January 17, 2023
The Weekly Fast Break: Freshmen sensations and LA upsets
Latson, Rice, Braun and many more among the key newcomers
Once the calendar hits mid-January, classes are back in session on almost every college campus across the country from Storrs to LA. The parking lots are fuller, the drive-thru lines at Starbucks are longer and the buzz is back. After weeks of balancing practice, film sessions, games, more practice, eating and sleeping, players are now back in the classroom as well. For freshmen college basketball players, this may be the toughest stretch of their first year. What gives?
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We must remember that for most freshmen, a year ago, their lives were so different. They were in the comfort of their homes with family getting ready for the final games of their high school basketball season. They were also making plans with their friends for the winter formal dance and thinking about who the perfect prom date in the spring may be. But now you look at the calendar and there are not just a few games left and then the state tournament. It is full of weeks and weeks of practice, film sessions, games, travel, and a packed schedule of class work. This grind is where coaches learn who is toughest and will start to say, “you are not a freshman anymore.”
This week, we bring our Star Watch to the forefront, filled with freshmen who are making an impact. They may not be winning all the conference awards or leading their team in scoring, but we are taking notice. In full disclosure, we know we will miss some outstanding young women who are finding their footing this first year. But whether their name is here in this column, we know they are earning their playing time and taking care of business. We also tip our hat to everyone at The Next who contributed to our list of outstanding freshmen standouts.
Our Poll Watch: The SEC is well represented at the top with South Carolina at #1 and LSU at #3 in this week’s AP Poll. These two teams, along with #2 Ohio State are still undefeated on the year at 18-0. Stanford drops to #4 after their loss at USC, who is gaining traction and receiving votes this week. The biggest jump in the poll was North Carolina, up five spots to #17 after beating NC State on Sunday, who fell nine spots to #20. For the first time since 2004, Baylor is not in the AP Top 25 after the Bears dropped two games last week. Colorado and Texas are in at #24 and #25 respectively – the Buffs are back since this time last year and the Longhorns claw back in after being ranked earlier this season.
Florida State had many questions coming into this season – a new coach with new faces, all the while competing in one of the best leagues in the country. But with the arrival of 5’8 freshman guard Ta’Niya Latson, the Seminoles are becoming a force in the ACC. Latson’s run off a string of nine consecutive ACC Rookie of the Week awards starting in Nov. 2022 and has had just three games this year when she has scored under 20 points. She leads Florida State with 24.3 points/game and is shooting 49% from the field on the season. As of Jan. 17, she has already had 153 free throw attempts and is lights out at the line (86%). Latson is a playmaker who does not play like a freshman, which is why she is averaging 29.3 minutes/game this season.
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Going to a school on the complete opposite coast of the country can be a hard move for any college freshman, but Maryland native Kiki Rice is making the most of her new home in LA. The 5’11 freshman guard has started every game this season for UCLA and is second on the team in scoring overall (12.4/game) and Pac-12 games (13/game). She ranks in the top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio in the league. She recorded her first career double-double in the Bruins win over Cal on Jan. 15 with 15 points and 10 assists, posting 11 of the 15 points in the fourth quarter. Transitions are hard, but Rice is making it look easy, which is what most would have expected from the 2022 Gatorade National Player of the Year.
While many freshmen go far away, some stay close to home and look to help re-energize the flagship school in their home state. 6’ guard Mara Braun is one of those, making her way to college just 20 minutes from her home in Wayzata, MN to play at the University of Minnesota. Braun has made an immediate impact for the Golden Gophers, leading them in scoring (15.4/game) for the season, ranking her in the top 15 in the Big Ten. She rocketed on the scene with a 36-point performance on Nov. 13 against Lehigh and has been at the top of every scouting report since. Braun and the Gophers are 8-10 overall and just 1-6 in Big Ten play, but the hometown girl has been a bright spot for fans of the maroon and gold.
What if your freshman campaign was on an entirely different continent? There are quite a few young women making the move to the U.S. to play college basketball and enjoying great success in their first year. Laura Ziegler is a 6’2 forward hailing from Denmark who has started every game so far this season for Saint Joseph’s. Ziegler, who has been competing in the Denmark national program since she was 13 years old, is second on the team in scoring for the Hawks in Atlantic 10 play at 13.8/game and leads them in rebounding at 8.1/game in conference play. Ziegler and her teammates are currently 14-3 overall this year and sit at 4-1 in the A-10, one game out of first place.
Oregon State was looking for help in the post this season and did not have to wait long for freshman Raegan Beers to give them a much-needed boost inside. The 6’4 forward from Littleton, CO has come off the bench in all but one contest this season for the Beavers, averaging close to 25 minutes/game. Beers has found her stride in Pac-12 play, leading the team in scoring and rebounding with a double-double average (15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds). Her efficiency has her as one of the top four in the league for field-goal percentage in conference games (56%) and makes teams pay for putting her at the line, shooting 78% in Pac-12 contests.
One of the more exciting leagues in the nation this year that does not always hit the daily headlines has been the Ivy League. Adjusting to college life is difficult for anyone, let alone Ivy freshman student-athletes. Yale is 9-8 overall, but 3-1 in the Ivy with help from 5’10 guard Kiley Capstraw. Capstraw has started the last seven games for the Bulldogs and leads them in scoring at 11.2 points/game. Princeton began the year on fire but has encountered what every team eventually sees – tough conference foes. The Tigers have been lucky to have the services of freshman guard Madison St. Rose to give them a lift with eight starts this season and 21 minutes/game on the floor. St. Rose is a rising star who can distribute and score, showing now what made her the 2022 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year.
