program that has dominated this league over the last decade.”
Team of the Week: LSU Tigers
The Tigers started the SEC season 2-0 with wins over ranked Georgia and Texas A&M, and senior Khayla Pointer played all 40 minutes in both games. She had a triple-double to start the season against Nicholls State and almost had another Sunday versus the Aggies, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Fellow guard Alexis Morris led the way against Texas A&M with 30 points. And the Tigers kept both the Bulldogs (3-of-6) and the Aggies (10-of-11) from getting to the foul line too much.
Considering they used just seven players because of COVID-19 protocol, you might have thought the Tigers wouldn’t have had it in them to win in overtime. How many times have we seen a near upset fall apart in the extra period?
That could have happened to Missouri, especially after the Tigers fell behind by five points in OT. But the Gamecocks didn’t score again, and Missouri made three layups in the final 3 minutes of the extra period to win, with two coming from guard Lauren Hansen. It was South Carolina’s first loss this season, and it redeemed the Tigers after their near upset against Baylor earlier in December.
Coach of the Week: Robin Pingeton, Missouri Tigers
Pingeton knew not many gave Missouri a chance against South Carolina even if Aijha Blackwell, the Tigers’ leading scorer and rebounder, had been available. But with Blackwell, who is averaging a double-double, out due to COVID-19 protocol, the Tigers were cooked, right?
No, because their game plan stayed the same: Spread out the Gamecocks, force them to guard all of Missouri’s shooters and don’t give up easy transition points. It has been a recipe for success for the Tigers in the SEC under Pingeton. She isn’t necessarily going to get as much blue-chip talent as other programs in the league, but she has a good track record of making the most of the ability the Tigers have.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (13-1)
Previous ranking: 1
This week: at LSU (Thursday), vs. Kentucky (Sunday)
Yes, the Gamecocks stay at No. 1. Their perfect record is over, but that’s not a big concern. The fact that South Carolina had to rally from an 18-point deficit against Stanford and lost to Missouri in two of its past three games is a concern, especially with red-hot LSU coming up next.
2. Stanford Cardinal (9-3)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. Oregon (Friday), vs. Oregon State (Sunday)
The Cardinal’s matchup against Washington was postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. But their mastery of Washington State — which Stanford has never lost to — continued Sunday. Five Stanford players were out due to COVID-19 protocol, but Haley Jones led the way with 24 points and 16 rebounds in an 82-44 rout.
3. Tennessee Lady Vols (13-1)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Texas A&M (Thursday), at Ole Miss (Sunday)
Tennessee picked up three victories this past week, including SEC wins over Alabama and Arkansas. The Lady Vols outscored the Razorbacks 25-15 in the fourth quarter for a 70-63 win on the road on Sunday.
Emily Engstler makes a go-ahead layup with two seconds remaining as Louisville defeats Georgia Tech 50-48.
4. Louisville Cardinals (12-1)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. Pittsburgh (Thursday), at Miami (Sunday)
If you love defense, the Cardinals’ 50-48 victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday was your kind of game. Louisville won despite scoring in single digits in both the first quarter (three points) and third quarter (seven points). Emily Engstler‘s layup with two seconds left kept the Cardinals’ winning streak going at 12 in a row.
5. NC State Wolfpack (12-2)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: vs. North Carolina (Thursday), at Notre Dame (Sunday)
The Wolfpack blew past Clemson 79-52 on Thursday, and they will have had a week to prepare for undefeated North Carolina’s visit on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, ACC Network). The Tar Heels haven’t played a ranked team yet; they will be NC State’s fifth ranked opponent.
6. Texas Longhorns (10-1)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. Texas Tech (Wednesday), at Baylor (Sunday)
Texas started the Big 12 season on Sunday with a 62-51 win at Oklahoma State. Next Sunday, the Longhorns will look to end their losing streak against Baylor, which Texas hasn’t defeated since 2017.
7. Indiana Hoosiers (11-2)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at Wisconsin (Wednesday)
The Hoosiers showed their resolve in Sunday’s win against Maryland. They were outscored 10-1 in the final three minutes of regulation, so it felt like all the momentum was with the Terps going into overtime. But Indiana won the extra period 9-2 and the game 70-63.
8. Michigan Wolverines (12-1)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at Nebraska (Tuesday), vs. Rutgers (Sunday)
Naz Hillmon has burned everybody in the Big Ten, but she has really been tough on Ohio State. With 29 points in Friday’s 90-71 win against the Buckeyes, she is averaging 35.3 points in her past three meetings with them dating back to last season.
9. LSU Tigers (14-1)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. South Carolina (Thursday), at Auburn (Sunday)
The Tigers made the biggest jump this week with their victories over ranked Georgia and Texas A&M, along with a win over Samford. Now, how will they match up with the Gamecocks?
10. Arizona Wildcats (10-0)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. Washington State (Friday), vs. Washington (Sunday)
The Wildcats are lingering in the top 10 because we don’t have much evidence to take them out yet. But with COVID-19 canceling or postponing their past three games, they haven’t played since Dec. 17, and their only ranked opponent was Louisville on Nov. 12.
11. Baylor Bears (10-3)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: vs. TCU (Wednesday), vs. Texas (Sunday)
There is no call for the Bears to panic after their loss to Kansas State on Sunday. The Wildcats have been really good at home this season, and they challenged themselves in nonconference play, having faced NC State, South Carolina and Oregon. Still, it was a wake-up call for Baylor about how tough the Big 12 play could be.
12. UConn Huskies (6-3)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: at Villanova (Friday), vs. Creighton (Sunday)
The Huskies have not played since their 69-64 loss to Louisville on Dec. 19, as games against Marquette, DePaul and Georgetown have all been postponed by COVID-19 issues.
13. Maryland Terrapins (10-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. Penn State (Thursday), at Minnesota (Sunday)
All credit goes to Indiana, especially on defense, in the Terps’ 70-63 overtime loss on Sunday. But Maryland would like to see some more characteristic results from behind the arc in its upcoming games, after going 3-of-13 against the Hoosiers.
14. Iowa State Cyclones (12-1)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: at Oklahoma (Wednesday), vs. TCU (Saturday)
Chalk up another superb game for senior guard Ashley Joens, who had 29 points and 11 rebounds as the Cyclones opened Big 12 play by beating West Virginia 88-72 on Sunday. Considering both teams’ offensive potential, Iowa State’s upcoming game at Oklahoma could be quite a fun matchup.
15. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-3)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: at Duke (Thursday), vs. Virginia (Sunday)
After two stellar nonconference wins — on Dec. 5 over Georgia and Dec. 9 over UConn — the Yellow Jackets nearly got another biggie on Sunday in the ACC. It took a late layup by Louisville for the Cardinals to prevail 50-48. Another ranked foe awaits Georgia Tech this week in Duke.
16. Georgia Lady Bulldogs (12-2)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: at Kentucky (Thursday), vs. Alabama (Sunday)
The Bulldogs were tripped up at home by LSU on Thursday but came back with a 73-69 win at Florida on Sunday. Que Morrison had 18 points, six rebounds, four assists and five steals against the Gators.
In the waiting room
North Carolina Tar Heels (13-0): They are still undefeated but also still haven’t played a ranked opponent. That changes on Thursday when they travel to NC State. Deja Kelly had a career-high 31 points in beating Clemson on Sunday.
Oklahoma Sooners (12-1): Their offense keeps on rolling. Sunday’s 97-91 victory against Texas Tech was the seventh time this season the Sooners have scored at least 90 points.