In a city that has always loved quarterbacks, Boston College has its own floor general in Taina Mair. The 5’9 freshman, a native of Boston herself, has been so integral to the Eagles success that she barely comes off the floor. Mair is leading the ACC in minutes played (37.5/game) for all games this season and has 140 assists through 20 games, as of Jan. 17. She has had five games with double-digit assists and is averaging 10.4 points/game, complimenting her court vision and unselfish play with finishing plays herself. Keep your head on a swivel and your hands ready to catch when Mair is running the show for the Eagles.
No two freshmen have the same experience and each one must find their right home. Saylor Poffenbarger started her collegiate career at UConn but found herself in the portal after the first semester last year, then transferred to Arkansas. After spending the winter on the sidelines, she was ready to be full member of the Razorback roster in 2022-23. Poffenbarger has made an immediate impact for Arkansas, starting every game this season and is currently second on the team in scoring in SEC play (14.5 points/game). She has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week four times so far this year, displaying her three-point range and ability to get to the rim. Fayetteville seems to be the right home now for the 6’2 forward from Maryland.
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Siena Head Coach Jim Jabir may have a young roster this season, but two of his freshmen have most definitely taken the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) by storm. 5’10 guard Elisa Mevius of Germany has started every game for the Saints this year and leads the team in assists. She is a three-time MAAC Rookie of the Week, averaging just under 10 points/game. Her fellow freshman, 6’ forward Teresa Seppala of Finland dropped a career-high 24 points, going 6-for-7 from three against St. Peter’s, on her way to being MAAC Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this year. It seems we may have a two-woman race for the 2023 MAAC Rookie of the Year award, right inside Siena’s own MVP Arena.
Sometimes a win is not always pretty, but whether you win by one or 21, it does not matter – a W is a W. On Sunday, USC brought the intensity from the tip and upset #4 Stanford at home, 55-46, doing it with their defense. The Trojans held the Cardinal to just 31% from the field for the game and had them flustered from the start, forcing six turnovers in the first quarter, leading 11-4 after the first 10 minutes. Just one Stanford player hit double figures (Cameron Brink with 11 points) and as a team they committed 14 turnovers against the Trojans aggressive defense. Even when Stanford was able to make a run, USC had an answer, getting key stops and making free throws in the last minute of the game.
This win by Lindsey Gottlieb’s squad is monumental for her rising program. The victory ends USC’s 14-game losing streak to the Cardinal who also saw their 51-game winning streak against unranked opponents end in Los Angeles. Stanford had not lost a Pac 12 game in almost two years (39 straight) before Sunday and was currently on a 12-game winning streak. All good things must come to an end eventually, but this game tells us a few things. It showed everyone how good USC can be on defense and that Stanford needs to find more consistent offensive execution if they want to repeat as Pac 12 champions.
SHOT CLOCK VIOLATION
Last week we mentioned the postponement issues that #5 UConn has found itself dealing with after injuries limited their ability to fulfill the Big East Conference’s roster mandate for games. This past week the injury bug hit the Arizona State Sun Devils, who found themselves in the same position. The Pac-12 Conference also mandates that a team must have seven scholarship student-athletes available for a team to compete in a game. ASU was unable to fulfill that for their conference games with #8 Utah and #24 Colorado and both games were deemed a forfeit. In a statement released by the Pac-12, the forfeits will be considered league wins for Utah and Colorado and per NCAA policy, there will be no adjustment to overall records.
Arizona State’s next game is set for Jan. 22 when they host their in-state rival, #19 Arizona in Tempe. If they can suit up seven scholarship players, that game will go on as scheduled. We send our best to the Sun Devils, and hope they can get players healthy and continue their season.
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FULL COURT PRESS
The best part of shining the spotlight on fantastic freshmen all over the country is that we know they are reaping the benefits of being on teams with veteran players. Those experienced leaders are the ones that help shepherd these young ones through the grind of the conference season. There is no time for let up now because with every game on the schedule, the stakes are raised just a bit higher. Here are some games of interest to watch this week – we will be checking to see who is flourishing in the spotlight (check your local listings for game times and broadcasts):
Jan. 17 – #5 UConn at Seton Hall
Tulsa at Temple
Jan. 18 – Richmond at Rhode Island
Marquette at St. John’s
Toledo at Bowling Green
(R/V) West Virginia at (R/V) Kansas
Jan. 19 – (R/V) Miami at #20 NC State
(R/V) Middle Tennessee St. at Charlotte
(R/V) Florida State at Virginia
#13 Duke at #17 UNC
(R/V) Arkansas at #3 LSU
UC-Santa Barbara at Cal-St. Northridge
Jan. 20 – #23 Oregon at Oregon State
#22 Villanova at (R/V) Creighton
Missouri State at Belmont
Southern Illinois at Murray State
#24 Colorado at Cal
Jan. 21 – La Tech at (R/V) Middle Tennessee St.
Minnesota at Purdue
#16 Gonzaga at St. Mary’s
(R/V) Kansas at #18 Iowa State
Oklahoma State at #15 Oklahoma
FGCU at Liberty
Jan. 22 – Syracuse at #13 Duke
#20 NC State at (R/V) Louisville
#11 Maryland at Nebraska
Drexel at Towson
(R/V) USC at Washington
(R/V) Tennessee at Missouri
#24 Colorado at #4 Stanford (WATCH WITH US ON PLAYBACK!)
Texas at (R/V) Baylor
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!